Redressing the decline of youth achieving employment within Europe’s advertising trades

The European Institute for Commercial Commnucations Education (edcom) is currently conducting a research study that intends to be the starting point of a two year project aiming at redressing the decline of youth achieving employment within Europe’s advertising trades. The pan-European research focuses on the problems and needs of the students, graduates, young professionals, academics and agencies in the field of commercial communications, and consists of several in-depth interviews with representatives of each of the target groups. Hereby we introduce some of the reflections we have received from the interviewees, hoping that an open and sincere debate among different agents will lead to a common front to solve the problem.

Commercial communications students

All commercial communications students interviewed consider a job in the advertising industry because they would like to practice what they love doing, because they believe it is a big opportunity for both creative and analytic people, and because it offers an environment full of “amazing” people from whom they can learn things by stealing their craft. They felt encouraged to study commercial communications because they want to become like the people they know from the industry (competitive and skilled) and because it is a challenging field.

They believe graduates from commercial communications degrees are hired because of their persistence, bravery, skills, creativity, enthusiasm for the job (which comes out of passion) and their will to learn fast and be as efficient as they can. Creativity, they say, is not only useful in the creative department, but also in the process of making a business work at its full potential. Also, they state graduates have a better understanding of how agencies work because of their studies, but also by the academic internships they have done. Overall, the skills they think agencies value in a future employee for a graduate role are creativity, self-control, self-confidence, social intelligence, artistic intelligence, organisation, charisma, consistency, stubbornness and determination. All interviewees believe their own profiles are attractive to future employers in advertising.

Apart from that, interviewees state that there is a gap between the graduates’ expectations and what happens in real life. The advertising industry, they say, is one of the most attractive industries and everybody sees the best part of it (fun, creativity, awards, success, money, etc,) but not necessarily understand how much hard work is behind it, and how frustrating and difficult it can be to work in. Interviewees also mention that certain students think that internships are a waste of time and consider extra time at work to be a form of exploitation, and do not see the benefits it offers in the early years of their careers. Moreover, they believe that the reason why some graduates do not get hired is because they are not passionate enough about advertising, and because sometimes they are not willing to assume responsibilities. To work in advertising, one student says: “you need to be very passionate, ambitious and stay focused on your way.”

All the interviewees state that their current degree does not provide them with all the necessary skills to start working immediately in advertising. They say professors tend to offer theoretical knowledge only, and that practical workshops and certain digital tools are for beginners, forcing them to learn at home how to properly use these tools for professional purposes. One of the interviewees states that through her studies she has significantly improved her strategic thinking in advertising. When asked what would they like to see differently in their curriculum, degree, university or education programme, their answer is more practice, more updated content, more workshops, competitions, professional encouragement from advertising agencies, conferences with people and positive examples of advertising, summer and winter internships, more classes supported by industry people and practical courses in advertising agencies.

Regarding initiatives to be undertaken by universities to encourage employability in the advertising industry, students insist on having more workshops, internships, close collaboration with advertising industry, conferences, open doors sessions for students, and interactive workshops. They appreciate universities invite keynote speakers on a regular basis, which is interesting for both parties to boost collaboration and create a positive impact to students and professionals. One of the students expressed his dissatisfaction about the importance that is given to theoretical knowledge and the need to memorize concepts by heart, and states: “we are not really encouraged to express our own vision of a subject.” When inquired about initiatives, agencies should firmly grasp to encourage employability, for instance by recruiting students through competitions or by performing practical exams and keep monitoring their skills and performance. The  idea of a formal job interview is appalling to young people. “Some of my colleagues are not self-confident because of their own timidity to face a formal job interview,” one student adds.

The interviewees state that the creative hub should pay more attention to new generations and get to know them better. Unpaid internships, they say, can be very frustrating if they do not guarantee being hired after trial period is over. In their opinion, agencies should rethink internship programmes, which should be seen as a period of accommodation for the trainees prior to a selection carried out by agencies. These students believe that the best candidates should stay in the programme, even if it means being paid less than a standard salary, but which will encourage them to stay motivated. Also, they see the need of being aware of hiring possibilities and new platforms (such as IQads) that regularly announce jobs in agencies, creative events and festivals. They all manifest true interest in networking, and they believe it is good for students, but also for the agencies, as it gives them the opportunity to better understand the students’ expectations.

To sum up, the interviewees believe that a good university lecturer in commercial communications should have excellent oral and creative communication skills and emotional, artistic and social intelligence. A good lecturer should also embrace the differences between all students, not making them feel like they are not good enough, and encouraging them to overcome their fears and develop their horizons. Some teachers, they say, tend to only teach theoretical courses and do not pay attention to a student’s real needs. Students ask for more accurate and up-to-date facts, more case studies, new trends, and lectures that can help them develop their capabilities to analyse ads and campaigns from a business, strategic and creative point of view.

Commercial communications graduates, interns and young professionals

Commercial communications graduates, interns and young professionals interviewed have different opinions regarding the level of difficulty of getting a job in the advertising industry and have experienced different processes from being students, into graduating and finding a job. Some of them believe that the advertising industry is dynamic and that there are enough job opportunities, while others state that, even though it is easy to find an internship position, it is hard for young professionals to consolidate a job. All of them did an academic internship as part of their study programme, which gave them more confidence and knowledge. One of them was hired by the agency at the end of the internship period, and the two others were not. From those, one is currently looking for another internship, while the other is working for an agency, after having dedicated eight years to another profession.

Interviewees state that there are many graduates with a different degree rather than commercial communications working in advertising industry (graphic and web designers, computer engineers, economists, business administration graduates, marketing graduates, etc.). In their opinion, the reason behind this is that a degree in commercial communication is too generic and theory-based, and that certain topics are not covered enough, such as digital communications. They also mention that some agencies may have the wrong preconceptions regarding the true potential of commercial communication graduates, believing that graphic and web designers are better for creative positions, and marketing and business management graduates are better at numbers. However, the interviewees believe these preconceptions are not accurate, and they revindicate the global perspective they bring to the agencies, and the quality they bring to their contents.

Interviewees believe that universities that educate commercial communications should update their curricula and use a more practical approach. They say that some of their professors at university lacked training and were outdated, and they appreciate the performance of certain associated professors who worked in the industry and brought relevant and updated contents into the class. The interviewees noted that their curricula were focused a lot on creativity, but not too much on other aspects such as media, digital communications, business management or marketing. They also expressed that in their education, they lacked some knowledge about the everyday reality of agencies: different job positions and tasks, general strategies, how to prepare budgets, how to use Excel, how to select the mediums and media, metrics, etc.  Overall, most of the interviewees state that the contents provided by their universities were not sufficient, and that at the beginning they felt quite incompetent in their professional roles because of their degree. Finally, they believe that universities should include more and more diversified internship opportunities in their curricula, that those internship periods should start from the first academic year and that they should be with agencies who are committed to train and hire young professionals.

According to their beliefs, the interviewees feared that some agencies are not using the internships to seek and train talent, but to get cheap or free labor. Apart from that, they state that some of the internship positions are abusive in terms of hours and responsibility, and therefore some changes in the legislation would be required in certain countries. In their opinion, agencies should stop taking advantage of the situation and become more socially conscious by giving a chance to those who performed well during their internship. They believe agencies should see the trainees as possible future employees, appreciate their potential and train them the best possible way so they can be hired at the end of the internship. However, interviewees believe that when agencies need to hire someone, they normally go for someone with a more experienced profile, creating a vicious circle for young professionals, whose lack of experience blocks them from being hired and get the experience they need. In general, interviewees believed that agencies tend to give a lot of value to the experience of the candidate, and do not appreciate as much any of the other aspects that young professionals can bring to the table, such us openess for change, commitment and the capability to adapt.

As for the initiatives the interviewees took or could have taken to encourage their own employability, they mention the importance of staying up to date through training on a frequent basis, being proactive in the search of agencies who are hiring young professionals, and never stop creating contents and participating in contests which could enlarge your portfolio and curriculum.

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