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More skills, more growth: the proof is in the data

More skills, more growth: the proof is in the data
As the IPA celebrates record passes in the Foundation Certificate and opens for a new intake in the Excellence Diploma Patrick Mills reflects on the benefit of CPD.

This is an interesting time for advertising. Like many professions we’ve recruited graduates, often with arts degrees. They represented the sort of person who tended to be curious, and that’s what agencies based their businesses around – a curiosity about how things worked, an ability to see brands differently and to communicate in an interesting way. But the world has changed, and the skill set that’s required for advertising has changed with it: there’s now a massive need for people who can use data effectively, and there’s an even greater need for digital expertise. We’re looking for people who might not, in the past, have considered a career in advertising.

At the IPA we began offering Continuous Professional Development(CPD) 16 years ago, but our training has changed, too: it’s now informed by the data we collect. At first, our feedback was solely on the quality of our courses, but in 2008 we began investing in more sophisticated measures to prove the true impact of training. This evidence-based approach is very important to agencies that are lean, in terms of people and resources: if they’re going to spend on training, they need to know it works.  That’s why we introduced a gold standard of accreditation. We know there is a group of agencies that invests a huge amount of time and effort in training. Part of the gold accreditation involves submitting quantitative data, to prove the links between business success and training. So, for eight years, we’ve been gathering data from the best training agencies.

We had a well-informed hunch: that agencies which invest more, grow more. So last year, we compared the gross income of these agencies with their investment in CPD training. We looked at the data between 2010 and 2013, splitting groups into small, medium-sized and large agencies. This is just Year One of a longer and more sophisticated research programme, but we did see a clear correlation across all agency sizes: those that invested more in CPD training through the IPA have higher income growth. We’re also broadening the sort of people we recruit. We’ve invested a lot in apprenticeships, most of which are Level 3, so we’re taking in people before they go to university. We’re also driving diversity, so we have a richer culture in our agency businesses – evidence suggests that a more diverse workplace is a richer one, in every way.

Our qualifications programme has become an industry benchmark, with nearly 14,000 people qualified in 12 years. With that in mind, we’re launching a personal accreditation, which will be based on the achievement of a certain level of qualification and the completion of three years’ CPD. There will always be a demand for graduates, but this personal accreditation means there’s now a distinct alternative. A year’s apprenticeship, combined with IPA qualifications and three years of CPD training, creates a path to being professionally accredited at manager level. One of our members who invests a lot in CPD took on an apprentice four years ago, and this year he’ll be the first apprentice to achieve this accredited level. He left school, went straight into an agency, and he’s now – at graduate age – an account manager running a portfolio of clients. We like to think that it doesn’t matter where you got your education. If you have the skills, the curiosity and the enthusiasm, you’re set fair.

This article first appeared in NewStatesman spotlight on Skills in May 2016.

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