Nick Bayes: Imagine the Perth communications industry without any Poms

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NickBayes_2016_BLOG.jpgNick Bayes, General Manager at The Brand Agency, says changes to the 457 Visa system will make developing local talent even more imperative.

Before everyone starts cheering, this could be a distinct possibility for the future, due to the Federal Government abolishing the 457 visa. It would also mean fewer Canadians, Americans, South Africans and other nationalities, all of which have had countrymen and women that have contributed in a big way to the success and development of the industry in our state.

In the past 20 years in Perth there's been Ronnie Duncan, Mark Fretten, Adam Marshall, Mark Pinney, Marc Loveridge, Steve Straw,  Gary Horner and before them as sponsored skilled migrants, Paul Yole, Debra Neve, Iain Rowe, Andrew Lindsay and John Downing. And there's many more that don't immediately spring to mind. It was the same in Sydney when I arrived as a backpacker just before the 2000 Olympics. Over half of the agency heads in the harbour city were Poms and it was ridiculously easy for me to get a job thanks to my English accent and London experience.
Yes, all of these people, myself included, have benefitted greatly from the WA industry, the sunny weather and the amazing lifestyle. But they have also helped create the industry we love, by training people, bringing with them new ideas and ways of doing things and in turn attracting new talent to WA from Australia and around the world.

Please don't think I'm saying that without a few Poms and a spattering of other nationalities the industry in WA would be non-existent. I'm a Pom myself, but I don't have an ingrained colonial bias and I believe the homegrown talent we have here is some of the best in the world, just look at Matt Eastwood et al.

We have 16 different nationalities in The Brand Agency Perth head office and I'm very proud of this. I think it strengthens our culture and definitely makes us a more successful organisation. In fact, with the globalisations of clients' markets I think it's a necessity. But to survive and flourish into the future as an industry we need to focus on growing the talent we have in our state, and there's lots of it. Graduate programs such as the Communication Council's Jump Start program and Award School are invaluable in attracting and nurturing the best talent, encouraging them to choose our industry above others.

So what does the future look like?

Agencies will still need to employ people from overseas, however they manage to do it. It's important to create a global perspective, Perth can already be more bothered about the footy scores than world issues, and this isn't healthy. We need different approaches and fresh thinking. But we need to focus on our young people and how we can help them develop their outlook outside the Australian market. This comes from an investment in training and exposure to thinking outside our state.

How will The Brand Agency do this? We're doing it already. By giving some of our Australian staff the opportunity to work in our offices overseas and opportunities to travel outside Australia to benefit from experiences that simply aren't available on our shores. And because we are part of the WPP global network, we are lucky to be an international agency based in Perth, giving us access to training and insights not available to others. But in spite of these advantages the opportunity is simple. Focus on our young people with structured training and development and they will ensure the success of not only each communications business in Perth but also the industry as a whole.

Poms....who needs them?


Sign of the Times said:

Buy Australian, Hire Australian!

Josh said:

Personally, I’m getting pretty sick and tired of agencies blaming a lack of development of junior staff and local talent on 457 holders. This article follows Tony Hale’s equally polite response earlier this year, and makes me equally cranky.

Now that this short-sighted and (let’s be honest) vaguely racist policy has been announced, it’s time for us to finally take a good hard look at the reasons why we have a big development hole in our local juniors - who are often being asked to work to a mid-range level straight out of university. Cutting 457 holders out of the Perth creative talent pool is an objectively stupid decision, especially in the digital creative market, but one that it seems that we will all have to live with. And it’s not going to instantly result in a host of local talent being snapped up to replace them, because those people either don’t exist or have found fulfilling creative work outside of the advertising industry. Any local agency currently trying to hire creative web devs, senior digital designers, UX experts, digital marketing strategists or smart, creative social media co-ordinators (to name just a few roles) will know exactly what I’m talking about.

I do believe that our local universities are trying to catch up to the standards of creative and design capability that the industry is requiring of them, but the fact is that we’re still at least 5 years behind in areas such as Frontend coding capabilities, digital creative, UX and UI design, information architecture, responsive web design and HTML skills is terrifying. 457 staff, usually brought in from countries who have actually invested in these educational areas for well over a decade now, are a shortcut to helping agencies fix their systemic issues and training up eager young Perth creatives.

If we assume the last paragraph of Nick’s article is a clever ad for Brand and very little use to the rest of the local industry, what commitments and strategies are going to arrive to solve the crisis in our local talent pool? Are we going to move towards an off-shore model, or digital nomad workforce, or off-the-shelf software solution (Squarespace and Fiverr replacing a genuine local workforce) while we spend the next few years desperately trying to fix the quality of our graduates (and under-skilled seniors)? Whatever happens, less international exposure to our local workforce is a policy decision that will only harm us in the short term. It’d be nice if we stopped acting so nice and friendly about it, and started calling a spade a bloody shovel.

Mark said:

Agree with what both Nick and Josh have said, any organisation that believes it is immune to the influence of the outside world and believes that they cannot benefit from the exposure to these influences is living in a bubble... and we all know what happens to bubbles... they burst to leave a soggy mess on the floor. If you are not exposing yourself as a designer/creative/marketer to a the wider world and learning from those people that are willing and able to impart their knowledge and skills onto you, you will very quickly get left behind. Excellence isn't handed out on a plate like a school dinner, you have to work for it and learn everything you can to achieve it. What you learn today, you can teach tomorrow.

Training Training Training said:

Graduates have always been under skilled when they leave university, (I know I was), but in the good old days (of, say 1998 when I graduated) companies took on grads and actually trained them.   I was lucky maybe, but the first two companies I worked for both did the same. And I repaid them both by working my way up the ladder and then training others the same way.

They had planned and coordinated trainee schemes to help mould clueless fresh grads like me to take us from completely useless to very useful.   

We owe our future leaders more than just expecting the university to spit them out as complete packages.  I know it’s an extra cost to a business, but if we invest time in our current team (all that knowledge in house) to train them to train people, you will only benefit in the long term and become totally self-sufficient. 

It is a shame about the changes to the 457 visa, but change can sometimes result in positive outcomes.

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