THE BLOG
30/09/2013 06:24 BST | Updated 27/11/2013 05:12 GMT

Is Advertising Only for the Young?

As the government removes the default retirement age and the size of the UK population over the age of 50 increases yearly with national healthcare generally improving, one would imagine that careers for older people should continue to flourish. However it appears that in many industries, the opposite is true.

As the government removes the default retirement age and the size of the UK population over the age of 50 increases yearly with national healthcare generally improving, one would imagine that careers for older people should continue to flourish. However it appears that in many industries, the opposite is true.

Of course, we all know that sportspeople are at the top of their game for a limited timeframe - and the same is true for modelling (although at 81 Carmen Dell-Orefice and others like her are doing their bit to ensure that older beauties are gracing catwalks and magazines). These exceptions aside, most models and sportspeople move onto other careers whether it be as broadcaster, coach or running a business.

While it enjoys a little less of the glamour that characterises those high profile worlds, the advertising industry has a markedly youthful profile. This may appear unsurprising but the details bear more consideration.

Only 5.5% of those employed in the business are aged 50 or over. Compare that with a massive 45% in agencies or 58% in media sales who are 30 and under.

This suggests that a staggering 95% of entrants will not be in the industry once they reach the age of 50.

This is by no means a new trend. The IPA census of member employees which started in 1960 reveals that whilst the number of member agencies has increased, the overall age profile has remained remarkably static. In other words, the employment pyramid has remained steep for more than fifty years, bringing with it a steady and predictable shedding of older practitioners.

This is in startling contrast to many other professions. For anyone wanting longevity in their career, architecture is a safer choice where 44% are over the age of 50. Accountancy fares well too, with 35% aged 50 and over and law and medicine have similar age profiles where experience seems to count for something.

Banking however shares some of the characteristics of advertising in terms of demography; particularly noticeable when one looks at the levels of redundancy. A recent Sunday Times article highlighted that redundancy is greatest amongst those over the age of 50 years old and in some banks, only 2% are over the age of 50.

Quite clearly any industry needs a constant intake of new, young talent. It re-energises businesses. But such a high rate of attrition is a concern and poses an ethical dilemma.

Should advertising adopt the Darwinian perspective that only the fittest survive and that the rest are cast aside to find jobs in other industries?

Also why should just the young be able to bring fresh thinking to the table? Surely the combination of age with its associated wisdom and a thirst for learning, should be a holy grail?

We have a responsibility to prepare those at the start of their working life to understand that advertising will, for the vast majority, be just the first part of their business careers.

The advertising industry has its own charity, NABS - which exists to support an industry with such a high level of attrition. Through its offer of financial grants, advice and career coaching, it provides a safety net to those made redundant or facing other challenges. As NABS turns 100 this year (quite an achievement for a charity that exists on the goodwill and donations of those working in the long clichéd hedonistic world of advertising), it is now positioned not just as a charity that rescues the minority but as an industry service that supports the majority.

The harsh fact is that for many, life in advertising is short-lived. Yet this does not deter a steady stream of young hopefuls from competing hard to get in. Nor should it; it's important to remember that a career in advertising, despite the obvious challenges, can be enormously fulfilling and enriching. What's more, it can provide an unmatched platform from which to develop a grounding and training, not just in business acumen but in soft-skills which can prove invaluable regardless of which career path may be taken later on.

Meanwhile NABS' advice to older practitioners is to remain curious and keep on learning. Never lose self-confidence, remind oneself that learning comes with experience and age is not an excuse to opt out. Nothing can compensate for hands-on experience, even in today's rapidly evolving media landscape. As Proust said, we don't receive wisdom, we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take for us or spare us.

Despite the reality that I have described, I believe that now is truly the time to be less ageist and encourage companies - in advertising, banking and elsewhere to show more age discrimination, positively. The combination of legislation and demographics is only part of the picture; industries too must take positive action.