By Tony Hale, CEO, The Communications Council.

An issue of immense significance to the advertising industry has been bubbling to the surface – I refer of course to talent.

Mumbrella’s Simon Canning recently interviewed me as he analysed an international report that revealed stark findings about Australian universities’ ability to prepare students for success within creative industries.

I have to say, I haven’t read the report, but there may be an element of truth in Andrew McDonald from The Rookies’ statement that programs “churn out students that are simply not ready for the industry…and not showcasing skills that studios are looking for”.

A university degree won’t make you match fit

While any relevant degree might help you prepare for advertising there is no guarantee for 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 we believe in initiatives that are built by the industry, for the industry, and why our AWARD School and Graduate Program have proven successful for over 30 years at unearthing the next generation of quality talent.

Punching above our weight

The notion that good people aren’t coming into our industry, or that we are losing out, is demonstrably wrong. We are fortunate that advertising remains a wonderful, culturally rich creative environment. Could we do more to encourage a more diverse range of people to our profession? Absolutely – good people have never come off one conveyor belt, they should come from all walks of life.

Yet on any international measure – the Gunn Report, Cannes, WARC – we regularly punch above our weight, placing Australia in the top five or six in the world despite being 13th when measured on GDP. Our home grown talent is always in demand around the world for combining brilliant advertising skills with a strong work ethic and an ability to cut through the bullshit.

Our multicultural incubator

I am one of the few people still involved in the industry after 40 years and as much as I would like to attribute the entire success of our global reputation to local talent, it is simply not the case. We have always kept a sharp eye tuned overseas.

When we spotted skills gaps we imported the talent. Art directors, copywriters, planners, suits and media buyers have been attracted to Australia to create a brilliant melting pot of culture, influences and approaches. Their contribution to the success of Australian advertising cannot be underestimated – yes, even all those bloody poms. And out of that incubator, distinctive styles emerged: the Aussie larrikin personified in Mojo; the clever pommy wit embedded in the DNA of The Campaign Palace and so on.

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.

The competition in Australia remains rich as home grown agencies such as CHE, WiTH Collective and The Monkeys slug it out with international counterparts such as R/GA, VML and Isobar. We punch above our weight because of the successful formula of blending local talent with strategic imports.

Time to rebuild career pathways to continue growth

Right now, it’s premature to understand the full impact of the Turnbull Government’s decision to withdraw 457 visas. But one thing is certain – the onus is now on agencies to nurture local talent, if we as an industry want to continue to punch above our weight creatively and economically.

After years of disruption, there is no denying Australia has to protect our creative incubator and rebuild career pathways to ensure we support our talent from entry level through to senior management. There must to be recognisable signposts for every job to ensure the appropriate knowledge and experience has been attained to enable them to excel.

This was already on The Comms Council’s agenda even before the decision on 457 visas was announced. Now, we are set to play an even more critical role in these developments as we formalise our offering – Graduate program, AWARD School, AdSchool and our IPA certificates – into a Continuing Professional Development (CPD) framework.

As we move back towards a recognised accreditation system, agencies will be obligated to invest in their talent by allocating a minimum of 1% of revenue to professional development, consistent with Government guidelines. Agencies already have to prove they spend 1% of payroll to qualify for the existing 457 visas as they should.

Developing pathways and returning to accreditation must be a priority if we are to continue to perform at international standards – and is crucial to being a professional industry.Advertising’s contribution to the economy – $40b or 2.4% of GDP – is largely undervalued because the wider public does not understand the broader benefits of the industry. That connection would be easier to make if we were seen as more professional and credible, and I believe accreditation will contribute to that.

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.

Modified versions of this article have appeared on Mumbrella and Campaign Brief. Email to share your thoughts on the issue.