When I started thinking about age and market research for this first entry, in what is to be an A-Z of topical issues regarding Market Research today, I had initially thought about looking at the need to modernise the industry. However, what became more pronounced as I researched the subject, delving through the archives of literature on Market Research, was a more prevalent issue appears to be the age of those working within the industry.
I think it is evident that the latter directly impacts upon the former and was also a topic discussed in depth at The Research Mafia’s Redefining Research conference; so with this in mind, the first of this discussion series will look at the debate of youth vs. experience
‘Respect your Elders’, the somewhat aptly named game show hosted by Ray Poynter at The Research Mafia’s conference last month, consisted of two teams represented by ‘young un’s’ (team youth Rosy Goodrick and Betty Adamou) and a couple of golden oldies (team experience John Griffiths and Neil McPhee). Whilst team youth ultimately won (only on the tie break question at the end mind) it was interesting to see the conflict of opinions over new blood vs old guard. Team youth argued that fresh eyes are essential; younger candidates are (at least in theory) more up to date with the latest methods, technologies and ideas. They are passionate and enthusiastic as only those new to something can be. Team experience on the flipside, regarded the trust and confidence in those who have been in the industry for many years to be far more valuable, as this ultimately translates to experience that younger researchers fundamentally lack.
In a broader business context it has been found that the most common form of discrimination in the workplace is age; as a general rule of thumb, youngsters are preferred for the vast majority of employment opportunities. However in Market Research, an industry that is generally considered to be ‘mature and traditional’, the opposite is much more common; with candidates often being considered too young. This unfortunate trend sees young people struggle to break into the industry and when they do succeed, the wage discrepancies between those deemed young (and ultimately less valuable) and those who are older, are enormous. Typically, a 50+ researcher earns three times as much as that of a researcher in their early 20’s. With little incentive or widespread enthusiasm to attract youngsters into the market research workplace, the industry is in danger of falling behind.
My personal view is that it is important to firstly attract younger candidates into the industry; thankfully there are more and more, smaller agencies popping up, geared by younger researchers who are fighting to pick up the pace. However everybody needs a helping hand and guidance from those who have already been there, so to speak, and it is important that those with the experience extend the hand of friendship to the exciting talent they have at their disposal and take on a mentoring role. The industry needs pumping up, but this needs to be done with the guidance of those who have the experience and the gift of hindsight. It isn’t a case of one or the other, but the industry needs a life line and a pool of resources to continue in what is a fast paced, competitive, modern world. We can not do it alone and it is important that once we have attracted more young blood into the industry that they are fairly paid, due to talent value not necessarily years of service. Okay, they don’t have the experience but there is so much more focus now on education and skillset. They need a chance to prove themselves but they also need an incentive to do so. These young ‘whippersnappers’ just want a chance and some encouragement, and shouldn’t be seen as a threat; but rather a valuable weapon in the battle to keep Market Research relevant in the minds of clients and the general public.
What are your thoughts on the Youth vs. Experience debate? Do we need more young blood as it were, or due to the very nature of the industry should we be sticking to the golden oldies who have the experience?