In My Opinion: Courtnay McLeod: The blurrier, the better

PERSONALISED, customised, tailor-made… it seems almost everything in today’s world is ‘just for you’ – except education, where an one-size-fits-all approach still exists. Our education system wasn’t built for this world. It was designed for an era that required identical learning experiences, with standardised tests, to create a workforce with matching skills. It worked a treat in industrialised times.

And for some subjects, particularly those in creative industries, it is impossible to effectively teach within the industrial-aged structures and systems of Higher Education.

It is getting harder and harder to shoehorn learning into these boxes, and harder and harder to accommodate a flow of graduates that all look the same. In today’s world, a highly ‘qualified’ workforce isn’t enough. It’s about developing a workforce with skills that are notoriously hard to teach in traditional classrooms: creativity, enterprise, communication and confidence.

The more we squeeze creative disciplines in to rigid historical structures, the more we damage what learners (and employers) need.

If we accept that the multiplatform era and convergence trends are real then we’ve got to get real and create change. The industry cannot simply provide the odd guest lecture and occasional work placement. It has to lead on what it means to be creative, reflective and innovative, and the best place to start is by providing training opportunities that are dynamic, flexible, personalised and rooted within the industry.

And, let’s be honest, there’s a bigger picture here – this isn’t just about the workforce. It’s about everyone. Given the seismic shift towards people creating multimedia content and publishing it online, the barriers around the ‘creative industries’ need to come down. It isn’t a standalone sector anymore – it’s a way of life and connects to other industries in increasingly diverse ways. At this point, effective training relates to the economy, society and democracy. It isn’t small stuff. We’ve got to get it right, and the responsibility must be shared.

The good news is we aren’t at base camp, and the mountain isn’t that high (it’s just that it keeps moving, but we can learn to live with that). Across creative industries, private companies, funded bodies, colleges and universities are making excellent progress. Notably the industry skills body for creative industries, Creative Skillset, has made significant strides by finding new ways to develop skills and talent. So, we are all moving in the right direction, but we need to move faster.

On a journey requiring speed it is often hard to stop to think, but it’s vital that we do.

Creative Skillset launched its Workforce Survey this week, providing a timely moment for reflection. This survey looks at career development including entry routes, training needs and, crucially, barriers to progression. Its result will be interesting, and if I was to place a bet I’d suggest it will show that future training provision should look messy; a bit of this mixed in with a bit of that.

This approach goes against what we’ve come to trust in education – where planning, precision and perfection are valued most.

But I’d argue training provision should be blurry; the blurrier, the better.

Courtnay McLeod is director and joint-founder of the Bauer Academy, a UK-wide centre of excellence for multimedia training. She is also a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.