OPINION19 October 2010

Young researchers are the recovery’s green shoots


BPRI’s James Keeling says the recession has had a bright side in creating opportunities for young market researchers. But will the benefits last?

Many young researchers out there will tell you they fell into market research without knowing much about it. But a few months down the line when a graduate has settled into a role they never planned for, are they really happy with the industry they now seek to form a career in?

I have been in the industry for just over two years and like many of my peers I fell into my role. I was taught about market research techniques as part of a business degree but never really knew what happened in a research agency or what market research meant as a career. Fortunately that has now changed – but the opportunities I have had are not necessarily typical for a research executive in the early years of their career.

The roles graduates occupy in larger agencies seem to be restricted by their job title rather than their ability, with young researchers having to jump through hoops and check enough sets of tables before they are considered ready to get involved with the analysis of a project. While I appreciate that those new to research must learn the ropes, the industry must be careful not to put off talented researchers with the prospect of two years of boredom before they can get their hands on more interesting work.

“While the recession has had many negative impacts on the research industry, for many young researchers it has given rise to opportunities that were previously unavailable”

I think the recession has worked wonders in breaking down this old school mentality. In May I presented at the Business Intelligence Group (Big) conference on b2b research conference, arguing just that. While the recession has had many negative impacts on the research industry, for many young researchers it has given rise to opportunities that were previously unavailable.

As the full force of the recession came to be realised, many clients’ research budgets were severely reduced or disappeared entirely. This meant the ‘more for less’ mentality grew, providing young researchers with their first opportunity of the recession. Where previously a young researcher’s role may have been skewed towards data processing and fieldwork management, an opportunity now arose for ambitious (and cost-effective) young researchers to be more heavily involved with the entire research process. At this point fortune favoured the bold, and those willing to get stuck in will certainly have benefited.

At BPRI, there has been a renewed business drive, which has resulted in many new projects and clients. Among these have been several smaller projects, which we perhaps would not have competed for outside of the recession. These smaller projects have provided the ideal opportunity for younger researchers to lead a project for the first time. Those confident and trusted enough within the business were given opportunities that were scarce before the recession and might not have come their way for another couple of years. A result of this is that I have been able to work on more projects, increasing the variety of work that I have been involved with, and extending the range of knowledge that I have been able to absorb. All of these factors have given young researchers more opportunities than we could ever have hoped for coming into the recession.

So there have been benefits for young researchers. But looking to the future, will these opportunities continue? I am an optimistic person, but I can see how companies could slip back into their old ways. It is crucial for more experienced team members to recognise the abilities of those more junior and continue to stretch them. At BPRI our graduates have demonstrated that they are more than capable in front of clients and can happily lead smaller projects with support from a research director.

If the smaller projects fade away then it is vital for young researchers to continue to have a larger role in bigger projects in order to challenge and develop them to their maximum potential. Research directors must understand the importance of this need, as it is crucial for retaining talented young researchers who want to be constantly challenged. This is easily forgotten in a busy agency, but putting time aside to develop the more junior team members must be seen as an investment.

While it is important for more senior team members and the wider company to encourage and develop younger members of the team, we are responsible for our own development. You cannot maximise your potential without throwing yourself in at the deep end and volunteering for things that are out of your comfort zone. Young researchers must understand that if they want to reach the top, then they are going to have to do more than just their day job.

I have also come to recognise the importance of learning on the job. Training budgets have been heavily reduced over the past year and yet I feel I have learnt more through increased responsibility and contact with more experienced team members, than I did from all my training courses. Agencies must appreciate that one of the best ways for young researchers to learn is to actually be involved. While employers can attract graduates with promises of training courses, the most insightful learning comes from experiencing the real thing.

As the industry begins to return to some form of normality, agencies should sit down with their young researchers and take stock of what they have learnt over the past year and how this has differed from previous years. There is no reason why working practices that have come to the fore in the past year cannot continue into the future. There is no substitute for hands-on experience and responsibility within an agency, and long may these opportunities continue for the young researchers in our industry.

James Keeling is a client manager at BPRI

1 Comment

10 years ago

I am a graduate in BA. Economics and Statistics from Africa. I admire research for it paves the way to decide.

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