We need to work harder to encourage young people to consider media careers

We need to work harder to encourage young people to consider media careers
Opinion: Career Leaders

Students and parents still overlook media careers despite opportunities for progression.

The industry has made positive strides in both hiring practices and development programmes to widen the talent pool.

Despite these practices, no sector is immune to the challenges of ensuring young people from all backgrounds get equal access to entry-level roles across the market.

Add in social mobility and the gap widens further, especially if talent is outside of the London bubble. Research shows that a quarter of working-class UK job seekers feel overlooked because of their social class, with a separate study highlighting that geographical bias makes it harder to get into management roles.

The pressure is now on for businesses to break down the barriers of access into our industry, and create opportunities for young people, who for too long have assumed a career in a professional environment, let alone media, would be an unrealistic ambition.

Organisations need to unite and formulate a level playing field to ensure clear entry routes for future industry leaders.

How do agencies do this?

By partnering with specialist organisations whose mission is to break down industry doors for young people; offering routes for media organisations to reach out to students and those from underrepresented backgrounds.

Organisations such as myGworks (focusing on the LGBTQ+ community), ENNA (focusing on neurodiverse talent into work) or WYK Digital (focusing on social mobility) will give media companies the appropriate tools and resources to ensure that outreach initiatives are truly diverse and independently verified.

And there are many benefits to working with these specialist organisations.

Not only will young talent gain a new industry partnership and more routes into the sector, but they will also gain access to professional workshops, taster days, expert advice and training programmes to upskill and help prepare for future interviews across all industries.

Make outreach initiatives to education institutes a core part of the strategy

One particular challenge facing this sector is a lack of awareness of what media is — and how it actually works.

How do media agencies differ from ad agencies? What are the different media channels young talent can explore? What are the mechanics of how the ads they see on Instagram or on the sides of the buses are placed? Are specific qualifications or skills required?

Lack of awareness results in roles and the sector being overlooked by both students and parents. Media isn’t seen as a career path despite the vast opportunities and fast progression.

Increasingly, media agencies are reaching out to schools and further education colleges directly to collaborate with teachers and introduce students to different media disciplines, creative thinking, and the types of jobs available.

Partnering with respected bodies such as Media Smart, which delivers resources and lesson plans to schools, helps to bring media to life for different year groups. This gives young people the chance to analyse and understand the role media play in their lives and broader society.

Supporting this with ‘parents evening’ initiatives to educate parents on how media promises fast progression will also present media careers as a viable career option for all.

But let’s not forget about university students.

Teaming up with universities to introduce vocational and skills-led modules to focus on bringing disciplines such as programmatic and paid search into media and marketing courses will give students insights into the variety of options available to them post-graduation.

Agencies can then make this ‘real’ by setting projects based on practical challenges, such as working on a client brief with specific KPIs, so that students gain practical skillsets to boost their confidence and show them what a career in the media could look like.

Outreach initiatives help pupils and students (re)develop wider communication skills they missed out on given the focus on remote learning during the pandemic — especially in state schools where these skills don’t always get the focus they deserve.

Public speaking, active listening, reaching and engaging with a target audience — all of which are essential to a successful career in our sector and many others — can be nurtured through lessons and practical activities.

Ensure equal opportunities for entry-level roles

Many young people find themselves in a Catch-22 situation: in need of work experience but unable to access it without the right connections. It’s disproportionately those from lower socio-economic backgrounds that find themselves caught out.

These groups are also equally at a disadvantage when it comes to how a lot of businesses recruit. Moving away from interviews based on CVs to blind screening processes goes a long way towards addressing the issue.

It shifts the focus from experience to hiring for attitude and training for skill. CVs aren’t indicative of the true skillset a student holds, especially if they have not yet been in a professional environment.

Instead, skills-based questions should be used to draw out the strengths that are relevant to the role. This not only minimises unconscious biases, but also provides equal opportunities to all candidates.

Adland’s workforce has come a long way from the alpha representations of teams we see in Mad Men. But there’s still progress to be made to show that the industry is an attainable career for everyone with opportunities for fast professional growth.

There are obvious business pressures to nurture our future CEOs, search specialists and campaign directors. But leaders also have an ethical duty to ensure the sector becomes a more inclusive and positive space for incoming generations. Making it more accessible is certainly a start.

Aya Alsahaf is global learning and development business partner at OMG UK.

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