Post by Liz Norman, owner of Elizabeth Norman International.
Despite the huge growth in technology ultimately market research is only as good as the people managing the projects and interpreting the results. To grow and compete, the industry must attract and retain high calibre staff. It must also train and develop them, giving them the skills necessary to drive the industry forward and make the most of the opportunities technology and global growth offers. The industry is not always doing that now and if it doesn’t have the talent, it will be far harder to succeed in the future.
Research as a career offers enormous variety, the opportunity to work with new thinking and technologies, and the chance to work on really key decisions for household names. Yet despite being an industry that is loved by many that know it, most graduates enter the industry after stumbling across it as a career option. As a result the industry is missing out on the skills of those who have a lot to offer but don’t know the industry exists. Research needs to take the opportunity to promote itself to undergraduates. In that way it will attract the best talent, but also promote the industry to the young business people of tomorrow. Regardless of whether or not they become researchers, we need them to appreciate the research industry.
As well as attracting more graduates, the industry needs to increase the number of graduate opportunities, to ensure a strong flow of future talent. It is also key that the talent is retained within the industry rather than lost to other sectors. As an industry with a lot of small/medium sized and flexible companies, research can offer the individual fast progression, variety, responsibility and recognition. The flip side is the same companies can lack strong HR/training and progression policies, and as a result candidates don’t benefit from the best of what the industry can offer.
As technology leads research into new spaces, researchers need the training in the technical and commercial skills necessary to ensure the industry takes advantage of the various developments taking place. One of the things researchers love about the industry is the huge variety of specialisms and the speed at which they are evolving. However this relies on them having the opportunity and training to take advantage of the various different skills. The risk is that commercial expedience, in a competitive environment, means researchers end up working on just one type of study which doesn’t offer the commercial and technical variety necessary. It’s also difficult, when so many companies specialise in a particular sector, to give researchers the breadth of vision to both develop and interest them but also allow their employer to evolve into new areas.
One way of increasing the variety of work and learning opportunities for researchers is to give them the chance to have sabbaticals with other organisations. Given that large numbers of research agencies are jointly owned by larger parent groups, there is a greatly increased opportunity to set up schemes which move researchers around between companies within the same group, allowing more learning opportunities. In addition as an increasingly established industry can we create key learning criteria and job levels making it easier to establish how careers can be progressed?
As manufacturers have become increasingly global, research has grabbed the opportunity to match their needs by also becoming global. A lot of researchers would also love the opportunity for a global career, yet at the moment very few move around, and those that do move often find it difficult to move back home. To give researchers the skills needed in a global world and increase retention, we need to make sure they benefit from our global networks.
In summary research has a huge amount to offer as employers. It needs to take advantage of that, so we have the talent to be an industry of the future. If we don’t do that, research will not make the best of the opportunities for its staff, and the employers and the industry will suffer as a result.
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