The foundation course in UK art colleges is the rock our creative talent is built on. The opportunity to experiment in many disciplines is behind the success of multidisciplined ‘renaissance’ thinkers.
Giving these future stars time to learn, experiment, make mistakes and develop is crucial to the outstanding contribution the creative industry makes to our society.
The learning process is continued on a degree course, specialising in one discipline. To develop skills and experience, students seek out placements in the industry.
Industry experience is not an option. It is a must. Tutors put huge effort into students’ training and craft, but nothing prepares them better for work than placements.
Most decent consultancies get soon-to-be graduates to work in their teams, getting involved in real-life projects, meetings and presentations to give them a true feel of what our industry is about. They are mentored and often have a ‘guardian angel’ who looks after their welfare.
We set up placements through The Brand Union’s bursary scheme, which gives 15 students the opportunity to work with us and learn. Yes, of course we get something out of it – an injection of energetic, enthusiastic creativity and the option to invite the best to work with us full-time.
So, what effect will the impending recession have on young designers and their careers? Over the past couple of years, many consultancies have been shouting about the steps they have taken to support the industry’s rising young stars, but is the honourable tradition of placements withering away? Industry support for students could suffer over the coming months as the recession bites and there are casualties.
Our industry cannot use the financial crisis as a reason to turn its back on young design talent, but sadly budgets are being cut and many groups are either reducing the number of student placements or stopping them altogether. Even the money paid to cover living costs is in danger of diminishing, as students face being seen simply as a source of cheap labour.
Bursaries are in danger of disappearing. I appreciate that full-time staff are the first priority, but this is not the time to put the training of young designers on the back burner. For our industry to come out of the recession stronger, it is more important than ever to continue to support the lifeblood of our business.
The D&AD Education Council, for instance, depends on industry funding to ‘promote, encourage and reward imagination and innovation in the creative community… and it makes sure that emerging creative talent is supported and brought to the attention of people who can make things happen’. D&AD president Garrick Hamm is a great champion of nurturing creative talent, having himself flourished through the ‘apprenticeship’ system, and he is committed to driving education through D&AD.
In the past, Great Britain was the envy of the world with its skill base and craftsmanship created via apprenticeships: education gained while working in industry, learning and practising at the same time, working with professionals who could show how it’s done without using textbooks. This system created a skill base from which we built our shipbuilding, housebuilding, aviation, electronics and motor industries.
An article in The Sunday Times on 11 January highlighted the plight of university graduate schemes, quoting student Grant Bostock, who said, ‘A lot of firms have pulled their graduate schemes. It feels like hitting your head against a wall. If the jobs are out there, you can try your best – but if they aren’t, there isn’t anything you can do about it.’
Former Skills Secretary John Denham has said, ‘They [new graduates] will be a very big group, around 400 000. We can’t just leave people to fend for themselves.’ His solution was a Government-backed graduate internship scheme, paying a token wage at participating firms.
However, I fear creative graduates need not apply as, even though the creative industry in the UK contributes substantial revenue to the economy, it is still seen as the poor relation and difficult to ‘slot into the system’.
Without our own, industry-backed, graduate internship scheme, soon we won’t have a design industry to compete creatively on the global stage. Investing now in these young stars will reap rewards in the future, both for the business which supported them and for the economy. To retain our position as the world’s creative engine room, the UK design industry cannot afford to turn off the power.
Apprentices have been around for centuries – Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci both had their trainee programmes. In recent years, the Government has relaunched apprenticeships for people to learn a skill for life, to ensure that they will always be employable. The idea is to extend this to include trades outside the traditional craft industries, so you could do apprenticeships in anything, from hairdressing to bookkeeping, and, let’s hope, even design.