Marketing and ad agencies are facing a talent gap as college graduates are turning away from marketing and advertising to other, seemingly more appealing fields to build their careers. The findings come from a study, “Bridging the Talent Disconnect: Charting the Pathways to Future Growth,” by the Association of National Advertisers’ (ANA) Educational Foundation (AEF).

The study warns of “a looming marketing and advertising talent crisis,” driven in large part by a lack of common vision, vocabulary and perceived relevance among marketers, young professionals and the colleges and universities where they matriculate. The AEF also notes that its findings confirmed that the talent disconnect is particularly acute in the lack of diversity throughout the industries examined in the report.

“Finding and retaining talent has been a serious problem in our industry for some time,” says ANA CEO Bob Liodice.  “But this pioneering new study has revealed that the system to create our next generation of marketing and advertising talent is strained to a breaking point. Immediate action is required, and the AEF has developed the necessary steps to address this critical issue by bridging the gap between the core constituents.”

For its research, the AEF surveyed three primary groups: the advertising and marketing industries (CMOs, ad agency executives, HR executives, line managers); academia (university professors, deans, career counselors); and the talent itself (new hires and college students). The report was commissioned by the AEF and conducted by market research company GfK.

The report states that among the three key groups, students are unclear what defines a career in marketing or advertising and are unsure it constitutes meaningful work; universities are working to develop curricula that reflects current reality, but remain conflicted by about the need to produce graduates with relevant skills and critical thinking capabilities; and marketers and ad agencies say they are frustrated with trying to understand the student mindset and find many recent graduates unprepared to enter the workplace.  

“Our next generation of talent will be the single most important driver of industry growth,” says AEF President and CEO Gord McLean.  “Marketers and agencies must take the lead, but we know from experience that whenever we get together with the academic community, the most important players—the students themselves—benefit.”

The AEF’s study also identified four key reasons for the disconnect. For one, the digital transformation complicates new marketing and advertising career paths. Digital communication has changed the way the industry communicates with consumers, and this development has created roles within organizations that didn’t previously exist, which in turn changes requirements for “hard skills” in data and advanced analytics. Research shows that these constantly evolving skill requirements and job definitions have made it difficult for marketers and agencies to define and promise clear career paths to students and prospective hires with any consistency.

Because of these changing skillset needs, marketers and agencies are now directly competing with technology companies for skilled talent. The latter typically offer more generous compensation packages to new hires, both in terms of salary and perks. Aggressive recruiting tactics in the tech world also help them connect with talent faster and make concrete offers in advance of marketing and advertising companies.

Further highlighting this shift, the expectations of today’s crop of young talent differ from previous generations. Generational expectations of work environment, job responsibilities and career advancement make it challenging for older-generation managers to effectively work with and retain the new generation of workers. The AEF survey found that young talent often seek “purpose” in their work and “fun” job environments established by the start-up culture.

Finally, the study has found that college and university curricula is not keeping pace with the rapid change going on in the industry. Coursework and text books are out-of-date almost as soon as they’re published, and much that is taught about marketing and communications is outdated and unrelated to management expectations and students’ actual experience in the field.