Why the ad industry is struggling with apprenticeships

Much is made of the need to attract new talent into the ad industry, but the government says getting businesses on board is proving difficult.


Much is made of marketing’s need to ensure it has a pipeline of talent with the right skills for the future, particularly as digital and data become increasingly integral to the day job. There is also a need to get people from more diverse backgrounds into an industry that still under-represents BAME people, as well as women, particularly at a senior level.

Specific industry apprenticeships ought to be a key means of addressing the shortage of those skills among young people. However, a hearing of the House of Lords communications committee yesterday (19 December) laid bare the fact that government attempts to boost take-ups of apprenticeships aren’t taking root in the creative industries, due to “specific problems” that impact the sector.

Department of Education (DfE) skills minister Anne Milton pointed out that the apprenticeship levy – in force since April 2017 for companies paying over £3m per year in wages – creates a “ring-fenced account” through which industries have funds to train for the skills they require. Industries therefore “can’t sit back and say we’ve got a skills shortage, they’ve got to do something about it”, she said.

She added: “There’s a whole range of businesses that can use this levy to employ people in the marketing they want to do.

“In advertising, supermarket chains, for example, can use the levy to employ people in marketing and communications but they have to do it. The opportunity is in front of them.”

READ MORE: How university partnerships are helping brands attract the best talent

Challenged by committee member Baroness McIntosh, however, Milton admitted that “the creative industry has particular problems” with the form apprenticeships take.

Matt Hancock, digital minister at the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) department, also raised the issue of making sure “the apprenticeship system works for the industry” and that the skills taught match those required. And to do that, he encouraged companies to get more involved.

“Employers need to come to the table and the apprenticeship levy is a rather firm way of incentivising them to do so,” he said.

If brands want to ensure apprenticeships have the right focus for their future marketing needs, they will undoubtedly need to make their voices heard at both DfE and DCMS.



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  1. Anne Miles 8 Jan 2018

    This article doesn’t quite come up with the answers why the industry is not embracing apprenticeships despite the headline, but clearly identifies that the industry hasn’t embraced them. The levy cap level of $3m is a good place to start – with most employers in creative industries likely to embrace an apprentice and with the skills to train and support them spending far less than $3m pa in salaries. I’ve been involved in working parties on education models before and there was much more success when the focus was on providing training that suited the creative agencies rather than with brands (who don’t generally have the skill level to support apprentice talent).

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