In this guest piece, Atomic 212° HR manager Dayna Holt (pictured below), argues that while Australia’s advertising industry is set to face some very strong talent headwinds, the challenge needs to be embraced – not feared.
The talent shortage has been an issue in Australia for years, and as marketing disciplines fragment and the digital juggernaut becomes more complex than ever, this is only going to increase.
But the wheels need to keep on turning. And isn’t this why we got into this industry in the first place? To recognise business challenges and develop meaningful solutions. Isn’t this exactly why we get out of bed in the morning?
Recognising the challenge
Obviously, the industry has some challenges on the horizon with the impending abolition of the 457 visa. And while new visas are set to replace the 457, the Department of Immigration has flagged that positions such as web developer, public relations manager, multimedia designer, media producer, art director and director of photography have been “entirely removed from the list of eligible skilled occupation[s]”.
(Although, to be fair, it’s hardly an attack solely on our industry, with both deer and goat farmers removed from the list too – tough times ahead for the artiodactyla agriculture business.)
Making it even less appealing to bring in international workers is the foreign worker levy Scott Morrison flagged in the budget at the start of the month, whereby the few foreigners who can be brought in will cost potentially thousands of dollars more to employ, to help fill the federal government’s mooted ‘Skilling Australians’ fund.
But arguably an even bigger issue for gaining and keeping top talent is the cost of living in our two most influential cities, Sydney and Melbourne.
Say you’re a Melbourne-based agency and you find yourself a remarkable talent who’s based in Brisbane or Perth. You may be able to offer them an attractive salary package, but just how generous are you going to have to be to make up for difference in the real cost of living?
The papers harp on about it every other day, but it’s worth a quick reminder that your average house in Sydney goes for $1 million, and it’s around $750,000 in Melbourne, versus $500,000 in Brisbane and $580,000 in Perth.
Sure, coffee and takeaway lunches might be a bit cheaper in our two biggest cities, but when the difference in your mortgage is as much as half a million bucks, you’re probably happy to pay the extra $1 for a flat white in Fortitude Valley.
So, foreigner talent is set to become exponentially more difficult to recruit, and that brilliant young Aussie based in another city is asking why they should bother making the move.
Okay, so we’ve recognised the issue. The more important question: what do you do to manage it?
Look for people, not positions
One of the biggest mistakes employers make is they look for positions rather than people.
If you come across a brilliant talent, it’s a cardinal sin to say to them “Too bad, there’s no spot for you at the moment”.
As Bill Taylor wrote for the Harvard Business Review, “Hire for attitude, train for skill”.
“Over the years, as I’ve studied high-impact organisations that are changing the game in their fields, they’ve adopted a range of strategies and business models. But they all agree on one core ‘people’ proposition: they hire for attitude and train for skill,” he wrote.
“They believe that one of the biggest challenges they face is to fill their ranks with executives and front-line employees whose personal values are in sync with the values that make the organisation tick. As a result, they believe that character counts for more than credentials.”
It’s such a simple rule to hire by, yet it’s so often forgotten: you can train virtually anything, except for personality and talent. When you come across a person who really stands out from the crowd, don’t let a lack of applicable experience stop you from getting them on your books – ensure you’re always on the front foot, looking for the best talent, wherever it is you find it.
More importantly, always be looking for talent. Don’t wait for that piece of new business. New people mean new ideas and new skillsets. Scrambling at the last minute is never the best approach. It’s easier said than done, but it means you have the best people from the get-go, and we’ve found this approach usually leads to new business success anyway.
Offer more than money
Anyone who’s lived in the world’s great cities knows how hard life can be when you’re starting out. You’re likely going to live in boxy, shared accommodation, eat ramen noodles and celebrate on Friday nights with a box of wine.
It’s basically re-living your student days, but with the added weight of a full-time job.
Yet, most people remember those days so fondly, because the experience of living in London, New York, Paris – or Sydney or Melbourne – is like nothing else in the world. The life and vibrancy, as well as the opportunities to see world-class shows and be part of city-wide festivals and events, mean the overall experience adds up to something truly special.
This is the leg-up agencies based in these bigger, more expensive cities have – and not just because the city they’re based in have these cultural events, but because there are professional offerings that smaller cities can’t compete with.
To be clear, I’m not recommending paying your team so little that they live in squalor for the sake of a great job. Rather, while cost of living may make for a healthier wallet working in a smaller city, you need to illustrate to potential employees or those you’re seeking to retain that there is a reason why the world’s most attractive cities come with a higher cost of living.
It’s a simple fact that the biggest opportunities are on offer in the biggest markets. The key is to show your team a clear path to those opportunities, how you can help get the best out of them, and how a studio apartment now can lead to the biggest opportunities and arguably the best lifestyle.
Don’t write off overseas talent
While hiring overseas talent isn’t going to get any easier in the future, that doesn’t mean you should completely write it off as a pond in which to go fishing.
There are some seven billion people on this planet, and while Australia has a very talented and creative market, simple math suggests the best person for every job isn’t here.
What’s more, people from overseas bring with them new ideas, different ways of doing things and fresh perspectives. Plus, there’s the potential these people will open new markets for your business.
Again, it’s only going to become more difficult to bring these people in, so a cost-benefit analysis is a good idea before going too far down the road, but you’ll often find that bringing a foreign employee on board – even if it’s only for the two years the government are set to offer – will be well worth the time and money spent.
So, are any of these options a silver bullet? Of course not. The headwinds the industry is set to face from a talent perspective are very real. But a very real business challenge presents a very real and exciting opportunity to tackle it.