One degree of separation? The exams debacle is a reminder there’s more than one route into PR

Awkward confession: I don’t have a degree.

It's time to shake up access to the industry, argues Gemma Moroney
It's time to shake up access to the industry, argues Gemma Moroney

It’s not held me back, although maybe you’re wondering if I flunked school (no) or whether I am qualified for this job (yes).

It makes the exam results cock-up a timely reminder that this industry is missing out if young people are told a degree is their only path to success.

The idea that not getting a university place means their future is ruined has been a huge part of the stress on parents and young people in this month’s debacle.

Young people should not be made feel that way.

For some careers this may be the case, but it’s not true for all – including ours.

One of many long-overdue changes to become more diverse (in all ways) should be a more open attitude to ways into the creative industries: an attitude that says no degree is one of the norms, not the exception – a commitment to easier ways for people to try the industry for size, and an open mind to recruit people who’ve already had a different career (and not just at entry-level).

We all know a degree + work experience + an internship + a graduate scheme is not an option for everyone, for a range of reasons.

Additionally, getting into uni doesn’t necessarily mean graduating: a 2017 report revealed a huge disparity in retention of black students (a 50 per cent gap vs their peers).

This is one of many things universities need to address.


The author in her school days

This industry has an opportunity to disrupt received wisdom about routes to success.

It’s time to challenge the idea that a degree is the only option, especially when more and more people are feeling the pressure to get more than one degree in order to stand out in the job market.

If we are accessible and inclusive (clearly work to do), we have one of the best industries for people, with or without a degree, to thrive: a social environment, networking opportunities and general agreement that your best learning comes ‘on the job’ – yep, even over Zoom.

Plus, there is a range of qualification opportunities that forms part of the professionalisation of the industry.

I’m not saying this is the most important change for the industry, but it’s definitely one for the to-do list.

So, let’s talk more about this industry as an option to parents and young people.

Let’s talk about PRCA Apprenticeships and D&AD SHIFT.

Let’s view those routes as another norm, not an exception – not anti-degree, but anti-'one way in'.

Let’s reconsider how we recruit.

Let’s talk about the comms directors, strategy chiefs, entrepreneurs, CMOs and SAEs from ‘different’ routes who are behind some of the most exciting work around (they exist, we just don’t hear much about them). Let’s agree the ‘record of achievement’ that meant so much for two years and sits in a dusty box for the next 20 isn’t the be-all and end-all. Let’s make it easier for more talent to get a break. Let’s see where that can take us.

PS: Thanks to Lily Wiggins, Kate Miller, Matt Cross, Nadine Stewart and David Fraser for lending me their thoughts for this – and to my many mentors, not least Frankie Cory.

Gemma Moroney is co-founder of SHOOK

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