IPA ADAPT: Battlefield tactics in the war for talent
A view from Dominic Mills

IPA ADAPT: Battlefield tactics in the war for talent

Agencies are fighting the war for talent across several fronts: recruiting a more diverse workforce; filling the skills gap, especially with tech talent; and reducing staff turnover rates. Progress depends on multiple initiatives. A series of IPA labs looked at developing new tactics.

There’s no single magic bullet that can help agencies in the war for talent. Instead, they are coming up with a variety of solutions, many incremental, to help them across key areas. 

Delegates to the IPA Talent Adaptathon, yesterday 7th October, got together to debate and propose a series of initiatives to bolster recruitment and retention in key areas.

Attended by more than 175 senior agency management, about half of whom were HR directors, the event was the final strand of IPA President Ian Priest’s ADAPT agenda designed to create a platform to improve commercial creativity.

Three groups each took on a critical issue and made recommendations.
Filling the Future Skills Gap

Chaired by Mark Bell, experience planning director at Dare, the first group looked at attracting and retaining tech talent. How do agencies adapt their recruitment policies to find a different kind of skillset? How do they bed that talent in? How do they spread new digital skills across the agency? And how can they find and recruit teenage digital entrepreneurs?

While agencies are successfully recruiting digital and tech talent, it is often more by luck than design. Standard practices, such as providing digital natives with work experience, are not sufficient, and do not give potential recruits a true understanding of the work involved.

The group made several suggestions:

•To recruit teenage talent, they could copy games developers like Auroch Digital, which invited young gamers from schools and universities for a week-long ‘games jam’.

•They should identify and promote role models, who could act as advocates for the industry.
To bed digital talent in, they should look to tailor the role to the individual, taking a more flexible approach to job descriptions.

•To spread digital skills across the agency, beyond digital natives, teams should be mixed up so they include multiple functions and skillsets. In addition, agencies should adopt reverse mentoring, so that digital natives mentor older staff.

Retaining talent

With industry retention rates running at around 30pc, higher than in many other sectors, and mindful of the cost of high staff churn, agencies need to work harder to retain staff, a group chaired by Andrew Pinkess, director of business innovation at AMV BBDO, agreed.

The group identified a number of issues: creating a positive culture with clear values that staff could relate to, and which could be aligned with those of clients; turning agency staff into a business asset by monetising training; reversing a trend which is seeing increasing numbers of ‘squeezed middle’ staff, commonly in their early 30s, leave for alternative career paths; and valuing the contributions of staff over the age of 40.

Suggestions included:

•Agencies should develop an authentic vision and set of values, and not be afraid to shed those staff who didn’t share them. Staff should be encouraged to learn from other organisations, including clients, with strong cultures. Agencies could adopt NPS-style metrics to monitor progress on staff buy-in to culture and values programmes.

•To derive business value from training, and turn staff into business assets, agencies should consider bonusing staff on completion of training; staff could train in pairs to motivate each other and to make it easier for them to bring ideas back and spread them quickly.

•To retain staff in the ‘squeezed middle’ who often feel ignored or unloved, agencies should institute ‘love a middle manager’ programmes that offer reward and recognition. They should also explore ways to offer them alternative career paths.

•To value the contributions of older staff, agencies should develop re-skilling and re-training programmes; offer those, especially in their 50s, flexible working; find ways to recognise the intangible value their experience can bring; and the IPA could facilitate ‘multi-generational’ events that mixed industry starters with veterans, or provided start-up agencies with experienced mentors.

Making the industry more diverse

Chaired by Julian Douglas, vice chairman of VCCP and a member of the IPA Diversity Forum, the third group looked at how the industry could diversify its intake. This included by race, as well as by age, gender, impairment, class and geography.

The group identified three key issues: one, attracting a wider range of applicants; two, possible biases in the selection process; and three, creating opportunities for minorities.
The group rejected the idea of setting quotas, but believed that there was a need for more rigorous benchmarking of diversity levels.

Specific ideas included:

Establishing an IPA Education initiative, perhaps pairing agencies with local schools. There are already case examples of agency staff working with schools, providing career advice and work placements.
Running an ad campaign to showcase existing levels of diversity, role models, and the skills needs and entrepreneurial opportunities available in the industry for apprentices and graduates.

Ensure the selection process includes staff from ethnic minorities or other diverse groups.
Empower the IPA to play a greater role, facilitating relationships with intermediaries to universities and schools, and co-ordinating and showcasing efforts made by individual agencies.

Making participation in apprenticeships and graduate recruitment an obligation of IPA membership.

If you have any comments or suggestions to make, please contribute to the IPA Adapt Hub (http://www.ipa.co.uk/adapt/ ) where news from the events as well as the findings, photos and videos from the Adaptathon will be posted.
Get involved on Twitter with the hashtag #ipadapt