3 and a half years ago, I wondered into Leap as a nervous 18 year old to have a chat with one of their designers. I had no degree, no design experience and only a handful of sketches to show. Yet they decided to take a chance and offered me an apprenticeship.
Apprenticeships are a rare beast in the design world, and Leap’s grassroots approach to hiring young people is incredible. I strongly believe you shouldn’t need a degree to do a creative profession, yet throughout school, college and in the media it’s drilled into youngsters that they must go to university to be a success.
It’s not the concept of university itself that I have a problem with, It’s the single-mindedness that university is the only way. If uni is what you want to do, then of course it’s fine! For many it’s a fantastic springboard into their career, including for graphic design and other creative subjects. I just think other avenues should be given equal focus so youngsters can make a more informed choice. I personally wanted to get straight into the working world, an option that was never really encouraged and often overlooked completely.
In fact, I remember when I first said to my college tutor that I didn’t want to apply for university, I was told to stop turning up to tutor because everything they’d be doing from then on would be uni related. And that was it— I was kind of just left to my own devices.
Having said all this, finding a graphic design apprenticeship was not easy. I still don’t know of many design studios at all who explore the idea of taking on an apprentice and there were hardly any advertised when I was looking. I feel this is a culture that definitely needs to change, and I think slowly as a whole it is starting to shift with time.
For anyone at the start of this journey, looking to get their first creative job I’d say the best advice is to build up a portfolio of work you’re passionate about, even if this is alongside whatever you are doing day-to-day. In my case, I started sketching football players at weekends for fun, scanning them in and adding colour digitally. Each piece got more and more elaborate, until I was able to collate it all as a full body of work. Looking back, the work wasn’t particularly good, but if nothing else it showed potential employers there’s a passion there and a desire to work hard, and it did get my foot in the door.
I sent my portfolio to many local studios, one of which was Leap who I’d already been in contact with before, I tried to do work experience with them a few years prior whilst still at school but it wasn’t convenient at the time as they were in the middle of moving studios. This time I had to keep hassling them early on, emailing and phoning up until they eventually let me in for a chat, which in turn led to them giving me a chance (for which I am eternally grateful!).
I was not the first apprentice at Leap and nor am I the most recent! Their senior designers as well have grown into their positions from originally being interns and this highlights just how much they invest in young people.
My experience at Leap has been incredible, from the word go I have found myself being thrown in to all kinds of situations, not all of which were comfortable or enjoyable, but all have encouraged me to grow into the designer (and person) I am today. Learning on the job is not easy by any means, especially as a youngster, but I do believe it’s the quickest and the best way to learn.
As I move on to start my new design adventure in Southsea, the things I’ve learned at Leap will stay with me forever. I’d like to say a massive thank you to the whole team who have encouraged and supported me. I’ll be popping in to the new studio in Truro when I’m back, and I’ll keep my eyes peeled for the next fresh new faces starting their own exciting design adventure.
Keep on doing things differently, keep on believing in youth, and keep on designing for change.