Right skilling is at the core of a service and people driven industry like advertising – so for Havas APAC, it has always been a strategic focus area geared towards retaining and training existing talent. In fact, in the current climate, it has become more important than ever and an excellent opportunity to get better at their craft, affirms Kevin Zhang, Chief Human Resources Officer APAC, Havas Group.

Q What is your organisation’s skilling strategy, and how has it evolved in recent times? How does this L&D agenda fit into your priority as the L&D head, and do you work closely with your management peers for this?

Right skilling is at the core of a service and people driven industry like advertising – so it has always been a strategic focus area geared towards retaining and training existing talent. In the current climate, it has been more important than ever and an excellent opportunity to get better at our craft. Upskilling our people across all disciplines, accelerating regional roll-outs of programmes are designed to help our markets, and our clients. We are actively encouraging and implementing this across all levels and the leadership team is meeting regularly to help define programmes of work. Our in-house online learning platform Havas University – has been buzzing with activity and new courses are being offered on a regular basis.

That said, training and development cannot be developed without management support. The leadership team is fully vested in the strategy and play an active role in determining the future capabilities and skills required in line with the vision of the agency.

As the APAC Head of HR and Talent, it is a priority to get the pulse of the industry in terms of innovation, and service and have regular catch-ups with the leadership team to understand the business needs, the gaps and what we need to do from a skills perspective that fill them and define the success outcomes.

Q To tackle the changes happening in the world of work, it is now vital for companies to step up the pace of their teams’ skills development. How is your team anticipating and easing in these far-reaching changes, rather than simply dealing with the consequences? Talk us through the major campaigns you’re undertaking.

By 2030, as many as 375mn workers globally will have to master fresh skills as their current jobs evolve alongside the rise of automation and capable machines, estimates McKinsey Global Institute while the World Economic Forum declared reskilling as an emergency in a world changing rapidly by technology. Digital transformation, as we know, has been accelerated by COVID-19. As a result, there is a heightened urgency have a clear perspective on how we approach skills development in organisations.

Proliferation of new ways to engage and reach consumers along with shifting consumer behaviour means that advertising and marketing as an industry has to adapt and honing the right skills set is critical to survival. What can you as a practitioner in this industry do that no one else can? What skills are required that make us a client partner rather than a vendor? To get above these questions and see the real value of it all, we have to be prepared to invest in the right talent and continue to nurture them with an effective L&D strategy.

Furthermore, challenges like ad-blocking, ad-fraud, consumers shifting towards ad-free subscription services means that we have to re-think our role as a client partner, a partner they lean on to drive growth and value from investment in media and audiences.

In this context, we launched Meaningful Media (Mx) framework to understand the audience we can turn into consumers by knowing the media that matters most to them. This approach has been translated into a global training programme for every Havas employee to access. “Understanding Mx” is the course on the fundamentals of Mx and is aimed at accelerating its adoption across the network. We have created this training to ensure we are all powered and aligned collectively with the same strategic processes, tools and concepts.

In our effort to add strategic purpose and to future-proof our employees skillset, we launched HavasFromHome, a series of online training programmes in the region, while we were in lockdown. It has a variety of modules from mindfulness to virtual pitching as there are new skills to be learnt in adapting to the current situation brought about by the pandemic. Along with this, we have also been working with partners such as Facebook, Google and LinkedIn to incorporate trainings that help our employees in their upskilling journey.

Q In your sector, what are the top skills that are most in demand? How are you scouting for and developing these capabilities?

Advertising is a multi-faceted industry and as such the skills required vary depending on the function. However, in terms of business needs, I would list the following:

  • People skills – Advertising or any other form of marketing is all about interacting with and influencing people, and being able to fuse the right people around you – it is the glue that holds things together.
  • Client servicing – Complexity of client requirements, the rise of technology and data, larger/more diverse agency rosters, larger/more diverse skillsets within an agency team means it is vital build prowess in this area.
  • Data/programmatic – programmatic advertising is a way to automatically buy and optimise digital campaigns, rather than buying directly from publishers and key skill set to nurture.
  • Entrepreneurial – A mix of interpersonal, critical and creative thinking, practical skills and knowledge to empower employees to take ownership.
  • Creative – Creative thinkers are able to look at things in new, unorthodox ways and come up with solutions no one previously thought of. Creativity is what drives innovation and progress- the lifeblood of an agency.

We develop the skills through a mix of external and internal coaching. Subject experts within the agency regularly share their knowledge through sessions triggering stimulating discussion and hands on learning.

Q On the other hand, what would you say are previously much-talked-about skills that are on their way out from the list?

The world has changed and so have consumers along with their media consumption habits. Technology, data, consumer demands, talent, financial pressures—marketers' needs are changing rapidly. Customers today are channel-agnostic. They interact with brands on the platforms that are the most convenient for them, and they expect you to be there to answer their needs and provide them with an outstanding experience.

In this context – skills that enforce siloed thinking are outdated – as breaking down the silos between the different teams within the organization is the first step towards developing a successful integrated marketing campaign. This is the reason why, we took the step towards integrating of all our skills under one roof (advertising, strategic planning, content, creation, technical, production, media, digital, social, PR, logistics) within the Havas village concept to create an unique offering helps clients to be future forward.

I would also add – that reskilling is the more relevant conversation to have. For example while personalisation is a key skill in the industry – the days of blanket personalisation are over as each consumer is unique, and skills that enable hyper-personalisation to help brands to leverage omni-channel data to drive personalized customer experiences in real-time, are in demand.

Q It would be too simplistic to believe that digitalisation is the only game changer when it comes to skills. What are some of the other key factors to take into consideration, going forward?

Diverse workplaces have a transformative power to change business organisations for the better. The business case for diversity has never been simpler and there are numerous studies that demonstrate the economic benefits of having more women advance to leadership.

Taking this into account, we launched Femmes Forward, an accelerator programme designed to prepare high-potential female employees at Havas to advance their careers at a faster pace. The programme is a unique combination of career vision setting, leadership awareness & development leveraging the Lumina Spark skills-based training and mindfulness exercises. It also includes presentations and conversations with internal and external thought leaders, experts and entrepreneurs. Havas Village leadership and sponsors play a key role in supporting the women.

Experiential learning experiences that help employees to build new skillsets and gain exposure to other markets, making for stronger collaboration between our global employees is another important area. We have programmes like Havas Lofts - global talent exchange programme – and NextGen – to nurture future leaders that are designed for this purpose.

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