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Are we equipping the next generation for careers in marketing?

Posted over 1 year ago by Rob Markwell
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The first half of 2015 has raced by. One observation that has been more apparent than any other in this period is that there’s a very evident shortage of talent coming on to the market, causing a few industry commentators to lament the return of the ‘war on talent’ - a phrase that’s used all too often in our opinion. However as we saw through the latter half of 2014, good people regardless of discipline, are in high demand and in most cases have a number of options.

Perhaps this is a legacy from the downturn where fewer people entered the sector, or perhaps it’s due to returning confidence giving rise to pay increases and promotions that have been so scarce in recent years. Most likely it’s a combination of these factors.

Either way, we need to look to the future.

At Pitch we’ve been committed to developing future talent since our inception. Over the years we’ve met a vast number of students whilst promoting and running our B-Hive initiative. Fuelled by these experiences, something we’ve been discussing for a while is whether the education system and the marketing industry are equipping the next generation for careers in the sector, and if not, what can be done about it?

Interestingly, a few articles we’ve picked up on in recent months suggest others in the industry are thinking the same things, so we thought we’d chip in to the debate.

A number of subject areas – English, Psychology, Business, Computer Science to name just a few – provide interesting platforms to enter the industry, so it’s not unusual for people to enter the sector without a marketing degree or specialist training. Most people we know in the industry welcome this; after all for the purposes of creative thinking, where better to source ideas than from a host of diverse backgrounds.

So this is a positive right? Yes. And no. Why? Because we need to encourage more people to explore career opportunities in the sector and we can only do this by showing the next generation the wealth of career opportunities that exist in the creative industries. Our experience is that a lot of educational institutions either don’t promote these opportunities, choosing to focus on the more academically led career paths such as medicine, or law, or they simply don’t understand what the options are.

It’s very easy to point the finger at the teachers and lecturers, but to do this is (generally speaking) to do them a massive disservice. If they’re not in the sector, living it, seeing the latest trends and developments, how can they truly understand the impact this all has on career options open to their students? There are of course numerous more vocationally focussed courses out there for students, which help fuel the flow of talent in to the sector, but the focus of this piece and indeed the wider point, is how we show people who haven’t already decided it could be a career path for them, what options exist?

At an Inspiring the Future event in London, Google’s Nishna Robb (Head of Commercial Marketing UK & Ireland) advised pupils on the opportunities available in the marketing industry.  Robb reported that most of the students that she spoke to “were very vague about what marketing actually is so from an education point of view, we need to look at how we teach”. Robb also commented she had “noticed that whilst young people are really digitally savvy, they haven’t connected digital with a career”. This poses an obvious threat to the marketing industry and the future of creative talent – therefore there’s a big challenge for teachers, lecturers, brands and talent managers to inspire, engage and develop the stars of tomorrow.

So what can we all do to ensure those who show real potential are aware of the options available to them and routes to the industry are clearly signposted? How do we reach out to students and demonstrate that their passion for writing can make them a successful PR, or their love digital technology can lead to a career in web development or SEO? How do we effectively communicate that they already possess certain skillsets that lend themselves incredibly well to the evolving nature of the sector and the specialisms within it?

Partnerships between education and industry have always been important, but often have focussed on partnering with big businesses. This is still crucial, however, with smaller entrepreneurial businesses being such a driving force in the marketing and in particular the digital space, there’s a very clear argument that we should also be partnering more closely with them; it can only help increase engagement, interest and knowledge sharing.

There are also commentators who believe the media/industry’s focus on digital skills is overshadowing the importance of traditional marketing skills and thinking. Jerry Daykin of The Guardian muses whether the latest generation of marketers know enough about the ‘old craft of marketing’, claiming that with bright thinkers at the helm of innovative start-ups, “digital marketing is in real danger of not knowing enough about traditional marketing best practice to truly deliver”.

There’s no doubt Jerry has a point. However, half the roles we recruit for in 2015 didn’t exist 5 years ago and in all likelihood the key jobs in the industry in 5 years time don’t yet exist. So the reality is we’re evolving together and training the next generation for jobs that don’t yet exist. Our belief is therefore that by continually showcasing the breadth of opportunities – be they in traditional channels, digital channels, or channels we don’t yet know about - we can attract a diverse new flow of talent to our sector, which can only be a good thing. Once they’re here, it’s then our job to continuously train and educate.