Is there a place for modern apprenticeships in the creative industry?


Ask an employer what he or she would prefer; a candidate with three years real experience, or a graduate straight out of university, and they are likely to say that they would like a degree educated candidate with three years experience. Push them a little harder, to choose one or the other, and the resounding response would be in favour of experience. Quite simply, on a commercial level it makes more sense.

Bearing in mind that most students will rack up debts of £20k or more and the fact that many employers during tough economic times are more interested in hiring candidates that can hit the ground running, I wonder if there is a need to develop a modern apprenticeship for our advertising, marketing and design industries? A scheme that looks to solve the issue of ‘experience over education’ and develop a long-term solution to the skills shortage out there (whilst offering students an opportunity to take a different route into work). A route that sees them getting paid a salary, given formalised competency criteria to satisfy, on-the-job skills development and rewards them with a recognised qualification at the end of it.

Now, obviously there are some skills that you need to learn in a classroom environment, after all physicists, biomechanical engineers and even designers need to appreciate theory in order to execute in practice. However, many students come out of university with degrees that are not directly relevant to the job that they end up doing. I have met dozens of successful Account Managers, Project Managers, Developers, Planners, Copywriters, Managing Directors and more, that have degrees in all kinds of weird and wonderful genres - and not at all related to our industry. Yet still these people are valued for their experience, when it comes to the hunt for work.

Taking the last point a little further, I have seen an equal number of the above with no degree at all but they have been fortunate enough - during more buoyant times - to have got in and learnt their trade, to secure their prospects further down the line.

To test/prove my theory that modern apprenticeships could be worth exploring, you only have to look at an emerging market area - one that is so new that it doesn’t have training courses or degrees for employers to demand of potential employees. Take social media and iPad/iPhone development for example. A social media ‘expert’ can come from any background but if they are able to demonstrate the ability to mobilise an audience, create a community and drive calls to action they can, at the moment, practically print money. Then take a look at iPad and iPhone apps; many of these apps are created, not in large corporate buildings by big-brained dudes with Computer Science degrees, but rather by a 16 year-old on their laptop, in their bedroom. That same 16 year-old will find securing a permanent position relatively simple in comparison to their graduate competition because the graduates haven’t been there, seen it, or got the commercial t-shirt – they are in effect behind before they have even started!

To summarise, I think that too much emphasis is put on having a degree. Much of what is learnt at university could be taught through on-the-job skills training. This would lead us to have a less debt-ridden youth, three years of extra income (derived from their employee) for companies, the Government would receive more National Insurance and Income Tax payments and we would have found a way to plug the skills gap to some degree or another (excuse the pun).

Written by Jonathan Lindon – who has no degree.


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