"Anyone can become an advertising creative, from a prima donna ad student through to a plumber. All you need is an advertising portfolio proving you've got great ideas."
I was told this back when I was plotting my path into advertising. The point being made was simple: it doesn’t matter who you are, what background you come from, what gender you are or what educational path you have taken – to become an ad creative, you just need an active and interested mind.
Now, full disclosure: the kid hearing these pearls of wisdom was sitting at university and had all of his comfy white, male, middle-class privilege in place. I nodded along: "Of course anyone can get a job in advertising! You just need great ideas, right?"
Eighteen years on, this fact unfortunately remains as true as it is unfounded.
Creative departments aren't full of Oxbridge graduates, creative directors don't care about degrees and creatives continue to come in all cranial shapes and sizes. However, the vast majority of our creative departments look alike, sound alike and have lived alike – and, crucially, be it via a three-year degree or a one-year postgrad, they have marched to a very particular beat through just one door: that of ad school.
We’ve tried to open other doors. The Placement Poverty Pledge was launched to ensure that anyone could both thrive and survive on placement. Amazing free programmes and initiatives, such as Commercial Break and Brixton Finishing School, have been set up to help those who can't afford the more "official" route. And they are helping.
But even when these under-represented candidates fight tooth and nail to bag a creative placement, they find themselves up against hardened ad-school folk, prepped and preened for both the high expectations put on teams and the cultural behaviours we unconsciously come to expect in them.
The door has certainly been opened a little wider, with all the best agencies in the country now offering Living Wage pay for placements, but the sad reality is that we're just not good at developing and guiding greener talent. We get busy and we just expect them to get on. In short, if you're not fully set and ready to hit the ground running on a placement, you're destined to fail.
We need to shake things up and find fresh ways of behaving, training and ultimately retaining talent who haven't got the privilege of further education under their bonnet. To butcher a Sam Friedman and Daniel Laurison quote, we need to find ways of helping them "get in and get on".
Step forward the Junior Creative Apprenticeship
Over the past year, we've brought together 26 agencies, co-ordinated by the IPA and supported by Creative Pioneers, and have designed and developed the first official apprenticeship scheme for creatives.
And so opens another door: a very different door, through which agencies can bring a new breed of creative into their ranks. A creative who will work and be trained over 18 months. A creative who will be given the time to grow and the training money from the government. A creative who will redefine what it is to be a creative. A creative with different experiences, a different voice and a different approach. And, ultimately, a creative who will create a department, an agency and an industry we'll be so proud of.
So if you want to inject a new perspective into your creative ranks, if you want to help shake up the white, middle-class agency make-up and if you want to truly open your agency – and, in turn, this industry – up to so many more, then get involved and get an apprentice.
And if you're a restless plumber… well, now's the time to give this game a go.
Stu Outhwaite-Noel is co-chair of the Junior Creative Apprenticeship Standard trailblazer and co-founder of Creature