The route towards a more diverse creative industry does not have to begin in the classroom

Advertising has changed, but has the creative director? In this series, Wunderman UK chief creative officer Ian Haworth explores the changing nature of the role in the modern media world.

Do schools kill creativity? This is a question raised in one of my favourite Ted Talks by Sir Ken Robinson – and he’s not far off the mark.

The UK government has just announced its plans to force 90% of students to study the traditional core curriculum, which includes absolutely no creative subjects. In response, the Creative Industries Federation is referring to a ‘creative talent drought’ and calling for a radical shift in blinkered education policy.

As grim as this may sound, stamping out creative subjects from our education system need not parallel a shortage of creative talent. The truth is that as an executive creative director I have little, if any, control over education policy and what schools decide to teach the generations of the future. But what I do have a hand in is sourcing and nurturing that creative talent, which is out there in abundance – be it in the form of university graduates, or those without degrees, who have a natural flair for innovation and harness boundless creative thinking.

I’m not convinced that creative talent is dwindling. Yes, it’s disconcerting that our education system reflects a self-fulfilling prophecy, as the emphasis on arts and creativity is decreasing. Yes it’s alarming that the term “intelligence” is so often linked to the more academic subjects of maths and science. And I’m aware that because universities are so expensive, graduate programmes are becoming increasingly binary – churning out a “cookie-cutter” type of creative graduate. But the biggest red flag for me is that because of our narrow-minded focus on academia, we are missing out on so much undiscovered talent.

We can’t change the education system – but what we can do is tap into the multi-layered society we live in, using a different approach.

Diversify recruitment

In the creative industry we’re constantly tackling the issue of diversity. The word is being tossed back and forth like a ping-pong ball and C-Suites are all vying to make sure their diversity quotas are being met. That said, there’s more to diversity than the vanguard of gender equality. There’s education, race, socio-demographics, cultural and geographical considerations. As the creative industry we’re meant to be talking to wonderfully diverse and vibrant echelons of society – and yet, sadly we don’t.

So why invest in diversity? It’s not because we expect to see a dip in qualified designers graduating from universities. It boils down to getting a bigger breadth of future-facing talent that matches society – and not the industry we’ve currently got. The business benefits are insurmountable too – because our industry will be fuelled by genuinely diverse input, as opposed to manufactured diversity. With so many different minds at work the industry will never become insular and boring.

The real apprentice

There are masses of interesting, highly creative people from different walks of life, who don’t even get a look in the creative industry. For a myriad of reasons they leave school and can’t/don’t want to go to university, but this doesn’t mean they should be spared the opportunity to showcase their talent and creative intelligence.

It’s time agencies brought back something akin to the old apprenticeships schemes. Yes, the world today is different and our industry has become more “professional”, but talent and charisma can’t be learned. By offering internship or apprenticeship schemes within an agency and opening that up to a range of young people, we’re setting a bar for true diversity in an industry that needs to practice what it preaches.

Connect young

Agencies can also create nurturing workplace programmes to reel in diverse talent from a young age. By creating workshops at local schools, agencies can open youngsters’ eyes to the options in the creative sectors. If you’re reaching the kids with a creative flair they may otherwise feel is wasted, you’re alerting them to opportunities they didn’t know existed. So many pupils are only aware of the jobs they’re exposed to – and more often than not, these don’t fall into the creative category.

At Wunderman we’re setting up a programme which drives diversity into the comms industry. This is a sustainable programme which will connect and employ otherwise untapped talent. If you look at where some of the world’s best young creators come from you’ll see they’re not always your classic grad. I’m talking about those ‘YouTubers’, experimental film makers and youngsters who might not have the privilege of a further education, but whose aptitude for creativity and raw talent are far more telling than a piece of paper. That’s not to say university graduates must be excluded or their gifts unrecognised. Rather, it’s about inclusion.

Yes, our education system may be flawed and perhaps we do need a new one that both embraces and cultivates creative minds. But as education continues on its course of favouring the academic route, isn’t it time we in creative industries laid down our own path for diverse talent to tread? We need to look at embracing a bigger breadth of creative individuals that genuinely reflect the society we live in – and not the industry as it stands today.

Ian Haworth is executive creative director at Wunderman UK

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