Starting a new career and trying to build a foundation for the future can be challenging at the best of times – and this certainly ain’t the best of times. Covid-19 has led to lockdowns and restrictions that have changed the way we work, and for people entering the industry or in the early years of their career that’s meant a change in the way they learn, find work and opportunities and build their network.
For managers and business leaders, it’s meant reassessing onboarding and training – and in many cases, particularly for smaller businesses, it’s meant approaching these topics in a formalised way for the first time.
With that in mind, LBB’s Laura Swinton hosted a panel with industry new joiners and managers from across agency, production and post to talk about the way that the lockdown has disrupted the soft networking and absorption-by-osmosis that can help shape a career – and about the new opportunities and lessons learned.
The conversation was kicked off by TAG Creative Arts Director of Operations Mickey Brooks and Creative Sam Collins. Mickey had written a piece outlining his worries about the barriers facing new joiners, having seen how remote working had slowed the learning process. Meanwhile, extravert Sam shared his experience of joining the industry during lockdown and his hunger for the spontaneity and serendipity of the office.
Youmna Hazzaa and Gabriella Holmes are a pair of recently-graduated creatives who found each other via online networking platform Single Creatives. They embarked on a placement at Wunderman Thompson together having never met in the flesh, and being based in Scotland and Southern England respectively. They say they never would have thought to seek a partner online in a non-Covid time, and are enthusiastic about the structure and access to leadership baked into the Wunderman Thompson placement – though they note that not only are jobs thin on the ground for grads right now, but that many agencies are reluctant to take on placements either.
“In most cases we feel like even if you’re not quite getting the same experience as you would normally, young grads just want to be getting stuck in and even in a virtual placement it feels like the biggest opportunitiy in the world right now,” says Gabriella.
At makemepulse, Director of Partnerships Sarah Cutler has found that supporting younger members of the team during lockdown has pushed the company to think about support and training in a more rigorous way – though she also notes that as Zoom calls replaced in-person meetings it became easier to bring junior producers and researchers into conversations with clients, giving them greater first hand understanding of clients’ needs and opening up new opportunities and responsibilities.
“To work remotely, us in management have to push ourselves to give more trust and autonomy, but to balance that with the mental health piece and balance that with not leaving people entirely on their own,” says Sarah.
Sally Cooper, an experienced Editor at The Quarry, says that in the highly technical world of editing and post-production, junior members of the team have faced a lot of challenges. One key point is that their responsibilities often involve ingesting and processing material, and uploading it to systems to prepare for editors and clients. This means waiting up for material once the editors’ working day is done. What’s more is that while in the studio assistants can share their workload, the remote set up makes it a lot harder to do that. And the opportunities for creative learning, sitting in edits with directors and other forms of networking are currently no longer there.
“The days here have become quite long in general because they even get the stuff the night before for us to be able to download it in the morning. It’s quite long for them,” says Sally.
But there are still some positives to take from this difficult time and many adaptations that might turn out to have staying power. Will Barren is a marketing and communications exec at M&C Saatchi and he is both a relative newcomer to the industry and has been proactively involved in the agency’s attempts to connect juniors and recent joiners in lockdown.
With vaccinations starting to roll out, there is hope that restrictions will lift and some of that passive learning and connection might come back but if Covid-19 has taught us anything it’s that there are no certainties and it’s likely that supporting new talent will be a tricky balancing act for months and years to come. However, if and when we emerge, it seems that businesses have learned much and cultivated new approaches to flexible working, remote working, training and more, which hopefully bodes well for future generations.