Youth need not be first to go during staff cuts

This week's salary survey found that salaries were increasing and that more than half of respondents were not actively job hunting. It also featured agency leaders saying that economic uncertainty would not deter their plans to hire new staff.

This week's salary survey found that salaries were increasing and that more than half of respondents were not actively job hunting. It also featured agency leaders saying that economic uncertainty would not deter their plans to hire new staff.

While that may be so, rumors are circulating in the market that some firms are trimming staff or instituting hiring freezes.

If economic and budgetary realities require downsizing, the obvious choice might be to cut younger staff loose, as they won't be in a position to take clients, have the least amount of institutional knowledge, and, presumably, can find another job.

But such thinking led to a purge of young talent from 2000 to 2002 - a decision that hurts recruiting efforts today, shown by the continued claim that mid-level talent is impossible to find.

During the purge, the future stars saw an industry that could not nurture them. Narrow thinking today will doom the industry to a familiar fate five years from now.

There are realities - such as decreased revenues, holding company pressures - that could lead firms to trim their staffs. And, certainly no agency should sacrifice its own solvency by keeping staffers for a greater good.

One opportunity, should a recession happen, would be to pare down staff across the firm. Doing so signifies an appropriate, if unfortunate, response to a depressed market. But it's a better sign to the young pros in the industry that they won't just be jettisoned at the first sign of trouble. Another opportunity, borrowed from journalism, is to buy out some of the more senior staff.

No solution will be a happy one if it relates to staff cuts. But, for the good of the industry, agencies must do what they can to keep the stars of tomorrow in the industry today.

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