Why institutionalising learning across all levels is a smart way to bridge the PR industry talent gap, with Genesis Burson-Marsteller’s Deepshikha Dharmaraj

Attracting and retaining good talent is an issue every industry faces, and the PR industry is certainly no exception. The story is the same and we have heard it many times. How do companies find the best talent and, more importantly, how do they keep them engaged?

The PR industry talent is young, and what they lack in experience they make up for in energy, enthusiasm and fresh new ideas. They are also demanding more from their employers. It’s no longer just about the pay-check, they want to feel appreciated, they want to learn and most importantly, they want their hard work to pay off with bigger and better opportunities in their future.

Over the course of our twenty years, Genesis Burson-Marsteller has worked to attract and retain its talent. But just as the competition has increased for attracting the best clients, the same can be said of recruiting and keeping qualified employees. From the earliest days of our business lifecycle, we have worked to identify relevant learning needs for both existing and potential key talent that is in line with their future growth aspirations. As part of this, we conduct learning interventions designed to develop talented and motivated teams through classroom study, mentoring, on-the-job learning and self-evaluations.

Learning is also a communications tool. It opens up dialogue and presents opportunity to hear from the employees and understand what are their needs, what are their strengths and what are their challenges. It’s important to develop and nurture a real culture of learning, and not just adhere to a set of policies that mandate learning as yet another task that must be completed. In fact, learning is an area where more policies usually mean bigger failures. When policies are established to push people into learning, it’s often met with strong resistance. But if companies create enough of a draw and feed the aspiration for employee learning opportunities, employees will do everything in their power to make sure they are nominated for relevant programmes. I strongly believe that people have to want to learn and invest in themselves, and no amount of company policies can make this happen.

At Genesis B-M, one of our most successful programmes is the Associate Learning Programme (ALP), conducted for entry level employees. Following a competitive selection process, chosen associates enter a one-year programme which efficiently combines all three forms of learning, including classroom study, mentoring and on-the-job. Associates graduate from this programme as well-rounded professionals who are motivated and ready to deliver.

Another popular programme is the Learn Evolve Advance Perform (LEAP) programme for young managers. This course works with identified future leaders, focusing on their personal leadership and professional skills. A year-long programme for hand-picked participants, the course load includes classroom sessions on teamwork and leadership skills using tried and tested tools like Myers-Briggs Type Indicators (MBTI); work skills like effective media relations, writing skills, generating creative and innovative ideas and, most importantly, also teaches lifestyle skills like dining etiquette, wine appreciation, fitness and dancing! Finally, we also encourage LEAP participants to pick their favourite NGO and do a community project. Participants come out of these sessions fully charged, bursting with ideas and positive energy which they further infuse into their teams at work.

There is a common misperception that learning and development falls entirely under the HR team’s responsibility. Experience has taught me that nothing could be further from the truth.  At no point can HR force learning. HR’s role is to create an environment of learning, one that nurtures communications among employees and one that creates opportunities on the journey toward knowledge.

Deepshikha Dharmaraj is Chief Officer of Growth Initiatives at Genesis Burson-Marsteller

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