The recent government cuts to arts subjects at universities spells bad news for the creative industries. This undoubtedly signals yet another blow to encouraging young people into creative careers.
However, if we want to truly move the dial when it comes to diversity, could this be the opportunity to look beyond those that self-select the arts subjects for the future stars of our industry?
Last year's "All In" census revealed that there are big gaps that the creative industry needs to urgently address. The industry is over-indexing on the privileged (20% come from fee-paying schools) and it severely lacks black representation (just 1% in C-suite positions). If we are to truly fix the problems that permeate the industry, we need to cast our net much wider than where we have previously fished for talent.
Higher education stats show that in 2018/2019, 82% of those studying creative arts and design were white. What this tells us is that the conversation needs to start much earlier than university. We need to be engaging talent very early on, especially if we are to show those from diverse backgrounds what this industry has to offer. The business world will reap some of the rewards, too. It has been proved that creative companies outperform their peers both in market share and competitive leadership.
This summer brought the first of our annual "School of" initiative, a programme where school students were each paired with a teacher, in the form of a world-class freelancer from Genie’s platform. These teachers each took one student under their wing for one week. Their task was to open their eyes to the "hows" of the creative industry.
We began our search for "School of" intake by working with St Thomas of the Apostle School in Peckham and pitching the creative industries together with the inspirational Mark Lewis from the SCA and Stu Yeardsley of 3 Monkeys Zeno. The students we took on knew very little of the advertising world. Some said they did not even see themselves as "creative", and this was backed up by their A-level choices being a mix of biology, chemistry, maths, economics, business and physics. Certainly not the first place you might look for creative talent - they were our future engineers, bankers and medics.
The week kicked off with incredible creative briefs from TikTok and Droga5. Throughout the week, the students had a talk a day from the likes of the Brixton Finishing School, and inspirational role models such as the ex-MD of Wieden & Kennedy Portland, Karrelle Dixon.
Over the course of the week, something very special happened. Under the mentorship of their teachers, these students blossomed right in front of our very eyes.
Creative director Oksana Valentis from TikTok was blown away by the students. “The advertising industry needs talent like these year-12 students to bring new ideas to life and to find new ways to break boundaries and inspire old jaded adheads like us," she said.
Rebecca Lewis, joint MD of Droga5 was just as excited, adding: “The work the students brought to the table in response to the brief we set is proof of exactly why we should be bringing new perspectives and new talent into the industry. I hope they walked away from the experience feeling as inspired as we did about what the future could look like."
They certainly did, with the students discovering a part of themselves they didn’t know they had.
As an industry, we can’t just be looking to those that choose the arts subjects to find creative-shaped talent. As Gemma Dowler, award-winning art director, and one of our teachers, aptly put it: “Creativity is our curiosity, it’s what makes us human, it’s how we progress.”
All of our students had this trait in abundance yet could have been easily overlooked had we just been looking to the arts to discover them.
Creativity exists under many stones, and it’s time, not just money, that needs to be invested to realise potential. Each of our teachers left their very own unique hallmark on their student. The value of the one-to-one mentorship was clear for all to see. As Andrew Hassan, one of our students, noted about his teachers, the creative duo Pip Jay King and Liberty Rose Papworth: “They taught us to think outside the box and change the everyday narrative.”
"School of" was beyond rewarding for all involved and I’d like to see it become the blueprint for where ad schools and creative companies scout for talent that have what it takes to go all the way in our industry. The feedback from all the students was consistent: the experience made them more interested in working in the creative industry. “This opened my eyes as I had a limited perspective before,” one student, Joshua Okyere, said.
There’s no doubt there is a big job still to do, to shift the dial from last year’s "All In" census. We can’t continue to hire in the mirror image of ourselves. We need to look beyond the arts subjects to find the next generation of future stars and in turn increase diversity for our creative industry.
Nicky Badenoch is co-founder of Genie