The lack of talent isn’t going to improve in the short-term – it’s global and people aren’t going to flood in from overseas any time soon. That means employers have to take a different approach to hiring and retention, says Atomic 212° Head of Strategy, Asier Carazo. Here’s how the firm hired two strategists that it might not normally have considered – and who are now knocking it out of the park.

With unemployment in Australia the lowest it’s been since the 1970s, we are dealing with serious talent shortages across our industry.

People are making their way for the exit and there just aren’t enough people coming in to top us back up again.

Add in the huge demand this is creating and finding the right person has become far more difficult than it was only a few short years ago.

That said, in my particular part of marketing – strategy – this has been the case for a number of years. In fact, one of the main reasons I moved to Melbourne from Spain five years ago was because there was a lack of strategists in Australia.

In my field, it has been a job-seeker’s market since long before most people had even heard the word ‘coronavirus’.

And as I arrived in Australia, I began to understand why.

No young people in strategy? That’s not very strategic

I had a chance to lecture at universities in Spain and Australia, most recently at RMIT and one of the things I learnt was that very few students were given strategy as a career option – you were either a creative or a suit.

For some reason, our best and brightest young people were told that they needed to cut their teeth in a completely different part of the industry for a number of years before they could even think about being part of a strategy team.

Junior strategy doesn’t exist? I totally disagree.

We need people without any preconceived ideas about strategy. They have a fresh perspective, will question the way you do things, and therefore not only add their own talents but make you better at your own job.

Sure, you’ll have to teach them, but that’s the case with every new hire!

So at Atomic, we started a junior strategy program, with our first recruit being one of the keen young people who had heard about my lectures at RMIT, Sam.

Young but incredibly smart and switched on, two years in Sam has been incredibly upskilled and promoted. He is an integral part of not just my team but our entire agency.

It’s been a team effort but Sam played an important role in the expansion our agency has seen over the last couple of years, which meant by the end of 2021, I needed to expand my team again.

Instead of asking who’s out there, maybe ask who’s in here?

This time around, I got a first-hand taste of just how tough a market it is for employers.

After countless interviews, we just couldn’t find the right person – maybe it was down to a lack of knowledge, not the right cultural fit, a depth of strategic thinking – and it became obvious you’ve got to be creative in finding talent in the current market.

That’s the diagnosis, so what’s the cure?

While I’m sure different medicines will work for different agencies, for ours, it was looking to other verticals.

Simply put, we asked people in our own agency if they wanted to do something else.

We had a number of internal applications and hired Emily, who had previously been a digital account manager, in December.

Emily has been amazing and, combined with Sam, it’s the best team I’ve ever had.

In what has been a period of massive growth, people thought hiring someone fresh out of uni and someone who’s never been a strategist was a recipe for disaster – but it’s turning out brilliantly.

Our internal and external stakeholders are happy, which is perhaps the best measure of success. And it’s contributing to the culture within the agency.

At a time when workplaces around the world are struggling to get people back into the office, we want to come back in because we genuinely love hanging out with each other.

Found the right people? Now the challenge is keeping them

When I first came to Australia, my boss asked what I wanted out of my time here.

I said, “I want to learn and I want to have fun.”

Still seems to me like the best way to spend your days at work – and if you’re getting that out of your day, you’re probably going to be happy to stay at your current job.

So how do we achieve it?

I believe the best way to learn is by sitting next to someone. I’m not saying you can’t upskill while working from home, but it’s far easier and more efficient to be able to just turn your head and ask a question, rather than send a series of DMs on Teams or schedule a Zoom chat.

But you have to have fun to make people want to come into the office every day.

So we’ve brought about initiatives to make sure people enjoy their job.

Every Thursday, either Sam or Emily gives a presentation showing something they’ve learnt – and, since we share our clients based on projects, rather than siloing ourselves to specific clients, there is never a shortage of new knowledge coming in. From insurance to travel to auto, we share our insights and findings, and then do a quiz that the whole agency can participate in.

Then on Friday we have a presentation about whatever you want to teach us about – it doesn’t have to be work-related, maybe you saw a great documentary or have been listening to a really interesting podcast. By sharing something they are passionate about, they improve their own skills – and for us as the audience, even if the presentation doesn’t have a direct impact on our job, learning something new is always a good thing.

It’s not about forcing the fun, it’s making it organic.

We also have a very horizontal organisation. I’m head of strategy but don’t do all the cool stuff. We share a power dynamic. I like to get on the tools and so sometimes I do the grunt work and let them take the wheel.

By stepping down and, for example, running an audience on Roy Morgan, it allows Sam and Emily to step up and question things. I tell them everything is up for discussion. Just because we’ve done it in the past doesn’t mean it’s perfect – feel free to break it and do it again!

I want to offer my experience to these guys so they feel like they’re learning and growing, which is far more durable and long-lasting a retention strategy than, say, a free lunch or breakfast.

Things aren’t about to change

The lack of talent isn’t going to improve in the short-term. Talent isn’t going to flood in from overseas, because travel maybe doesn’t have the shine it used to. Honestly, if I was still in Spain, I may not have come at this stage. There are too many unknowns in the world to be packing up and moving halfway around the globe.

So how do we recruit if we don’t have a talent pool full of incredibly skilled people? What do we need to do as an industry?

I believe that fun and learning is going to be central to attracting and keeping the best people. But, having said that, it’s not as easy as it sounds.

The challenge for all of us it to ask how do you make sure everyone – including the boss – is getting that?

Article originally published on Mi3.