Last week, Speakers for Schools and Lucky Generals launched a campaign to beat the nepo babies and encourage the government to level the playing field for non-privately educated kids in the UK by committing to two work experience placements for every child in England. The awareness-raising campaign hopes to alert parents and students to the importance of work experience and to pressure the government to step up. We've got a selection of industry notables sharing their work experience memories to add adland's voices to the campaign, and to demonstrate the importance of reaching beyond the media-land bubble.
Dan Walsh, chief marketing officer at Speakers for Schools
Do you remember your work experience? Whether it gave you a eureka moment that unveiled your future path or made it clear what NOT to do, work experience shapes futures. Mine did. I was a gamekeeper's assistant. Yes I became a dab hand at feeding pheasants, but I realised that working outside in the rain was probably not for me and that a career in the creative industries was probably a more suitable path. But for more and more young people, the chance to do work experience is disappearing. And this is causing major problems by limiting talent pipelines and damaging the economy.
Our research shows that there is a salary uplift of just over £1,000 for each piece of work experience a young person carries out and it substantially reduces the chance of becoming NEET (not in education, employment or training).
It also found that around two-thirds of young people now leave school without doing any work experience, and removal of the statutory status and associated funding has once again reinforced the age-old divide between the economic haves and have-nots, with private school kids now being twice as likely to have done multiple work experiences than their state school counterparts.
But we also wanted to give this an industry flip, so asked some senior industry luminaries about their work experience.
Dom Dwight, marketing director, Taylors of Harrogate
I watched far too much TV as a teenager. Not surprising given that I grew up in the sea of suburban sprawl that was 1990s Bromley.
As an arty kid, this amounted to me being very keen to get into advertising, and somehow I lucked out with a two-week slot at Saatchi & Saatchi. However, when I turned up, they realised their mistake - instead of a school leaver they could put to work, they had a gangly 15 year old with curtains who needed babysitting. I had a great time nevertheless.
At first, I fell in love with the art department (never seen so many magic markers in my life before) but when I sat in on a creative duo, and realised all they seemed to do all day was doodle and make up jokes, I felt like I’d found my place in the world.
Sadly, this wasn’t to be. Within weeks, I went on to discover grunge music, which proved a gateway drug into general disdain for most things, especially anything commercial. It took me about 15 years to recover.
Laura Swinton, editor in chief, LBB
My first real taste of journalism - I’m not going to count the ‘magazine’ I made detailing the up-to-the moment profiles and news about my cuddly toys - was at my local newspaper. And it was a local paper. A proper one. Printing press on the ground floor, walking distance from the Sheriff Court, tiny little original Apple Macintosh computers that were way out of date.
My classmates and I had been turfed out of school for the week to do work experience and we were off cluttering up the town’s supermarkets, building societies, joiners’ vans and solicitors’ offices. By chance, I spotted an opportunity to work at The East Lothian Courier, back then a Thursday mainstay, where you could find out who’d died and who’d been arrested while cooing at adorable Primary 1 class photos.
One day, I was - perhaps ill-advisedly - given the job of phoning up the local police station to find some stories (the editorial assistant who ‘delegated’ the task to a 14-year-old was suitably bollocked afterwards). I managed to uncover a story about a couple whose aviary had been robbed of its expensive birds while they were on holiday in ... yep... the Canary Islands. I wrote a perfectly sensible, but probably terrible first draft, and the final article came back sodden with bird puns. An early but important lesson about interacting with sub editors…
That week, I learned so many other lessons too. The importance - and joy - of editorial pedantry (there is no such crime as ‘burglary’ in Scotland). That journalists love a gossip. To be careful who you make eye contact with in a courtroom. And the giddy pleasure of heading down to the pub after the week’s edition has been put to bed (Diet Coke only, I promise).
I didn’t know back then that I’d be destined to traipse into journalism myself. It wasn’t really on my radar at all as an option, having grown up aware of, maybe, four kinds of jobs max. That week opened my eyes to a different world of work I had no idea existed.
Annabelle Cordelli, senior vice president, global marketing, Virgin Atlantic
I believe work experience is crucial. My advice for anyone who doesn’t really know what they want to do is to tap up anyone they can for even a day, two days of work experience. This will give a taste of what’s possible and provide some direction, or at least it can help work out what you don’t want to do.
I grew up in Melbourne and I was about 13 when I did my first stint of work experience - it was in a trendy jeans retailer and although the tasks I was trusted with were pretty minor, they felt hugely important to me. I loved feeling like part of a team, like I was making a real contribution to something. It gave me insight into how things in the real-world work, and the confidence to seek out more opportunities to explore what roles in different sectors might be like.
Then I got lucky. Someone who knew someone who know someone got me in the door at ad agency DDB. The experience was pivotal in taking me to where I am today. I was just so enamoured with the account team who I was working with. They just seemed so on it, so slick, so successful and everything I wanted to be. My mind was made up - that was going to be me one day. When one of the fabulous women there advised me that getting a marketing degree would be the best way to land a job like hers, I had the direction and focus I needed.
And I did just that - with a bit of economics added in, and a languages degree alongside for good measure! The degree opened up my understanding and have me a broader outlook on marketing, leading me on a slightly different career path from the team who inspired me so much at the agency, but that experience gave me the crucial jumping off point I needed. I had clarity from such a young age what I wanted to do and 27 years later, I still absolutely love it.
Vickie Ridley, new business and marketing director, Lucky Generals
I divided my work experience weeks between an accountancy firm and a PR agency in Belfast. The week at the accountancy firm felt more like a year. A slow, painful, incomprehensibly boring year. So, I quickly concluded that a life of auditing was not for me.
The other week I spent at a PR firm being told that as much as they loved my enthusiasm, my job was really not to come up with the ideas (in hindsight, they really weren’t great, and there was a hell of a lot of them) and instead, to help the team bring them to life for the client. Since then, I’ve swapped PR for advertising, but the feedback has remained pretty consistent…
The opportunity to test-run a career and firmly rule it out was as crucial as getting a glimpse into a world that really excited me and gave me something to strive for.
Find out more about Speakers for Schools and the work experience campaign here.