How the SCA is re-writing the rules for creatives

A Methodist church hall doesn’t feel like a brave new world when you see it for the first time. As you glance around you’ll start to think maybe this isn’t your average church hall. Ok, there’s a Mac and projector on the stage – well, maybe their sermons are a bit more hi-tech these days. OK, that sofa in front of the stage is something I wouldn’t expect in a church, and those storage boxes like lockers on the back wall are an unusual touch.

In fact, with its industrious trendy youngsters huddled round Macs this looks more like an ad agency.

This is the School of Communication Arts and its first intake of students are heading home for the holidays at the end of their first term. Interviews are taking place for the second intake due in January.

The SCA is re-writing the rules on how to train young creative for the advertising industry, and it couldn’t come too soon.

Three years of university, and the threat of ever-increasing debts, might teach you the science and the methodology behind the industry but it doesn’t teach you how to present a pitch. You might get the chance to discuss how Social Media can impact how you interact with audiences but it doesn’t teach you how to balance four different accounts, three briefs and a presentation in your first week. And you certainly won’t be able to get the mobile number of some of the top advertising execs in London and be able to bend their ear in your own classroom.

The creative industry has long complained about the standard of graduates coming out of university – too much science and not enough experience. Similarly, students want real industry experience, they don’t want to be a burden as they’re finding their feet in their first job.
Working closely with the advertising industry, the SCA operates like a jobbing agency. The students work on live briefs – their first was to create a marketing brand for a new beer – and pitch for work. No typical student slacking for this class, everyone’s expected to pull their weight.

Each day up to six ‘mentors’ from the ad industry come in to work with the students, providing advice and support. The students will work up to six months on a placement within an agency. And more importantly, the course is packed into 18 months, making it cheaper than three years at university.

I have to confess a vested interest here. I signed up as a mentor at the beginning of their first term. Having worked with interns in PR and Communications agencies I could see the gaps in their learning. Creative apprenticeship projects offered a positive solution but again, the onus is on the boss rather than the student. As belts continue to tighten closer than a whale-boned corset, agencies can rarely give up a chunk of their time to provide support for a graduate that doesn’t have the basic skills to manage their own brief. Unless you strike gold, you almost have to undo most of the learning they’ve done before you set them to work. Writing skills, or lack of, are a particular bug-bear. “Has no-one”, I once remember thinking to myself, “ever explained to this student about writing for different audiences, or the need of basic standard English?”

We all know that practical, on the job experience is what makes the real difference as you dip your toe into the world of work. Fortunately for these students, the SCA is helping them go for a fullCAon paddle before they’ve even been given their first job.

Read a full interview with SCA Dean Marc Lewis here

Find out about the SCA here

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