Towards closing the talent gap

THE Association of Accredited Advertising Agents of Malaysia (4As) and 95% The Advertising Academy have been putting in more effort this year to reach out to students in order to boost the response to their Graduate Fellowship Programme (GFP).

The GFP, which is done in collaboration with other industry associations, began as a pilot programme last year.

“Traditionally, the 4As would go to advertising schools to get the talents, but this time we want to cast our net wider and seek graduates in other fields, from engineering to finance,” 4As president Datuk Johnny Mun tells StarBizWeek.

“They can add value to the industry, with different ideas. We are also looking for people who want to switch their careers.” Under GFP, 20 selected applicants will undergo a whirlwind three-month subsidised internship - receiving valuable hands-on experience at a participating advertising agency by day, while attending intensive training in the evenings at 95% The Advertising Academy in Bukit Damansara.

The training fee of RM5,500 is fully subsidised by the 4As (RM4,000) and the sponsoring agency (RM1,500). In addition, those selected for the programme also earn a RM2,000 monthly allowance.

The deadline for applications is July 7.

95% The Advertising Academy director Janet Lee says there was not much response last year to the GFP and the quality of applicants was “not so good”.

“We only got four people - two fresh graduates and two career switchers - as we and the agencies were quite picky. But all four completed the programme and were hired by the agencies,” she says.

To boost the number of applicants this year, she says, the academy has re-strategised with the 4As “by reaching out to lecturers (through a briefing earlier this year) and we’ve been running a series of career talks and brainstorm events with students to inform them what the advertising industry is about.”

Mun says that while the target this year is to get 20 fellows, the 4As wants the best and it would be fine if, after the filtering process, the number falls to 10. “We’re looking for quality rather than the number.”

According to Lee, a lot of students today are unclear on what the ad industry can offer. “The lecturers may not be giving inspiring career advice to their students because some of the them are academicians rather than professionals, and if they are professionals, they are more likely to come from PR or journalism background rather than advertising.”

She says that in the nine years that 95% The Advertising Academy has been in business, it has seen a decline in interest in wanting to join the industry, “which is why we’re working with the 4As to do this.”

Mun, meanwhile, says more and more institutions are offering mass communication as a degree or course, and by and large, he doesn’t see a decline in the number of mass comm student intake. But he feels the advertising industry is “very underrated” despite contributing much to the overall economy.

“We hope the Government can give us some concession to attract talents, as it is a highly skilled industry that impacts the economy,” he says, adding that the 4As would like to engage with the Human Resources and Education Ministries on how the latter can offer some incentives to draw talents into the industry.

Asked what are the criteria in selecting the GFP trainees, Lee says: “We do have certain criteria but there are also exceptions, as the advertising industry does not follow strictly to your academic qualifications. There are a lot of outstanding individuals who may not do well in school because they are too creative. We want people who are experimental; maybe in their free time, they’re cutting together videos.”

Lee says a common misconception among those not in the industry is that in order to enter the industry, one must be very good in graphic design or be very artistic. “There are also the account executives who work on big brands,” she points out.

Mun says many parents do not encourage their children to get into advertising as they themselves do not understand what it is about.

“In the old days, advertising equalled painting billboards or signs. But things have evolved so much. I believe the mindset is slowly changing with the advent of the Internet and the availability of information in the electronic medium. But we have to accelerate this growth because it is happening far too slow.

“Hence this year the 4As is going aggressively on an engagement programme with the educational institutions. Basically we’ll have our own roadshow to give career or opportunity talks on the attractions of the advertising business,” Mun says.

He says that besides graduates having little knowledge about advertising, the industry is also facing another challenge: stiff competition for talents with other industries that offer big salaries, such as the financial sector.

Lee says some Gen Ys have so much confidence in themselves that they want to be their own boss and hence set up their own outfits. “They don’t realise that if they were to come in to an industry that is so creative, that would give them a strong foundation for them to set up their own business later.”

For more information on the GFP, visit

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