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The Barrier Is Not Knowing What Jobs Are out There

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Isabel Farchy explains why she set up Creative Mentor Network to build awareness about the creative industries among young people in the UK

The Barrier Is Not Knowing What Jobs Are out There
Despite lots of debate, diversity in the creative industry workforce is low. Black Asian Ethnic Minority (BAME) groups are under-represented, but the sector also has a yawning socio-economic imbalance; just 5% of jobs are held by those from less socioeconomically advantaged groups.

A huge barrier to young people from low-income communities entering the creative industry workforce is not knowing what jobs are out there. But what’s the cause of this lack of awareness? 

Careers education is poor and outdated
The idea for Creative Mentor Network first came about when I was working as an English teacher in a London Academy. As a school, we focused on supporting students to pass exams and then get into university but interactions with the world of work were few. 

It was only when my year 12s started looking for work experience, and struggling to find decent placements, that it dawned on me how successful careers are in large part the result of good networks. How often do we get asked about our A Levels or degree results? And how often do we find out about opportunities through family, friends and our wider network? 

Understanding what work is like and how to start out comes from talking to people about their experiences. And that’s the basis for our mentoring programme. As one of our students, Michael, explains: “I always thought that marketing was one huge department but there’s so much more to it that I wasn’t even aware of. Gareth (Michael’s mentor) took me to meet account handlers, producers, all the people on the shoot I went on and I was able to have a calm conversation with them. I could ask them what I liked. It’s very different to speaking to a careers teacher – I’ve been talking to someone who works in the industry and who really knows! It’s much more relaxed and a lot easier than competing for attention in a class of 30 or 40.”

Parents are risk averse
A lack of information in low-income communities has a big impact. In schools and amongst parents in lower socioeconomic communities, employment in the creative industries is perceived as precarious and not financially viable. Many of the students we meet at the schools we work with aren’t even considering a job in this sector. As Violet, a recent graduate of our programme, explains: “My parents came to this country in search of a better life for their children. For them, a better life is me having a stable job, going into a profession, becoming a doctor, a lawyer, a banker. It’s hard for me to turn around and tell them I want to work in social media. It doesn’t mean anything to them.”

The rising cost of university
This shortfall of information becomes all the more acute when it’s combined with the rising cost of university. Where five years ago, university was by far the default option for most students, many of the young people we work with are deciding not to go. This means they are making decisions about what they do in their careers at a much younger age based on very limited information. And I think they’re right to question university. It’s expensive and doesn’t necessarily lead to better job opportunities or higher earnings. Which leads into the next point.

Networks are an important factor
In October last year, the charity Teach First released a report calling for improved careers education. The report found that university education is not a panacea to poor social mobility, noting that “nearly half of the most advantaged young people found work experience through family and friends, compared to less than one in five of the least advantaged.” The result? A lack of diversity.

The so called ‘hidden job market’ means that people skills are arguably more important than academic achievement. Successful careers are in large part the result of networks. In fact, research by the Education Endowment Foundation shows that young people who make four or more professional connections before they leave full-time education are five times more likely to be employed upon leaving education.

Creative Mentor Network pairs young people from low-income backgrounds all over London with mentors working in the creative sector. Recruiting through networks will always exist. We’re trying to create an alternative old boys network for our young people and a connection between creative businesses, eager to create a more representative workforce, and diverse young talent in schools across London.

Creative education is being squeezed
The creative industries is worth £92 billion a year to the UK economy. It is the fastest growing sector, with employment growing at four times the rate of the UK workforce as a whole, and is responsible for one in six jobs in London.

And what about the labour market of the future? According to the World Economic Forum’s The Future of Jobs report which sets out to understand how technology will impact what employers will want from employees, ‘creativity’ will be the most in demand skill of the future.  In 2015, creativity ranked 10th on the list. It's now one of the top three skills employers will seek. 

And yet there is no recognition of this in education policy. In fact, we see the opposite.

Creativity in schools is fast being pushed off the curriculum because of a belief, bizarrely misguided if you take on board the above research - that what is deemed an ‘academic’ subject is a more important part of a child’s education. This time last year, the Education Policy Institute think tank released a study showing that the number of teenagers taking GCSEs in arts subjects had fallen to its lowest proportion for a decade. Why? Because of the Department for Education’s promotion of the Ebacc, which makes the sciences, English language and literature, maths, a language and geography or history compulsory for secondary school pupils, simultaneously making it harder for them to study arts subjects.

One of the graduates of our programme, Momina, a sixth form student from Newham, summarises this point well. “At school you don’t get taught what you can do on the creative side. People see that as a hobby!”

We are now working with 50+ creative businesses across the industry. Some of our most supportive partners include AnalogFolk, Havas, Soho House, We Are Social, ustwo, Sony Music and Beggars. We have already supported over 600 young people into the first stages of their career in the creative industries. Graduates of our programme are working at organisations including the BBC, We Are Social, M&C Saatchi, Sky and Wavemaker. And we’re scaling up. In 2019, we’ll be able to offer mentoring to over 400 young people across Greater London, with plans to move to other areas across the UK.

Creative Mentor Network is a charity. As we enter our fifth year, I find myself asking whether it should fall to the charitable sector to provide the missing link between the creative industries – our biggest, and fastest growing economy – and some of the brightest, most creative young people.

Isabel Farchy is founding director of Creative Mentor Network.
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