Words: Nicky Bradley

Going to university is often considered a rite of passage. For many young people, there’s no question as to whether they will continue their studies for a few more years after leaving school. And, despite steadily escalating fees leaving the average student around £50,000 in debt, record numbers are still taking up a place in higher education.

University is a fantastic option for many, but it’s not the only one. Non-graduate career options aren’t given much attention in the UK press, and someone without a degree could be forgiven for thinking their options are very limited. But they shouldn’t be – particularly in the world of advertising.

“Having an open mind-set when it comes to different socioeconomic backgrounds is essential to building an inclusive industry.”

We work in an industry where some of the most valued attributes – creativity and tenacity for example – can be nurtured in a working environment. A smart, entrepreneurial attitude is a better asset than any certificate; even the likes of Google, Apple and IBM are now becoming more open to those without degrees. Companies who run graduate-only entry schemes, list a degree as a prerequisite on a job description, or give preferential treatment to people within their personal network, are missing out on exposure to some of the most exciting talent our country has to offer.

Having an open mind-set when it comes to different socioeconomic backgrounds is essential to building an inclusive industry. It’s no secret that we struggle when it comes to diversity in advertising. Anyone who’s been reading the trade press over the last year will have seen the damning figures. There are far fewer women at the top of advertising agencies than there are men and, according to the IPA’s annual Diversity Study, only 13% of staff are from BAME backgrounds. There is, it seems, the will to improve this. But if we want to attract a diverse workforce, we need to start by removing barriers to entry – like a compulsory degree.

“I didn’t feel intellectually hampered by my lack of degree, but it did sometimes make it harder to convince others of my value”

The subject of higher education is one that’s close to my heart. I am one of very few people I know in the advertising world without a degree to my name. I left school at 16 and without any clear careers advice, drifted into an office job in an advertising agency. It was due more to luck than judgement that it was a career I loved and despite a lack of real mentorship, support or guidance, I progressed through the ranks. I didn’t feel intellectually hampered by my lack of degree, but it did sometimes make it harder to convince others of my value and to open doors to new opportunities.

There are some great people out there trying to change this. Balance OOH’s diversity charter is a brilliant initiative that anyone reading this post will already be aware of. There’s the Brixton Finishing School, which offers young Londoners from BAME and deprived backgrounds a free 12-week boot camp in digital, advertising and marketing skills – something which many of us in the OOH industry are actively supporting.

The Global Academy teaches 14 to 19-year-olds the hands-on skills needed to work in the broadcast and digital media industry and encourages more women to get involved in the technical side of the media business. London-based charity The Creative Mentor Network is trying to make the world of creative more inclusive through mentoring. With the support of the wider advertising industry, organisations like these will be able to make a real difference.

By populating advertising solely with graduates, we miss out on the diversity of thought that leads to creating the best work. Being open to those who didn’t go through the traditional higher education route, as well as those with degrees, is one simple way of encouraging more diversity in advertising. Let’s act today to make our industry less about ‘who you know’, and more about fairness and equality.

Nicky Bradley is Head of Marketing at Outdoor Plus

 

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