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UK Advertising’s Talent Shortage Needs Government Help

Alessandra Bellini, Advertising Association President, launches the 'Investing in our Talent's Future report at LEAD 2023

Advertising Association

4 min read Partner content

The UK's advertising and marketing industry is facing a significant talent shortage, particularly in data and digital skills. The Advertising Association's new report, Investing in Our Talent’s Future, recommends urgent action to address this skills shortage and protect the industry’s status as a global hub for advertising and marketing services.

The UK's advertising and marketing industry’s talent pool needs help. The sector’s successes are built through the hard work of talented professionals, yet like many industries, there has unfortunately been a noticeable decline in the industry’s talent pool in the last few years.

Between 2019 and 2022, the number of people working in advertising and marketing declined by 14%. This shortage has been most keenly felt in the areas of data and digital skills - two of the most prominent areas in the industry right now.

The UK is the second-largest exporter of advertising services in the world, just behind the US. To ensure the UK remains a global hub for advertising, urgent action is needed to address this talent shortage. The Advertising Association's new report, Investing in Our Talent’s Future, launched at LEAD 2023, the advertising industry’s annual summit by its President Alessandra Bellini (pictured above), offers recommendations that could be pivotal in addressing this shortage.

Alongside action being taken by industry, policies including increased funding for training and education have the potential to reverse the current skills gap.

But one of the most promising ways to address the talent shortage is through apprenticeships. Yet, despite their huge potential, there have been challenges in securing more apprenticeships across the industry.

Small and medium-sized enterprises have cited various problems, including a lack of flexibility in determining how levy money can be spent and the amount of time apprentices spend on out-of-office training. The government must now consider changes to the apprenticeship levy that will make it more workable and give companies greater autonomy over how they spend the levy money awarded to them.

In 2020, the IPA estimated their agency members contributed upwards of £6 million to the government’s apprenticeship levy. To recoup the benefits of this contribution, IPA members would need to collectively hire around 1,000 new apprentices each year. However only 150 were actually employed. Reversing this trend is vital to helping the industry build for an increasingly digital future.

Not only can harnessing the full potential of these schemes allow for up-skilling across the industry, it can also attract a diversity of perspectives from across the UK. Apprenticeships are a great tool for attracting talent from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds, as well as upskilling current employees. By utilising apprenticeships fully, employers can invest in people, supporting the long-term health of the industry in turn.

Apprenticeships are not a silver bullet for all the industry’s talent shortages. Long-term initiatives are also needed to attract people to the industry.

For example, the ‘Ad Net Zero’ initiative is already leading the way in social and cultural issues that matter to young people, like battling the climate crisis, while programmes like ‘All In’ have worked to create a more inclusive workplace where opportunities are extended to all communities. In addition, allocating government skills funding to industry-led training courses, such as those provided by the Data & Marketing Association’s Digital Marketing Skills Bootcamp, can also help address the talent shortage and increase diversity within the industry.

By utilising apprenticeships fully, employers can invest in people, supporting the long-term health of the industry in turn.

Lord Baker, Vice-Chair of the Apprenticeships APPG and former Education Secretary backed the Investing in Our Talent’s Future’s recommendations, saying "those entering the Advertising industry need data and digital skills, experience of working in teams, creativity, curiosity, and critical thinking.” Yet, he too called for more, highlighting that extra futureproofing could be provided by embedding these skills in secondary education, saying “none of these are in the existing school curriculum for 11–16-year-olds and they are not tested by GCSEs. It is time for a fundamental change in the curriculum."

Baroness Garden echoed these sentiments highlighting that skills are “crucial for the country’s economy and success”. She cited apprenticeships as a crucial driver of those skills, saying “Apprenticeships have for centuries provided the entry for the country’s successful entrepreneurs. They must be made more accessible so that creative people can make best use of their talents”.

The UK's £35 billion advertising and marketing industry is ready to work closely with the Government to secure an injection of new talent. Urgent action is needed to address its current skills shortages so we can continue to offer the brilliant innovation and creativity the UK is known for on the world stage.

By implementing the recommendations of the Advertising Association's Investing in Our Talent’s Future report, such as increased funding for training and education from industry-led courses and more flexibility with apprenticeships, the industry can maintain its hard-won world-leading position.

It’s time to get to work and ensure that the UK's advertising industry continues to thrive and contribute to the economy.

The full “Investing in Our Talent’s Future” report is available to read here and for more information, please get in touch with

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