Who needs a degree to be talented anyway?
I am coming up to 65 and have been in the media industry since leaving school at the age of 15…and I am still not ready to retire. There have been ups and downs, lots of fun and maybe a few regrets but overall I have had a great life and thoroughly enjoyed myself and, most importantly, have made some amazing friends.
Looking back I was fortunate enough to have had a dad who knew an agency boss who secured me a place on their “apprenticeship” programme. No glamour; it was 5 years of working my way up from post room to voucher clerk to production assistant to media assistant. BUT by the time I was twenty I had a thorough understanding of the advertising process, had savoured the different functions and had decided that my career lay in media. I achieved this with little formal education, university was not an option and frankly I would have been happy to leave school at 13 let alone 15. Looking around me at many of those who joined the industry in the mid 60′s and went on to achieve significant success I note they had similar points of entry.
Today we as an industry tend to exclude all those without a degree. Maybe it is because we think that means we only recruit thecrème de la creme or maybe its just a convenient filter to reduce the numbers of applicants applying for each job… Regardless, the result is an industry devoid of those kids who have been unfortunate enough to have been unable to savour the delights of further education.
Three years ago whilst working at WPP tech agency Banner Corp I became involved with raising funds for the charity Spear, a charity the agency had decided to adopt and provide on-going support to. Spear was founded in 2004 and has centres in Hammersmith, Chelsea, Shepherds Bush, North Fulham and, more recently, Clapham Junction. The charity provides a highly interactive six week coaching course for unemployed young adults. The course addresses the most fundamental and common causes of underachievement: things like the absence of motivation to consider opportunities and the crucial life skills necessary to thrive in the work place as well as job search skills and the need for information, advice and guidance, qualification and opportunity.
Of those who graduate from the course more than 75% are still in employment or training one year later.
At Banner we provided the opportunity for each course to spend a day working with the agency, culminating with them being divided into teams to create a fully integrated campaign for real life products/services. And guess what? We were so often blown away by the natural creative and strategic skills of these youngsters. On several occasions we offered immediate work experience at Banner or arranged opportunities with clients and suppliers. I keep in touch with those students and several have gone on to make great careers for themselves at agencies and media owners. They have done this not with the underpinning of a degree but from having an instinctive understanding of life, in particular what young consumers look for and demand from suppliers.
So it’s a win-win situation. The students discover themselves, what they can do and what they can achieve (it’s amazing to witness the transformation that takes place). For the industry, we ensure we bring latent raw talent into the mix, talent that without the helping hand offered by Spear would never be realised.
As an industry I believe we have a responsibility to the youth of this country but beyond that I firmly believe the industry can truly benefit from embracing the tremendous natural talent that so often remains untapped.
Mike Jarvis is one of the UK’s best known International media personalities, and now runs Mike Jarvis Consulting Ltd.