Tony Hale on changes to the 457 visa program: Talent is the lifeblood of Australia's creative industry - developing it must be a priority

Tony-Hale (1).jpgBy Tony Hale, CEO, The Communications Council

If our belief in the power of commercial creativity is our heartbeat, then talent is our lifeblood - and the Prime Minister's changes to the 457 visa program has brought this to the fore this week in an unparalleled way.

Firstly though, the notion that we in this country don't possess a strong pool of talent is just wrong. On any international measure - the Gunn Report, Cannes, WARC - we regularly punch above our weight ranking in the top 5 or 6 in the world despite being 13th when measured on GDP. Our home grown creative talent fills the most demanding roles on every continent as our brilliant advertising skills, strong work ethic and ability to cut through the bullshit sets us apart.

We recognised the need for local talent development as far back as 1982 when AWARD chairman Ray Black announced the urgency of a program like AWARD School, as the industry was not growing enough writers and art directors to meet the needs of agencies.

Aspiring copywriters and art directors were bred in what he called 'the fetid swamps and dangerous backrooms of the print production departments' before graduating to despatch rooms and eventually creative departments.

Couriers killed off the despatch room, creating a shortage in young talent and 'the introduction of another foreign, introduced species; like the rabbit - the English Art Director' as Ray noted.

AWARD School was born.
Degrees don't make careers - talent development does

These days we seem preoccupied by a degree from a relevant tertiary education institution as a mandatory to any role in advertising yet there is no guarantee this will lead to success. Advertising is not a spectator sport: it is a participation sport involving collision, high impact, being on the field in all kinds of conditions, and being match fit to win.

So despite an impeccable education, it's only when you get on the field that you know if you're any good. That's why initiatives that are built by the industry, for the industry work, and why our AWARD School and Graduate Program have proven successful for over 35 years at unearthing the next generation of quality talent.

The standard of local talent continues to amaze me. We had 560 applications for AWARD School this year and you only have to talk to any of the lecturers or tutors to understand the unbridled enthusiasm in this years cohort. Fittingly, the top student will head off to New York to meet the top student 30 years ago - David Droga.

The balance of local and global

Yet however successful AWARD School has been, we have always relied on importing the right people to cover the skill gaps.

Their contribution to the success of Australian advertising cannot be underestimated - yes, even those 'rabbits' Ray mentioned.  And out of that multicultural incubator a strong industry emerged.

The influence of the contrast between The Palace's Lionel Hunt and Ron Mather and the local larrikins, Mo and Jo cannot be underestimated.

More recently, agencies have bolstered local talent by importing the very best to ensure we remain at the cutting edge of the digital age by leveraging data, analytics, CRM, social, technologists, UX architects and many other emerging disciplines.

We don't know yet the full impact of the Turnbull Government's decision to change the 457 visa program. But one thing is certain - agencies must place a stronger focus on developing local talent if we as an industry want to continue to deliver what we have become renowned for.

Equally, we must ensure we retain the right to supplement our skills gaps with the best overseas has to offer. The blend of local and international talent that has served us so well must be protected and we must unite as an industry to ensure the incubator is maintained.

7 Comments

Ouch said:

The notion that we need to import talent is rubbish. I am in an agency with only 3 other Australians. The agency hires from offshore because the agency can pay them less most of them are junior suits who want to come here for a few years as part of a long extended holiday. In that respect they are taking young people's jobs.

Its all a lie.... said:

Get out while you still can....

Sal said:

Agencies no longer want talent. The first and biggest criteria is 'cheap'. The rise of procurement, bean counters, and agency inability to prove their worth (beyond winning cheap metal with questionable work) has led to this downfall.

bit of both said:

Agencies don't have to import talent. There is plenty enough of that here.

But agencies should import SOME talent. Otherwise the same thinking gets recycled. There is a lot to be learned from people with experience on different projects in different markets.

And that's what it should be about. Bringing in skilled workers. Not just British or Kiwi either. Provided they have experience, ad folk from India, Colombia, Germany or wherever can only help bolster the industry.

From the future said:

It's not the 80s.
The world has moved on.
And no Australia is well and truly rooted.
Advertising has been totally devalued.
And the amount of content from overseas is now just laughable.
If you were to pick a career with a future – Adland would not be it.

@from the future said:

Advertising has no doubt been focussed on the what we do. Our work, our people, our awards, all evidence of a focus on what we produce. Could it be time the industry moved back to a WHY model? The need to sell brands, products and services isn't under threat, this is ultimately why we are here. What is under threat however is the relevance of what we've been doing, the scam ads that run and get awarded and the ads parading as content, etc. The best content isn't being created by advertising agencies, nor should it. The best ads should be created by advertising agencies it seems like a no-brainer, but it's easier to see once you're on the outside.

stop the rot said:

unfortunately its way more lucrative for local recruiters to import talent via their overseas networks than sourcing locals from lesser agencies who deserve a shot at the bigger shops. its up to the ECD's to put their ego hires aside, look at what local creatives are doing and commit to supporting our industry or we will remain a retirement village for second-rate overseas talent.

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