We spoke to a selection of young professionals, apprentices and grads from different agencies, all making their initial steps in to the advertising industry, feeling their way into their first roles; and some that had bowed out along the way.
We wanted to know what it was like to be a young person in today’s game, and how they felt they’d been treated in their first months in the role.
Turns out most agencies are doing a lot right. But there’s also plenty of room for improvement. Here are the top five bugbears that could be turning potential employees and new recruits away from agency life.
Today’s young new recruits need to perceive that their own contribution is valued and worthwhile, perhaps more than any of the previous generations. A probationary period spent in admin drudgery, while often seen as a rite of passage, clashes badly with the mind-set of an individual more accustomed to speed of action and self-determined, vocational learning.
"I really hated the fact that I was shoved into a corner and barely taught or noticed by anyone," said one respondent; while others indicated they felt there was a lack of senior time or interest invested in their first months in the role.
A number of our respondents were attracted to the advertising industry by the opportunity to work in an environment that would nurture their understanding of the inner workings of the craft and develop their creative skills. Many graduates have committed years of study and tens of thousands of pounds to the vocation.
Creativity, however, doesn’t appear to be something our respondents felt they were valued for. "I expected more creative input in my role," said one respondent. "But I have been surprised by the amount of admin type tasks."
Some were also disappointed by the lack of strategic reasoning or creative strategy they’d been exposed to; with decisions made higher up the management ladder not explained properly further down, and evident only as a list of actions and deadlines.
Almost unanimously, and, let’s face it, unsurprisingly, respondents cited workloads and overtime as the most painful shock-to-the-system. Answering emails at weekends, dealing with tight deadlines and regularly working late into the night led some to question whether they’d unwittingly sold their soul to advertising and communications. For those that didn’t stay the course, this was an insurmountable hurdle.
However, it should be noted that a number also commented that these siege-like conditions forged desirable environments of team cohesion and camaraderie; key factors regularly cited by respondents when assessing a potential employer.
Many also accepted that the blurring distinctions between work and personal life, a trend that typifies this digital generation, is a lifestyle choice that comes part and parcel with the job. "I didn't realise how stressful it would be, but it kinda comes with the job," was one response. "I also didn't realise how much it would teach me, I've grown up so much."
Behaviours, rather than words, are what motivate our respondents. "It’s the little simple things that make a difference," said one, who went on to mention the importance of "more regular feedback and clear instruction". This is a generation of young people that has been mercilessly tested and examined over the course of their entire academic lives.
They’re desperate to please, but need and expect constant feedback, appraisal and assurance. A perceived lack of time or interest from their more experienced colleagues, especially when it comes to delivering this feedback, appeared as a key de-motivator for our respondents.
In one worrying comment, a respondent said they were "shocked at how little the agency actually cared about me as a person or as someone that should be learning".
The transition from education to agency life can be tumultuous. The ones we lost as an industry; the apprentices and first jobbers that came in, full of promise, and ultimately crashed and burned, felt they’d entered an environment they just weren’t equipped to handle. "I realised pretty quickly it wasn’t for me," said one.
Some of them felt there was a lack of clarity around the levels of commitment their role demanded. Some were daunted by the prospect of operating at the top of their game and still not standing out from the crowd. But in all these responses, there was a sense that the reality, for whatever reason, hadn’t been adequately conveyed.
For many who have slogged their way up, put in the hard yards and dealt with many of the gripes detailed above, there will be a natural inclination to view these responses with a touch of disdain. This new crop is affectionately called 'Generation Z', 'Generation I' or 'The Internet Generation' by those with a penchant for such labels.
They’re more qualified than any previous generation. They value workplace atmosphere, company profile and personal development ahead of more traditional qualities like company performance and salary. These are your next crop of account directors and ultimately board members, and in an ageing workforce, the next 10 years is going to be all about them.
This is from a small sample of young people from different agencies, but what do you think? Is your agency guilty of any of these, or do young people just require too much coddling these days? Please share your views and experiences in the comments section below.
In next week’s blog, we’ll look at specific measures you can take as an employer to engage and retain Generation Z.
Austen Donnellan is Client Services Director at Bray Leino.
The IPA hosts their Talent Adaptathon on 8th October. Learn more about the ADAPT agenda.
Last updated 20/06/2014