I absolutely loved University. The first taste of living away from home (and in the incredible city of Manchester), the campus atmosphere, the new friends, the parties, the lifestyle and, of course, the learning were fantastic. What I hadn’t foreseen were the real-world implications of a student loan.
Being from that first unfortunate year group that was stung by the Cameron–Clegg coalition’s trebling of fees, much was unclear on what the development meant for the rest (or at least the first 30 years…) of my working life.
Now, as 2023 freshers get ready to flee the nest in September, they face an even more challenging repayment plan from the Department for Education. The latest changes mean graduates will be paying off their student loans for the entirety of their careers, and many will pay double that of their year-ahead peers. Coupled with the fact that, should Labour get into No. 10 next year, Keir Starmer will scrap his student loans pledge, these latest developments have moved the goalposts yet again for school leavers who potentially have no idea about the opportunities open to them in the events industry.
Hopefully, at the very least, Labour have, just last week, vowed to overhaul the planned Conservative changes (again, should they get into power); however, it still leaves graduates with mountains of debt under the current system.
Looking back on my career, the jobs that are commonly available in the world of events and the skillsets required, I ask myself: did I really need a degree (let alone the Master’s in Chemistry I got!) to enter the industry? And the truth is, no, I didn’t. And neither does the next-gen.
Degrees are seldom relevant to the work we actually do: three years of hands-on experience often outweighs what’s learnt in a lecture hall. What’s more, given the barriers to entry for underprivileged students, recruiting from outside the graduate pool has the significant added benefit of helping us build a more diverse workforce.
We’re also seeing a global trend where employers are less focused on recruiting graduates (74% less than 10 years ago, according to Indeed), with the majority (87%) who recruit entry-level talent favouring a positive attitude, work ethic and willingness to learn over qualifications.
There are, of course, still huge benefits to going to university, professionally, personally and culturally. The transferable skills, dedication and self-discipline learned, as well as the cultural experience gained, all contribute immeasurably to one’s personal growth.
As an industry, it’s time to question whether degrees are still mandatory and up our game when it comes to educating pre-uni students about their options before they saddle themselves with a lifetime of graduate tax.
So, what can we do? Well, we aptly have an educational job on our hands. Whilst Gen Z has a far more sophisticated understanding of the world of work (largely thanks to social media), there’s still a lack of knowledge of what’s out there in the events industry.
School outreach programmes such as ADVenture (part of Brixton Finishing School and an organisation with whom I had the pleasure of working when I attended my sixth form’s recent career fair) are bringing the advertising, marketing and comms industries to 14-18-year-olds across the nation through assemblies, careers advice and more. They’re doing a fantastic job.
But there’s certainly more we can do as an industry by exhibiting at and attending careers fairs; reaching out to schools by offering work experience, internships and placements; and promoting the industry more generally to connect authentically with the next gen of leaders.
While I certainly don’t hold all the answers, hopefully this is a positive start to recruiting grassroots talent and saving them from a lifetime of graduate tax.