It’s really important that our workforce reflects the kind of people that we’re advertising to, says Sue Frogley, UK chief executive of Publicis Media
Iam always very transparent about the reason we started thinking about an apprenticeship scheme: we were prompted by the government levy. The levy is an additional tax put on employers of a certain size, but they can avoid paying it if they invest the money into training apprenticeships. That’s what began the journey.
But [as a business] we also had a need to address our diversity issue in the workforce, and we hoped these new recruits could help. The industry has a lot of men, and is in need of more black, Asian and minority (BAME) employees as well as a greater age difference. Advertising can attract a certain type – well educated, middle England-raised – but that’s not our only target audience in advertising. It’s really important that our workforce reflects the kind of people that we’re advertising to.
We took 11 apprentices in the first cohort. We call them our “pioneers”. We didn’t want them to be called apprentices because it didn’t send the right message. All of our pioneers are guaranteed a job by the end of the 18-month scheme.
The first group were effectively selected by pot luck because we were still learning as a business how to run such a scheme. By 2018, we increased it to 20, as we’d worked out where to find prospective talent. We introduced new assessment criteria and scrapped CVs. After all, a CV is a summary of experience, but at that age it’s unlikely to have much. We wanted to judge them on potential, not experience. We also partnered up with an organisation called WhiteHat, an apprentice scheme support provider. That’s when it really took off. This year, I’ve got 40 coming in.
Employers thinking about an apprenticeship scheme should understand that they often lack confidence. They’ve not been to university and they haven’t worked much (if at all). We set up a special training programme for our new recruits. That’s been a learning curve for us, too. At first, we offered 50 hours training in the first two months, but that was overwhelming. Now they do 50 hours over the whole year, alongside experiences and industry visits to key partners such as Google and Facebook. We also train them on how to behave in a professional environment and give them “outside the box” thinking tasks; so we give them a real business challenge that we’re facing and they have a go at coming up with a solution.
And they certainly rise to the challenge. We have one apprentice working in our new business team. He was in a pitch helping with the administration of the process. Everybody was brainstorming ideas when this young man spoke up and delivered two fantastic pitch-winning ideas. Just by being in the room, he made such an impact. That was a lovely moment and there have been many.
Setting up a scheme isn’t easy and we had to push for it within our organisation. Some of my leadership team said: “I’d rather have a grad because I won’t have to teach them how to work in an office.” But we pushed the diversity point and, although I didn’t mandate it, I certainly championed it.
We often have breakfast with the apprentices, who are bursting with energy. It wasn’t long until the senior team started to see their value. As an employer, you get payback from the investment and you get huge loyalty. Our pioneers love the company and we think – though it’s not proven yet – that they will stay longer. And, most importantly, they bring something truly very different to the organisation.