Not everyone fits the uni mould – and this is especially true for anyone creative by nature.
The central dissonance at the heart of creative industries – whether it be advertising, design, content creation, writing, or publishing – is that you’re expected to have spent 3 years or so in a media or marketing course, which is usually abysmal and soul-inhaling, to get a job that is supposed to be creative. While traditional university is still the primary route to industry, there are often barriers to access, particularly for people from marginalised or underrepresented groups.
The creative thinkers of the future need creative learning, and often the expensive, rigid, time-consuming, cookie-cutter education afforded by traditional, institutional schooling in Australia can’t cut it.
Why do we go to uni, anyway? To learn discipline, to learn how to think, to network and learn how to collaborate with others in your field. All super important to personal development.
But imagine if you could get that elsewhere. Outside of the traditional system.
It’s pretty weird, when you think about it, that universities just churn out basically the same curriculum for the same people year in year out and expect us to believe they’re producing the innovators of the future, let alone keeping up with a rapidly mutating industry and ever-accelerating technology.
“You meet a lot of these ‘creatives’ from different unis,” said Yaraman Thorne, a junior copywriter at The Monkeys. “And they’re all carbon copies. Of the same education, internships, and then they're just out there.”
“For me, though, I’ve been a consumer for 28 years. Me and my buddy would sit there watching ads like we gotta write these ads, these are so dumb, how do you even start writing this bullshit?”
Yaraman is a recent graduate of an alternative route into the creative industry: D&AD Shift with Google.
It’s a free night school program based in London, Germany, New York and Sydney, offering a fast-tracked pathway to industry – across advertising, content creation, art direction and copywriting – for creatives, specifically those who are self-made, for whom traditional university is not a viable option.
The four-month program is running for its second year in Sydney, with applications for 2023 closing in March.
Josh Bell, one of D&AD Shift’s 2022 alumni, said the program allowed him a accelerated educational experience – meeting the right people, the right mentors, and working on the right projects to get him where he wanted to be.
“I just wanted to create stuff,” Josh told VICE.
“I find it way too hard to sit still and do stuff that I primarily don’t care about. I also didn’t do a lot of school stuff because of being chronically ill, so that challenged my ability to make connections.”
Josh is now working as a content creator for Red Havas, one of the world’s largest communications groups. He said despite contracting creatively as a videographer, designer, and editor before entering Shift, he was still left “far outside the insulated bubble that is the corporate advertising industry”.
“And I felt very desperate to have my voice heard in that realm, with campaigns that people really see,” he said.
“I wanted to enter the program because I always had the confidence that I could create something cool, it’s just that I didn’t think I would be seen by the right people. And it’s super depressing, to know you can do something but not think it can be heard or seen. So Shift seemed like a great opportunity to take all the disadvantages I’ve had in school, and make something of it.”
For Yaraman, before Shift he was “barely a landscaper with a couple of script writing credits”.
“I did some stuff on Black Comedy, And I did some stuff for this sketch called At Home Alone Together, some stuff on The Feed for the NAIDOC Week episode that was received quite well. And then I was kind of just stuffing around, not doing much. And then I kind of stumbled into a fellowship, and then found my way in the industry.”
Yaraman’s boss recommended he apply for the Shift program, which was similar to the fellowship: motivated towards getting people from outside of the industry into the industry.
Yaraman attributes his career move to Shift.
“Getting to work with Adidas, Kua Coffee and meeting other creatives that were kind of on my level as well,” Yaraman told VICE. “Like: oh, ok, I might be a creative. I guess Shift gave me the confidence to be able to walk away and say, yeah no, I’m a creative.”
Hope Siafega Maposua, an illustrator who works across design, photography and other creative avenues, said Shift’s night school classes gave her freedom to support herself in 9-to-5 work while pursuing her education.
“Before I entered into the programme, I was studying graphic design a few years ago at TAFE,” Hope told VICE. “But then due to family reasons, personal reasons, I had to fall out. So I was just working like a regular 9-to-5 job. And I was wanting to get back into doing creative stuff. And then the opportunity presented itself, so I went for it.”
Hope had come across the program while taking a social media break. She logged on briefly to check her notifications and saw her sister had sent her information about it. “I wasn't going to do it,” she said, “I didn't feel ready, but she just really pushed me. And I thought okay, well, we'll just see what happens. And since then it's been a whirlwind.”
“Not to sound dramatic or anything, but for me, I feel like Shift really was life changing,” Hope said. “I did know what I wanted to do. I just wasn't sure how to get there. How Shift helped me is that it really gave me visibility. I already had the passion coming into it. But it really helped me in connecting with other creatives and industry people.”
You don’t need a portfolio to enter into the Shift program. It’s industry led, covering creative industries of design, copywriting, art direction, production and advertising. You need to be 18 or older, and have examples of your work to apply. Previous work could be a script, a design, artwork, a video – anything that exemplifies your unique ideas.
The classes are held at Sydney’s Glue Society and other agencies across Sydney.
“I think I just liked spending time at the Glue Society, to be honest,” Yaraman said, “I walked in there thinking, what the hell is a dick and fart joke guy got to do in a place like this? It’s like high art meets advertising and creativity. I'm a simple man. And towards the end of Shift, the ideas I was pitching, my boss was even like, you’ve probably spent a little too much time at the Glue Society with all these ideas. Just through osmosis, you absorb it all.”
For Hope and Josh, the presence of alternative pathways to traditional universities are crucial.
“I think that alternative pathways are super, super important,” Hope said. “I mean, it's something that I've spoken about with everyone else in my cohort, how we all just really appreciate that it's a night school because a lot of us have 9-to-5s or we can have our bands, clubs or whatever work that we already have in place, as well as still being able to do the night school and chase our dreams.”
“I think we need alternative pathways because I don't think Van Gogh would have been a marketing student,” Josh said.
“I don't think Leonardo da Vinci would have cared for Meta Ads Manager. So when the prerequisite to enter into creative roles in the advertising industry is that you're a marketing student who cares about Meta Ads Manager, it essentially forfeits the role of the artist and allows social media algorithms or whatever to drive what the world sees.”
“And for the common good of Australia, and creatives around the world, we need pathways that elevate people who care about creativity into creative roles. By the nature of what advertising is, it's art that automatically has an audience. So I think that hiring artists that care about art can create more compelling advertising that deserves to exist.”
An earlier version of this article from January 20, 2023 was updated for clarity.