Why brands need apprenticeships to widen access to marketing careers

As young people demand more varied, vocational routes into marketing, could apprenticeships be the answer to drive greater diversity and equality?

In an uncertain world where employment is far from secure, young people are increasingly demanding practical and employment-focused ways of learning. As a result, apprenticeships are proving a popular way to learn skills on the job and forgo the rocketing expense of university education, which costs up to £9,250 a year.

In April 2017, the Government committed to create three million new apprentices by 2020 with the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy. Yet when it comes to standardised apprenticeship schemes, until recently marketing has been largely ignored. The 0.5% levy applies to employers in England with an annual pay bill of more than £3m. The money raised goes into a digital account run by HM Revenue and Customs to fund the training of apprentices who work for at least 50% of their time in England.

But with the focus of apprenticeships being placed on roles in sectors such as retail, engineering, manufacturing and tech, the fear is that the limited number of routes into marketing could have a damaging effect on the socio-economic diversity of future marketing teams.

Research released in 2016 by Goldsmiths, the London School of Economics and the University of Manchester analysing the 2014 British Labour Force Survey found that the advertising and marketing sector was 51.7% male, 92.6% white and 65.5% had a university degree or higher.

Four years on, organisations and employers are putting a renewed focus on establishing marketing apprenticeships in a bid to open the profession up to young people from a wider variety of backgrounds.

Instrumental to this is The Marketing Academy Foundation. It aims to enable young adults from challenging backgrounds to begin a career in marketing by finding and funding jobs, including year-long apprenticeships.

Chief executive Daryl Fielding acknowledges that the cost of student loans is giving many young people pause for thought about the value of certain degrees, whereas apprenticeships could offer a debt-free alternative

READ MORE: Making marketing a career option for people from socially diverse backgrounds

In May and July last year, The Marketing Academy Foundation placed two apprentices with the Prince’s Trust. One is a digital marketing apprentice, the other a marketing apprentice and both are paid “significantly above” the minimum wage.

To be accepted as an apprentice, young people do not need any qualifications. However, if they want to gain a government statutory apprenticeship qualification they will need to obtain a GCSE grade 9 to 4 (A* to C) in maths and English, or the equivalent, which they can study during their apprenticeship.

The Foundation’s aim is to have 10 apprentices start work this summer, with a view to doubling this figure each year. The team are looking for bright individuals who have a great attitude, interest in marketing and a real aptitude, but who are not interested in going to university.

“There is a confluence of factors bringing this to the fore – the fear of student debt, the government Apprenticeship Levy legislation encouraging businesses to create apprenticeships and the ad business having a broader debate around diversity,” says Fielding.

“BAME [black, Asian, minority ethnic] and gender are the two most discussed issues, but this is a very middle class industry and we need to come together to create an appetite for change.”

The Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) is another organisation backing apprenticeships in the advertising, creative and digital media sectors. The Creative Pioneers 2 programme, led by the IPA in association with apprenticeship provider Arch and the Metro newspaper, is helping agencies and media owners from Channel 4 and ITN to Dentsu Aegis and Omnicom plan their apprenticeship intake for 2018.

The brainchild of IPA director of marketing strategy Janet Hull OBE, Creative Pioneers 2 is open to school leavers and young people looking for their first job, as well as graduates, early hires and employees hoping to upskill. To date, 580 jobs have been offered to apprentices since 2015.

New standards


Seeing a clear need to establish new routes into marketing, the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) has worked with a trailblazer group of brands and industry leaders, including Mercedes-Benz Financial Services and BT, to create a new standard for marketing apprenticeships.

Applying to level 4 (the standard for a marketing executive) and level 6 (for a marketing manager), the apprenticeships start at 12 months in length and run to 24 months for the level 6 qualification.

The standards have just been approved by the Institute for Apprenticeships, enabling employers to start thinking about how to utilise them before they become fully accessible later in 2018.

READ MORE: Why the ad industry is struggling with apprenticeships

Maggie Jones, CIM associate director of qualifications and partnerships, believes that individuals of all ages will find the apprenticeship route popular, whether they are young people first entering the industry or professionals looking to upskill. She insists that the apprenticeship standard is “very powerful” because it is employer-led.

“Organisations are going to have to balance the resource they have available with the needs of the business and the prime mover behind the apprenticeship scheme is around productivity, which can be built at all levels,” says Jones.

For apprenticeships to catch on with young people she believes schools have a part to play in informing their students about the different routes into marketing. The hope is that offering apprenticeships will help make marketing more democratic.

“It’s about educating those people coming into the profession, but also their parents because they are key influencers for the young apprentices. We acknowledge that this is one of the jobs we need to do as a profession,” Jones adds.

“Really the demand for apprenticeships, whether they be London-based or throughout the regions, will come from employers. They will develop this product and invest in it.”

Welcoming new voices

The hope is that establishing new routes into marketing for people from different social backgrounds will enrich the whole industry. Empowering young people to seize these opportunities will therefore be essential.

This opinion is shared by Jack Williams, head of new business at Atomic, an agency which visits high school students in deprived areas to talk about careers in marketing and advertising.

“Our issue is that people don’t feel included to take up [apprenticeships], particularly from lower economic backgrounds,” he states.

“People don’t feel empowered to go out and grab them because they don’t fully understand it. You can offer all the apprenticeships in the world, but unless you’re educating people prior they’re not going to be taking them up.”

Getting employers to embrace apprenticeships will be another important first step says Jody King, divisional manager at Reed Marketing and Creative.

“We’re seeing a lot of the larger companies still looking for a degree, the reason being that the decision markers often come from a very different class of background and they are the ones who give the nod to middle management or HR to recruit. So they will automatically say applicants need a degree,” she explains.

Jones agrees that reaching a “parity of esteem” between graduate schemes and apprenticeships will be crucial to encourage as wide adoption as possible: “It’s about getting to a point where, whether someone goes into marketing through a more traditional degree or an apprenticeship programme, those people should be as proud, relevant and experienced as each other.”