Brixton Finishing School’s ‘Unwrapped’ survey reveals the reality of industry barriers for young people

The research shines a spotlight on challenges faced and uncovers negative workplace experiences

Josie Shand



According to Brixton Finishing School (BFS) 73% of young people think more should be done to attract more diverse groups to the creative and advertising industries. The research revealed half of respondents feel that knowing the right people remains a barrier to entry. While 41% flagged that getting the right experience is still a hurdle they face in making their first step in the industry.

Partnering with MailMetroMedia for the third year in a row to carry out their Annual Future Talent: Unwrapped survey, formerly known as Barriers to Entry, BFS continues to break down the lived experience of entry-level talent. The research lifts the lid on the reality for talent in their first few years of working in the advertising, marketing and media industries. 

Barriers to entry  

Some of the key barriers that have been highlighted by the 120 entry-level respondents from the BFS community point to slow progress since the survey was first carried out in 2019. A state of play which sparks questions as to where the industry is going wrong?

The research underlines that the impact of the cost of living crisis and Covid have had a detrimental effect on how some students have progressed into the workforce. Educational qualifications are raised as a challenge by a quarter of respondents (an increase from 11%), along with not being able to afford to study, rising from 11% to 15%. 

Workplace experience

Not only are barriers at entry-level impacting the experience of entry-level talent, but once they’ve crossed one barrier there is often another to face. The BFS study underlines some alarming experiences for talent. 

1 in 4 (24%) had witnessed inappropriate behaviour from colleagues, with 36% noting this was race-related. 1 in 3 (34%) have also seen others treated differently at work because of how they look or who they are. While 1 in 5 (21%) say they personally have been treated differently because of  this. These findings demonstrate the harsh reality that there are many hurdles to overcome to achieve a more inclusive workplace.

Pull quote: Having data like this from our partnership really helps us to see how new talent is treated in our industry and how together, we can make it better” - Ryan Uhl, Chief Brand Strategy Officer, Mail Metro Media and BFS Changemaker

Taking action 

Despite these early experiences, 73% of those surveyed would like to make a long-term career in the industry. While 69% believe they can thrive in the industry. This gives the industry hope and a chance to turn these negative experiences into a pathway for change.

But to ensure businesses retain talent, and resolve the belief of more than a third of respondents that the creative/media/advertising industries aren’t serious about tackling inclusion and diversity, action should be taken. 

The survey found that businesses can become more attractive by ensuring that they provide a clear path of progression (55%), competitive salaries (54%), strong training programmes (51%) and good corporate culture (50%). 

Ally Owen, Founder, Brixton Finishing School, explained: “We've conducted this research for the last three years, and it's clear that there is still a long road ahead of us. Adland knows that it has a diversity issue, and they can no longer get away with tick-box PR stunts.”

She continued: “Young people need a real sense of belonging and to work for employers that aren’t just taking a performative approach to DE&I. Employers need to instead work toward fostering inclusive cultures in order for employees to reflect positive experiences in their feedback.

Freena Tailor, Insight Executive and BFS alumni, added: “Conducting this research was a full-circle moment for me, as I have been in the position of filling out the same survey as a Brixton Finishing School grad entering the industry! Although it was an honour to be involved in such an important project, the findings highlight key challenges our industry can work on to ensure we are retaining, recognising and creating more opportunities for young talent.”  

The research underlines there is so much more for the advertising industry to do to create change. The onus is now on leaders to listen, learn and do better. 

To download the full report please click here.