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How you can prevent the creative class of ‘21 becoming a lost generation

When students join, they will get their own personalized print package to show to potential employers

The pandemic has been tough on everyone, but one group has suffered far more than most: students. With final year degree shows being cancelled, the creative art students of 2020/21 have missed out on what would normally be a life-defining moment. Without this opportunity to showcase their talent, there is a very real risk that they could become a lost generation - unless we, as an industry, do something to help.

As part of The Drum’s Creative Transformation Festival, Gordon Young, co-founder and editor-in-chief at The Drum and guest speakers gave viewers a glimpse into the ‘Class of 2021’ - a virtual artwork exhibition launching June 29, in partnership with Canon, to give students a second chance to get the recognition they deserve. The project aims to help them get a step on the career ladder, at the same time providing a platform from which creatives can gain exclusive access to this amazing wealth of young talent.

“The Class of 2021 is a really innovative project where we’ve built a virtual hub where students who have missed their degree shows can upload their work,” explained Cathy Bittner, business development manager and Class of 2021 project lead for Canon Europe. “Plus, we’re reaching out to the creative community to see that work and give creatives access to the finest talent they might have missed. It also gives us the opportunity to build a user experience that intertwines digital and print channels, tailored to the visitor with the right information at the right time on the right channel.”

Pushing the limits of creativity

In what is already a tough industry to crack into, Covid-19 and lockdowns has inhibited students’ ability to secure placement opportunities that can set them up for a bright future in the creative industries.

“I can’t even begin to put myself in their shoes, it must be so awful and it’s already such a tough industry to crack into anyway,” said Scarlett Montanaro, creative director at Revolt London. “I myself interned for two years before I got my first gig but when you add in Covid-19, lockdown and not being able to get placement opportunities, it must be so demoralizing. We had placements at the beginning of lockdown but it wasn’t a fair experience for them – they didn’t get the best out of us and we couldn’t bring them into the team and culture in the way they needed or the learning experience they deserve.

“Some students have relished the opportunity to go out and show their creativity, get out into the local community and used this time to really push the limits of what they can do in lockdown, give back to their local area with their creativity – they are the people that are really standing out. There are some brilliant people coming out of university and we can’t let them just be the lost generation. Having this sort of platform [for them to showcase their work] is brilliant.”

We’re all in this together

The past year hasn’t just been hard on the students, it’s also been challenging for the staff/teachers who quickly had to adapt to moving everything online.

“We had to be very creative in how we had to adapt and make sure we didn’t compromise on any of the student learning experiences in terms of creativity,” said Sally Chan, senior teaching fellow in marketing, Leeds University Business School. “For students, it’s been really hard in terms of managing all the technical and time issues and the ability to get outside and get their external influences. With the agencies we work with, we’ve had to look at alternative engagement opportunities.

“Any activities, like what we have here, for our students to showcase their work to a wider global audience is a winner for us. Students are going to be affected by a myriad of issues but there’s a sense that we’re all in this together, the fact that the industry is supporting students and staff are giving the extra time to our students to try and support them as much as we can.”

Empowering the next generation of creatives through print

The amalgamation of the online/offline worlds has had a ripple effect across many industries - which is why print will play an exciting role in this ‘Class of 2021’ campaign.

“What makes this platform so interesting is that it’s how people meet - the new communication,” explained Bittner. “Through high-speed digital printing and personalized print, the message is relevant to them. When students join, they will get their own personalized print package to show to potential employers as another way to differentiate themselves in a tough market.”

“We’re learning all the time and it’s one of the reasons we’re doing this journey,” added Bittner. “Everything you can do online you can do in print today – which creatives and agencies don’t realize. Basically, with this project, we’re bringing that innovation and awareness to everybody.”

In an industry that is constantly relearning – through new platforms, possibilities with programmatic print and more – creative companies need the youth and energy that comes from post-graduate talent, or they could stagnate very quickly, added Montanaro.

Next gen talent is only a touch away

Chan urged the creative industries to get involved with the ‘Class of 2021’ project: “The new generation coming through are going to offer you something a bit different; they’ve had that lived experience. These students are keen and hungry – more than any other generation – for an opportunity to be seen and experience what it’s like in the agency world. Do open your doors to our students and hopefully they can surprise you with some great ideas.”

“Creatives can really work in that customer/user-centric mode, engage with that person in the most optimal way in whatever channel with the right message and convenience everyone expects today,” said Bittner. “We hope this marketplace makes their lives easier. Now you have a conglomerate of talent that’s just a touch away. For students, we’re bringing them onto the digital printing wave and opportunity of intermingling the channels. We truly believe that is the future of communication.”

It’s in everybody’s interest to support the ‘Class of 2021’. To learn more about how this project is empowering creatives with access to the next generation of student talent, watch the full session on demand here: /creative-transformation-festival/2021/events/406

For students who want to break into the business, upload your work here: /project/class-of-2021/registration/student

For creative businesses looking to access amazing talent, sign up to view the exhibition when it launches here: /project/class-of-2021/registration/creative

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