For many months now, and with increasing frequency this year, I have seen and heard our young people described as “generation lost”. It is a phrase I challenge at every opportunity, not least because it does not reflect one bit the extraordinary perseverance of young people this last year. They are not “lost” in the slightest. Their response to the pandemic has shown they are resilient, adaptable and courageous.
Regrettably, young people are currently missing out on opportunities that were once taken as a given – this is especially true in vocational education and work experience. In 2020, a majority of employers in the UK cancelled some or all work experience placements for students and graduates. With lockdowns and social distancing measures in England in place through to the end of June, it seems likely the trend will be repeated for a second academic year.
Work experience has been a mainstay of education because of the skills it teaches beyond the academic, and the inspiration it can instil in young people previously unclear about where what they study in the classroom can take them later in life. The Institute of Student Employers recently found that 78% of employers agreed that graduates who had completed an internship or work placement were more skilled than those who had not. Work experience isn’t only good for students, it’s good for business too.
Five years ago we established our own digital skills and work experience programme called The Code. Dentsu International is one of the world’s ‘Big-Six’ advertising companies. It’s probably not a company you have heard of, but you will see the adverts and marketing we create for some of the world’s biggest brands every time you switch on the TV, go online or walk along the high street.
The advertising industry has a problem – despite the fact it is working to appeal to broad and diverse audiences, its make-up and talent pipeline is sometimes far from broad and diverse – and this gets reflected in the industry’s output.
Yet we know that the more diverse the workforce – whether that be diversity of ethnicity, gender, nationality, class, education, politics, sexuality, neurodivergence, disability, life experience, you name it – the better quality and more impactful our creative output is. We established The Code to drive forward this change.
We partnered with schools in the communities where we have offices across the UK. Our partner schools have a higher-than-average number of students who are Black, Asian or from an ethnic minority and whose students experience disproportionately low social mobility and higher numbers of children entitled to free school meals.
Our staff share their passion and expertise with young people from Year 9 through to Year 13, developing their vocational knowledge of the creative industries, data science and the media – exciting them about the opportunities available to them when they leave school. And it is bearing fruit for both us and the young people taking part. Last year’s edition saw 61% of participants identify as female and 52% from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds.
Of course, last year, Covid struck and threatened to upturn the entire programme and the work experience and vocational opportunities we could deliver. We worked with MyKindaFuture to develop a digital platform and interactive curriculum to allow young people at KS4 and college level stuck at home in lockdown to take part in The Code’s creative competition – the Rise Up Challenge.
The structured interactive curriculum takes young people step-by-step through the process of responding to a real-world creative brief from one of our clients – putting into action a wealth of skills, from planning, to ideation, creative design to presenting. The digital portal includes a safeguarded platform for young participants to connect with Dentsu International’s volunteer mentors to offer support and guidance. For our volunteers, The Code offers a way to honour the support they received to get to where they are today and pay it forward.
The pivot to digital delivery was a risk, but one that paid off for the participants, for us and for our brand partner in the 2020 prize - Cadbury. The winner, Layla Assi from Stockport, developed a campaign for Dairy Milk about bringing communities together at a time when the country was having to isolate.
The response and creativity of the young people taking part in the 2020 Rise Up challenge made it a massive success. Far from being ‘generation lost’ they demonstrated the self-motivation and determination to succeed that has too often gone uncredited in the last year.
Excitingly, the success of the switch to a digital curriculum last year, means we can once again offer the vocational skills and work experience that many companies are not in a position at present to provide.
The Code has launched its newest Rise Up Creative Challenge in partnership with the Co-op, calling on all students aged 15 to 18 years old to come up with a sustainable and purpose-driven creative digital advertising campaign in three areas of focus for the Co-op: Community, Healthy Living and A Better World.
Just as young people have adapted to the obstacles and challenges presented by the pandemic, businesses and brands have an opportunity to pivot and adapt their approaches to work experience and supporting vocational education that not only benefits their communities, but their talent pipeline too. After five years, we are now regularly offering young people that have taken part in The Code apprenticeships and entry level positions in all areas of dentsu’s business.
I hope that the restrictions that have so impacted young people’s access to practical work experience this last year rapidly fade into memory. Until that happens, be in no doubt that young creative minds, with the right support and opportunity, can still thrive. This generation of young people is anything but ‘lost’.
The Rise Up Creative Challenge is open to all students aged 15 to 18 years old in the UK.
Scott Sallée, Social Impact Manager, Dentsu International