Why apprenticeships can help solve the great industry diversity debate

There were many great things about Trevor Beattie’s talk on the Drum Bus at Advertising Week Europe. When a man of such high esteem talks about the industry, you listen.

But what resonated most with me was his take on talent – particularly younger talent – in advertising.

For newcomers, he had some wise words of advice. Keep learning. Keep consuming. But make sure you look outside the industry for it.

It makes sense. The advertising industry is obsessed with its own celebrity. By championing those most like us. By thinking our world is the be all and end all. That’s a very dangerous game when our audience is as diverse and changeable as they come.

It’s why for his 'issue of inspiration' created for The Drum, Beattie shied away from the norm. He picked astrophysicists, social media influencers and models. Indeed the only creative director he selected was someone from a design background, whose approach to agency life completely bucks the industry standard.

I completely see – and am very excited by – Beattie’s view (although I would also suggest that our industry has also been responsible for some amazing and inspiring creative products, and we’re arguably shaping the worlds of tech and innovation as much as any of our siblings, so should be embracing and learning from it too).

But for me the issue doesn’t only stem from having to reconsider our own sources of inspirations, but by reconsidering who it is we actually hire in the first place.

Of course our creative figureheads are all going to be the same if everyone in the agency thinks alike. Of course we’re going to continue coming up with the same answers to the same briefs if everyone is from the same colleges and same walks of life.

The lack of diversity and dearth of talent in the industry is not a new topic. But ways to solve the problem are still in startlingly short supply. It’s heartening to see some agencies joining forces to kick start initiatives like Creative Equals and the Ideas Foundation, but what about some more actionable measures?

At Partners Andrews Aldridge we’ve just hired our first apprentice. This isn’t a word usually associated with the creative industries. Apprenticeships are for engineers, electricians and carpenters, right?

Clearly that’s an out-dated view. But it’s still noticeable how many people from within the industry seem genuinely surprised when I tell them about our scheme. We already have a pretty sought after grad scheme and a great creative placement initiative called Foot in the Door, so why look for apprentices too?

I think our creative director put it best when introducing our first apprentice, Ali, to the agency. Our agency mantra ‘Made by Partners’ isn’t just about our work. It's about our culture and our people too. Getting someone in before they've gone to university or set off on a particular career path means we can help individuals who wouldn't normally enter our world learn and thrive in our business.

Ali won’t be diving straight into the day-to-day. But he’ll be learning how the agency works, completing tasks that will embed him within the life of the agency, not just being ‘another new face’. That means status meetings, briefs, WIPs. It means asking questions that aren’t normally asked. Offering insights and thoughts that aren’t normally considered.

And indeed, it will be about completing tasks that used to be the remit of what were once called ‘agency runners’. You remember them. You might even have been one. Most of the big cheeses in the industry seem like they used to be – and they look back nostalgically on those times as shaping them to be who they are today. They’re the ‘go-to’ for every task. As integral a part of pitch teams as the ECD presenting.

They care. They want to learn. They have an outlook that’s ballsy, disruptive and challenging. They don’t have a sense of entitlement because they’ve experienced three years of university. They don’t think they know it all. Or have a safety net that many others do.

These are all sweeping generalisations, I know. And I know there are many exceptions to the rules. But as the industry challenges change, agencies must do too. There’s no one right or wrong answer. But I personally think that with apprenticeships, we’re onto an exciting start.

Matt Williams is head of creative content at Partners Andrews Aldridge

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