School leavers. Digital media could be the one.

I left school after my A-levels, because I thought I was going to be a rock star.

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That’s me in a recording studio quite a while back (although a little after school). No prizes for criticising the poor technique (see thumb creeping over the top of the neck)

No really, I did. I was lucky enough to go to a good school and receive a good education. I was a relatively good student and did well enough but my head just wasn’t in academics at that time – I was 17 and playing gigs with a band, amassing a following and some interest from record companies. I didn’t need university – I was going to be a rock star.

We never did get signed. I am not a rock star.

Was I stupid?  OK, yes a bit. Naive? Definitely. Did it affect my employability? Without a doubt. Would I be in a different job now if I hadn’t followed this course though?  I don’t think so (as if to prove it my twin brother followed the normal course through university and also works in recruitment, although in San Francisco which is a little more glamorous). I now run a small but successful company and work with some genuinely awesome people. I’m very happy where I am in my career, but it would be a lie to say it was easy to get here.

For me the decision not to follow the norm (ie. uni) had a big effect on how I was perceived by employers and made it hard for me to get my foot in the door for interviews when I was up against equally bright (but more qualified individuals). Why would they take a gamble on a young school leaver when they could hire someone with a degree? At the time (around 2000) perhaps that was a valid point. But things are definitely changing.

At this point it seems prudent to introduce Natalie. Natalie works for a business we share our office with. She’s 20 and joined her company (a mobile marketing business) straight from school, via a couple of intern-ships for good measure. She’s bright (sometimes a little too bright), but made a conscious decision not to go to university. Put simply, she didn’t feel that the degree (with the accompanying £15k+ debt) was going to be worth it in the long term.  And she’s not alone.

Applications for university placements last year were down 8.8% on 2011, which equates to around 15,000 students. I like to think of these people as ‘Conscientious University Objectors’, and if you’re among them we’ve got a job for you (or at least we will do soon).

Whilst it’s true (as I mentioned back in November in this post) that the digital market needs an injection of specialist qualifications in things like maths, statistics, programming, there are plenty of jobs in the market which don’t require a degree-level education at all. Irrespective of the specialism, most ‘graduate’ jobs in digital media start off in a support function – reporting, putting presentations together, financial reconciliation, trafficking. These are jobs that could be done by a trainee – anyone with a work ethic and strong attention to detail.

As our own intern Matt reported last week, companies in the market are starting to recognise this. We’ve spoken to recruitment managers from many of the major network agencies (including GroupM, Zenith Optimedia, Aegis Media Group and Steak Group) and they’re all talking about bringing more bright, keen school leavers into their businesses (often using words like ‘humility’ and ‘aspiration’). The wheels are definitely turning.

What are we doing you ask? Well, we’ve eradicated the word ‘graduate’ (wherever possible) from our website, we’re working with our clients and other companies in the market to try and open the door for more school leavers and we’re here to help you. Always.