Claire, the owner of Two Ducks (a lovely company selling beautiful British gifts) has inspired me to write this blog. On returning from the New Designers show in London, she was very impressed with the talent of our young designers and makers, but felt many could do with more help with preparation for the world of work.

 

Group_discussion

Students taking valuable time out to consider their futures.

 

Back in 2010, the government funded some research into career destinations for creative graduates. Here are some key findings:


‘45% of graduates had worked freelance since graduating, and at the time of the survey, 23% were self-employed and 18% running their own business.’
 

BUT:


‘…only 52% of graduates felt their course prepared them for the world of work.  Respondents would have liked a better appreciation of what creative employment would be like, improved understanding of client needs, training in IT, business skills and the practicalities of working freelance.’

From Creative Graduates: Creative Futures

 

So, a great deal of expensive research has been undertaken, but what has been done about it?


As early as 2007, I was asked to devise a course for creative undergraduates to help them address all of these issues. I have such a vision to help them. I was asked because of my experience in marketing, but also because I have launched, grown and marketed my own 18-year programme of art courses, engaging an international, loyal customer base.  So I devised a business course with these sessions:

 

1. Where do I fit?  Looking at the world they have chosen for themselves – what does it look like, this world of designer-makers (or whatever they are studying, whether that be graphics, textiles, illustration, for example)? Then we think about transferable skills, portfolio careers, what it’s like to be self-employed and working freelance, and what success might mean to them individually.


2. Then, a very quiet, reflective time to consider their goals.  This is what they call the ‘hippy bit’!  Using some specially-designed questionnaires, I get them to consider their personal motivations. Who are they?  Where are they going? I then help them with a few practical ways they can help themselves reach their goals, like assertiveness; time management; understanding their learning style; and work/life balance.


3. We go straight into marketing. They start to understand how to bring a product to market with a series of group exercises. They practice how to sell a craft item and do presentations, showing that they can turn features into benefits and do a SWOT analysis in order to get to the USP of their designs.


4. Next, I show them how to promote on a shoestring budget, using real life case studies. They are shown all the promotional tools and then they apply them to a product.


5. They learn how to create a business plan and how to deal with retail outlets as well as direct with the client.


6. We then look at the scary finance – they write their own survival budget, and then a cash flow based on a small business example.  We do a fun pricing quiz and then we look at how to price work. They use role-play to practise negotiation.


7. Our final session helps with profit/loss based on a real scenario – again, they physically do it using an old fashioned calculator, pencil and eraser. I show them how to keep their accounts, and how to manage commissions and risk.


8. At the end, they do an assessed eight-minute presentation. They show how they have applied all of this knowledge into their own practice. This is part of their professional practice module, but most importantly, their confidence grows as they break through a pain barrier, learn essential skills and increase their chances of employment.


9. Finally, a one-to-one with me, where they can talk about their ideas in confidence and get professional advice on how to move forward.

 

By the end of the course, they have their notes, along with loads of backup hand-outs and case studies. All this goes into a file as an A-Z for a start-up, including recommended reading, websites and events. They have fun and learn by doing. They are creative people – they like activities, lively debate and visual material.

 

My student feedback is very good. It’s a great structure – tried and tested, and it works. Undergraduates so need this opportunity to think about their future.  Many decide that business/self-employment is not for them – that’s fine.  I like to think that I have saved them from a lot of misery!  After this, it’s down to the individual. There are always some entrepreneurs in each group - they are so imaginative and inventive, literally buzzing with ideas.  But they do need guidance as to how to make their dreams reality.

 

I’ve done it all – it’s ready to roll!  However, there’s a problem – most universities are cutting back on visiting lecturers (who tend to be specialists in their field). Cutting back on the very things that we need when there’s a crisis in the economy!  So, now I only have enough teaching to do little workshops, rather than this perfectly tailored, structured course. I guess it’s better than nothing, but it’s not the vision I had for the students at the start. I so want to take them on this journey. If there are any enlightened course leaders out there, I would love to share my experience, knowledge and skills with your creative students. It’s so much more than just getting a degree – it’s about finding your signature tune and your place in the world.  Don’t universities want to drive up recruitment and employability by adding value to their degrees?

 

What we really need is an incubation hub at every university. Creative students should complete a business course and then get support to take ideas further. We need government-funded growth centres where young people can get confidential one-to-one advice to fast-track ideas. The tender shoots of their businesses would be protected until they’re mature enough to bear fruit. These centres could be a conduit, giving access to successful local business people (not academics!).  The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills should fund the centres. This would be far better use of public funds than commissioning research like the ‘Cultural and Scientific Perception of Human-Chicken Interactions' at a cost of £1.94m to the UK taxpayer. University Growth Hubs would have a practical, measurable, positive impact on the economy. Our centres of learning would be equipping the next generation of entrepreneurs and getting this country back to doing what it does best – creating, inventing, designing and making.

 

That’s my vision for the next generation. What’s yours?

 

© Tessa Webb, July 2014