Placements: The Big Debate

placement culture creative graduates

In today’s world, placements play a huge part in creative industries. A hugely debated subject, of course. It’s often necessary to complete unpaid placements for anything up to 2, maybe 3 years just to stand a chance of landing a paid role. Even then you’re at the bottom of the pile applying for minimum pay ‘graduate’ roles.


Placements are such a touchy area of discussion. On one hand it’s necessary to get industry experience. Employers obviously need to know you’re capable before hiring you. Creative degree courses are often marked subjectively at the hand of a tutor (which, right or wrong, IS influenced by your relationship with that tutor). It’s not like more traditional subjects where exams can tell a potential employer how qualified you are to do a job.


Which is where placements come in. A chance to prove yourself on the job, getting real industry experience, learning the ins & outs of a role. Even how that particular company does things, what is done one way at one creative company is handled completely differently at another.


It’s obvious why placement culture exists, of course it is. Employers need to see how good you are before they employ you. But others abuse the system. They use graduates as cheap labour, often free, in the name of ‘experience’. They’re doing you a favour by ‘allowing’ you to produce work, that they sell to clients, for free. Experience is vital, but when it’s for a year (expenses only, if that), it doesn’t seem that mutual does it?


Industries vary, and it falls down to whether YOU think it’s giving you enough valuable experience to be worth it. For a Fashion Graduate working all hours god sends to work Fashion Week with a top fashion house, it’s probably worth it all for a couple of weeks it for the credibility you’ll gain. An advertising graduate doing a few months placement at an agency so they can create good work to put in their book, worth it. 6 months plus, not having any opportunities that are useful for YOU and not being paid? NOPE.


If you’re doing the job of a paid member of staff, for little to no money with no end in sight? That’s wrong. It’s exploitation. It’s taking advantage of the younger generation desperate to get a foot in the door.


Of course placements are necessary and valuable. But only if you make them. If you’re not gaining anything from it, you’re just free labour.

(You can read my post on how I got a job in advertising here.)