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Opinion and Insight

Tony Hale: Talent is the Lifeblood of Australia's Creative Industry - Developing it Must be a Priority

By Tony Hale, CEO, The Communications Council

Tony Hale: Talent is the Lifeblood of Australia's Creative Industry - Developing it Must be a Priority

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.