What this means is, that only those young people willing to take what seems like a risky option, and confident enough to ignore advice from parents are able to access this jobs market. But what about the rest? And what is causing this lack of awareness?
Risk averse schools and parents
In schools and amongst parents in lower socio-economic communities, employment in the creative industries is perceived as precarious and not financially viable. Many of the students we meet at the schools we work with aren’t even considering those kinds of careers.
Current education agenda
The introduction of the Ebacc has resulted in a decline in uptake of creative subjects at GCSE level of 38,900 students – a fall of 8% from 2016 to 2017. And this affects poorer students in schools who don’t have the budget to offer those activities extracurricular.
Communication with schools
With ever-increasing university fees, many students are choosing to go straight into work after A Levels. If they want to attract diverse talent, employers need to be going into schools to talk about what they do. The creative industries needs to take responsibility for nurturing talent at an earlier age.
Lack of exposure to the world of work
One of the biggest problems is that schools’ performance is primarily measured on their exam results means that properly resourced careers support is not a priority. I should say at this point that all of the teachers I know would love to spend more time on this. But pressure to support students through exams, lack of budgets and constant changes to the exam system mean they never have enough time.
Over their school career, many students’ experience of the world of work is limited to two weeks during work experience. For those without the connections to find exciting placements, this experience can be less than inspiring. Far from being about CV building, work experience is about understanding the nuances of workplace behaviour. What people wear, how they communicate with each other, even the basic skills like email tone – are learned. So why do we leave students from low-income families to fend for themselves on this level?
Importance of social capital
More than any other sector, being successful in the creative industries relies on social capital – an ability to make and leverage social connections.
Research suggests that 60% of job vacancies are unadvertised. The so-called ‘hidden job market’ means that people skills are arguably more important than academic achievement.
There are so many incredible mainstream schools up and down the country that support their students to achieve incredible success at exam level. But few who offer decent exposure to working environments, help understanding the value of building networks, and the opportunity to practice being able to present themselves and their ideas.
So why does lack of awareness have such a big impact? Research by the Education Endowment Foundation shows that young people who make four or more professional connections before they leave full-time education are five times more likely to be employed upon leaving education, and earn up to 18% more. To me, this isn’t really surprising.
I’ve always found it bizarre that we expect children to make decisions about what they want to do when they leave school, based on such limited experience and understanding of the options. As if we would feel comfortable buying a house having only seen the front door.
Understanding what work is like and how to start out comes from talking to people about their experiences. And that’s the basis for our mentoring programme. Creative Mentor Network creates a connection between creative businesses, eager to create a more representative workforce, and diverse young talent in schools across London.
As another of our students, Michael, explains “I always thought that Marketing was one huge department but there’s so much more to it that I wasn’t even aware of. Gareth took me to meet Account Handlers, Producers, all the people on the shoot I went on and I was able to have a calm conversation with them. I could ask them what I liked and find out more about the area I’m looking to get into. This scheme is very different to speaking to a careers teacher – I’ve been talking to someone who works in the industry and who really knows! It’s much more relaxed and a lot easier than competing for attention in a class of 30 or 40.”
We have just signed up 20+ new creative businesses, amongst them, Wieden + Kennedy, Grey, BBH and XL Recordings, Mother, IDEO and Airbnb – all really eager to open their doors to diverse applicants. And as we enter our third year, we’re scaling up so that in 2018 we’ll be able to offer mentoring to close to 200 young people across Greater London.
As we do so, I find myself asking whether it should fall to the charitable sector to provide the missing link between the creative industries – our biggest, and fastest growing economy – and some of the brightest, most creative young people.