Fusion skills and three ways education, training and creative industries need to change
In 2019, Foundation for Future London and Culture Mile launched the open competition Fusion Prize to better equip young Londoners for a 21st century workplace, focusing on ‘Fusion Skills’, an interplay between communication, thinking, organisation and creative skills. The Fusion Prize supports schools, universities, charities, businesses, and other organisations to work together and pitch ideas for innovative programmes or products that develop the skills of young Londoners through cultural experiences.
Fusion Skills will allow young people to thrive in a 21st century industry climate marked by accelerating change – and as a young person myself, here is my take on why fusion skills are important and three ways education, training and industry need to change, reflecting on a recent roundtable event with Fusion Prize semi-finalists.
Why are Fusion Skills important?
Faced with exponential technological, environmental and cultural change, we need to reform how we think about education, training and employment. Dynamic planning to address the effects of climate change and pandemics as well as fast-evolving tech use has placed a greater demand on creativity and organisation in the workplace. In recent years Black Lives Matter, #MeToo and LGBTQIA+ civil rights movements on social media have also accelerated culture change across industries and wider society, highlighting the need for self-education and empathetic communication.
The Fusion Prize allows organisations to see the disruption inherent to this era as an opportunity to reform and improve education, training and industry. With the need to address change also comes the need to recognise the wealth of potential in a new generation attuned to the simultaneity and pace of change. Growing up on a backdrop of progressive social media movements and the technical skills of a digital upbringing, the youth possess an inbuilt sense of future.
This is where Fusion Skills come in. The concept of Fusion Skills does not treat communication, thinking, organisation and creative skills as separate, but rather looks at how they are used in tandem. Through developing the Fusion Skills of the next generation, we seek to nurture new leaders, better equipped to steer our changing world.
1. Educate polymaths, not one-track professionals.
It is becoming less desirable to hire one-track professionals with linear career trajectories and narrow skillsets. Given the wider availability of software, hardware and tutorials, professionals now must harness a wide remit of skills beyond what was traditionally expected of their jobs a decade ago. For instance, bloggers and journalists are now not only expected to write, but be fluent in photo and video editing, SEO, copy edit, graphic design, and work with third party tools such as Trello and Asana.
How do you find diverse talent? One advantage of a highly specialised community is that they can publicise their skills better and are easier to find. Nate Agbetu of The Pattern offered a great insight on this, suggesting that organisations use social media as a complex research tool, saying, “If your organisations are having problems with getting young people into your workshops, make sure you do your research”. Nate suggested using social media both for direct outreach, as well as engaging with organisations who already have links with desired demographics to gain multi-layered and wide-reaching research.
When delivering education and training, skills crossover should be normalised as a core part of learning. It is a good approach to encourage lateral thinking by using as wide a range of software and apps as possible as well as skill-sharing through online networks. Students and trainees should be able to follow projects as they are passed between departments at different stages. Exposure to different departments offers a rounded appreciation of varied skillsets and perspectives, adding to a bank of career options.
2. Open doors between institutions, departments, education and training.
Meaningful collaborations between students, trainees and creative industries are key at the level of education and training. Collaboration on live projects with organisations provides students and trainees up-to-date definitions of industry realities. Collaborations also offer a chance for young people to inject their perspectives- a win-win situation for organisations who stay ahead of the curve through seeking youth insights.
Youth-oriented creative organisations do too much guesswork in anticipating the needs of young people. When they do seek youth consultation, it is often on uneven terms. As one young person said, “It’s one thing to invite young people to meetings, but it’s another to facilitate them in a way that young people feel empowered to provide their views and opinions. Meetings are very professional and there’s an anxiety that comes with it.” To nurture young talent, organisations must think outside of the boardroom. As opposed to an interview-esque extraction of ideas from young people, a working relationship on the ground can prove a more nuanced and human solution, providing better feedback.
Organisations should also open doors between their departments. The cutting edge of innovation in any industry lies with multidisciplinary approaches. During the covid-19 pandemic, cross-departmental collaboration has seen an increase in the arts and culture sector, for instance, public programming teams have begun working more closely digital content teams to provide socially distant events and engagement.
As a visually-impaired young person at the roundtable said, “Rethinking remote resources has made people more aware of certain challenges visually impaired people face. With regards to technology like Zoom, I’m aware of several visually impaired people who can’t use it, so being involved in things such as this roundtable is hard for us.” As remote work and leisure become a fixture in the “new normal” and inequality has become more pronounced, this has raised awareness and new issues around accessibility, and the experiences of disabled and neurodiverse communities. Cross-departmental collaborations allow us to rethink experiences we take for granted, and through this, embed positive change.
3. Champion empathetic leadership and marginalised voices.
Creative decision making and human care are some of the most resistant processes to automation in any industry. They can be what make a good initiative a brilliant one and are essential as ever in a 21st century workplace.
Brilliant creative and caring leadership goes hand-in-hand with platforming marginalised voices. “By having positive mentoring, you can have people see potential in you which you can’t see yourself,” said Michaela Tranfield of the Great Create on the challenges a lack of representation in leadership poses for young people entering the workplace. Michaela added, “Young people are very skilled but don’t necessarily know how to apply it.”
Uplifting leaders from underrepresented backgrounds is key, as they make better mentors for others who are underrepresented. This in turn drives sustainable diversity, with all the benefits that offers.
Co-production with communities and partners is also a great way to summon a broad skillset, and the insight to see beyond the industry to better steer leadership. However, co-production faces its own challenges as Ajay Pabial, Managing Director of Art Clubbers mentioned, “For many organisations and local authorities, it’s all about numbers for them, they don’t have a sense of duty to care towards young people.”
“There’s a lot of focus on young people, but there’s not a lot of focus on what employers are doing to support mental health and diversity and inclusion,” Ajay added, stressing the value of young people in consultation and organisations’ need to meet them in the middle.
To platform marginalised voices, sharing resources is key. “For people who are in prison, they have to be thoughtful of how Black Lives Matter is sustained. They will need people like Muted Media to keep the conversation going in a positive way,” explained Jason Mitchell of Muted Media on the current difficulties of their work with incarcerated communities in lockdown. “We’re working with a lot of people who feel they are not heard. We need to give people the opportunity to speak their mind and say what they need to say, then package that so everybody can understand.”
Meaningful collaborations with marginalised groups should always be an exchange on equal terms. Worthy leadership should be willing to tackle inequality from the outset. The learning payoff from platforming other perspectives and pushing change will be infinitely more valuable than risk-averse engagement that relies on unequal power relations.
In conclusion, to pioneer a culture which embraces accelerating change, I suggest that creative industries 1) educate polymaths, 2) encourage more collaborations between industries, departments, training and education and 3) champion empathetic leadership and marginalised voices.
While developments in creative industries grow harder to predict, it is important to remember how empowering it can be to rewrite norms and do better. In this climate of uncertainty, they biggest opportunity available for creative industries is to invest in emerging young talent with skills for the future- their creativity is the key.
A special thanks to the young people, youth workers, educators, The People Speak, Foundation for Future London, Culture Mile, and Fusion Prize semi-finalists Knolo, The NEXUS, Muted Media, AWAKE, The Greate Create and The Pattern whose dialogue inspired this piece.
Fusion Report, Wallace and Barber (2013) – Wallace, T. & Barber, A. (2013). Fusion Skills: perspectives and good practice. London: Creative Skillset.