The great talent-shortage myth

The industry is in danger of talking itself into a talent shortage that does not exist.

The creative industries share with the financial sector an unhealthy reliance on generic, yet fundamentally unempirical, declarations that present a mythical version of what constitutes talent.

As Karen Ho, the author of Liquidated: an Ethnography of Wall Street, writes: "On Wall Street ‘smartness’ means much more than individual intelligence; it conveys a naturalised and generic sense of ‘impressiveness’ of elite, pinnacle status and expertise, which is used to signify, even prove, investment bankers’ worthiness as advisers to corporate America and leaders of the global financial markets." 

This abiding myth of innate talent is at the heart of the industry’s lament that we are at the mercy of a ‘talent shortage’, with the inference that talent cannot possibly be taught. In reality, however, it is a lack of investment in long-term education, as well as the brain-drain of women leaving the business, which are holding the industry back.

Hayley Spurling, brand director at Brand Learning, points to the small percentage of women in senior positions as evidence of the latter. She explains: "When you look at those women that make Marketing’s Power 100 – women like Syl Saller, Sarah Warby and Amanda Mackenzie – their talent alone makes the case that more female leadership role models are needed."

Spurling cites the growing professionalisation of the sector, which is highlighted by the fact that 56% of the marketers whom consultancy Brand Learning analysed in the Power 100 have a dedicated marketing degree or qualification. "This might be surprising, but opportunities to obtain qualifications are increasingly available and organisations are keen to ensure marketing teams have all the necessary skills and capabilities at their disposal," she says.