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Creative Pioneers essential to nurturing young talent

Creative Pioneers essential to nurturing young talent
Bareface Media's Simon Morris highlights the positive aspects of Creative Pioneers in the wake of the Creative Birmingham event.

As an industry, we rely on a constant feed of good talent. Traditionally we have relied on graduates but, with competition for employment opportunities increasing and the skills required in the digital age widening, not all of these candidates have what it takes to cut it in the modern advertising arena.

So often I hear industry colleagues lamenting the lack of so called soft skills in candidates. This is where apprenticeships become a viable and interesting option.

There has been a lot mentioned about apprenticeships recently, and until the IPA approached us about their Creative Pioneers programme, I was always slightly wary of apprenticeships.

I’d heard that you have to invest a lot of time into making them work, the quality of the candidates isn’t always up to scratch and the training can be quite disruptive.

Then, there is the final nail in the coffin: once you have been through this process, the apprentice you have spent the last year developing decides to work for the competition. This may sound rather negative but it is a truth that many employers have sat lurking in the back of their heads.

Sports teams, particularly F1 and football, identify talent very early on and nurture it from there. What if, as an industry, we could take an individual at a crucial age and train them to work the way we want them to?

This is a good time to also ask if a degree is essential in our industry? So often these days you hear that the heads of the most exciting tech companies are university drop outs.

We live in a world of ever increasing change and disruption - will a formal education ever keep pace with this change? Does formal education suit all individuals? We frequently read stories of people who struggled academically, yet went on to be world class in their career.

As an industry we want to be a hotspot for creative thinking and application. This can only occur when you get a diverse range of people coming together. I have learned that apprenticeships can provide another valuable increase to this diversity and access to talent.

As you may gather, I am a bit of a convert to the idea. Bareface joined the Creative Pioneers programme (with some scepticism) to try and explore the vein of untapped talent we were told was out there.

The first step was to identify which area of the team we felt would most benefit from an apprentice, eventually deciding to recruit a junior front end developer and web designer.

We were introduced to the IPA’s training provider for the Midlands, an organisation called Creative Alliance, run by Noel Dunne. Their role is to provide the qualification element of the apprenticeship.

Noel helped us with writing a job spec to attract a candidate where the internet and computers were flagged up as a hobby. Creative Alliance managed the local end of the Creative Pioneers recruitment process and all we needed to do was attend an assessment morning with the final few candidates they had shortlisted.

From the assessment morning, we identified five potential candidates for the role. We broke the process into three parts. We set them a short design challenge, discussed their thoughts on what working in an advertising agency involved and asked them one simple question: ‘Why do you want to do an apprenticeship?’

Ryan joined the team in August 2013 as a junior front end designer and developer and there are several huge lessons we have learned since. The first being that, although Ryan was highly motivated and (to our surprise) incredibly talented, he still lacked some of the soft skills we wanted as well.

This is where working with someone still at a relatively young age can help. With an honest conversation we let Ryan know the areas we wanted him to work on. The second lesson was that in a busy agency, it was hard to keep track of Ryan's ongoing education.

All learning and testing for an apprenticeship happens in the place of work, with an external tutor popping in once a month to spend an hour running through coursework and assessing their progress. The hard part for us was finding someone in the team to mentor Ryan, ensuring he applied himself equally to his studies and his work. For us, it was best to get someone outside of Ryan’s team to do this.

It became very obvious to me that an apprenticeship is not an easy option. Apprentices have to manage usual working hours and complete coursework simultaneously. Ryan has proved himself to be an incredible individual, passing his coursework with distinction whilst holding down his daily work delivering live projects.

We have since enrolled on the Creative Pioneers 2014 programme, recruiting Katy as a junior designer. I hope Ryan wasn't a one off, and that the hard lessons we learned with him last year make this year even more successful.

We found the scheme a success due to the combined support of the IPA and Creative Alliance. They helped our understanding of what kind of individual we wanted to recruit and how best to do it. It also helped that we were honest about our expectation for the role and how we managed it.

In order to sustain a creative economy, we must recognise the relationship between education and the industries to which people progress. We need stronger connections between the education system that grows talent and the industries which utilise and develop it.

Programmes such as Creative Pioneers put our industry in the driving seat, because we become these educators. If we can find the talent and support it in the right way, we can nurture the talent.

Simon Morris is Client Services Director at Bareface Media.

Learn more about Creative Pioneers and see the Creative Birmingham photos.

Last updated 11/08/2014

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