Why don’t we teach kids how to thrive in the designer economy?

When northeast YouTuber Demi Donnelly quit her job as a receptionist at a local council and became a full-time content creator in 2018, it was a leap into the unknown.

“Taxes were one of the main things I had to learn,” she told me in wonder a year after starting her new career. “I didn’t know anything about how to tax my own money, how to be an individual entrepreneur, or the financial aspect of working on my own. In the end, she leaned on her grandmother, who worked for HMRC in her northeast outpost, for advice on her self-assessment returns.

Millions of others like Donnelly have embarked on creating online content for a variety of different platforms. Some of these are well known: YouTube videos, TikToks, and Instagram posts are some of the most popular methods of sustaining one career – or half a job, while juggling another. But the creator economy extends far beyond on-camera talent: Popular YouTubers outsource much of the editing, graphics, and channel management to freelancers. And videos or photos aren’t the only routes for work in the creative space: while the online gaming platform Roblox paid more than $ 250 million to game developers in 2020, the smartest can make a living from Etsy, and forward-thinking pinball machines become Depop influencers.

The world of work has changed – and social media, e-commerce, and related apps have shaped a whole new career path for people. But education has not kept pace.

Schoolchildren across the country are receiving career counseling as teenagers, which usually involves little more than filling out a catch-all questionnaire, resulting in results unsuited to their interests. (As a teenager in the mid-2000s, wanting a career in something to do with writing, my quiz suggested I become a florist – difficult, given my hay fever.) Plus, the skills that we learn in school often aim to prepare us. for a world of work that no longer exists: the stable office job.


In a context of economic uncertainty and job insecurity, entrepreneurship has become both more attractive and more feasible as a career path. At the same time, the maturity of online content creation platforms – from OnlyFans to YouTube, Instagram, Etsy and TikTok – now means that people are more likely than ever to shy away from a steady job at a large corporation, and instead choose to go. by them selves. Their success inspires others to follow in their footsteps. But the school system did not follow.

“We need a designer education from the primary school level which teaches literacy, culture and the play of the creators, and at the higher level, business, community and higher education which teaches activities, practices, skills, strategy and critical thinking of creators, ”says David. Craig, professor of communications at the University of Southern California at Annenberg and author of several books on the designer industry.

Education is necessary because career demands it – despite public perception. Viewers often equate creators – or influencers – with celebrities, but in reality, they’re more akin to entrepreneurs. And just as entrepreneurs struggle to grow their fledgling businesses and regularly face critical decisions, so do creators. The difference is that entrepreneurs consciously opt for this world. They decide to start a business. Creators usually find themselves in it by chance and then have to do so as a complement to their chosen career.

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In the mid-2000s, as my school’s career department pitched impractical ideas for my own future, early online creators began to see that what was once a hobby could turn into something more. Companies have recognized the opportunity to reach audiences through digital creators and have started paying them money to mention their brands. Creators might then think about giving up their daily work and producing full-time content on the internet.

But it was not an easy decision to make. Just ten years ago, a conversation at VidCon, an online video conference, revolved around some of YouTube’s biggest creators struggling to know when to hire a second person to help them run their burgeoning online business. The stress and constraints of running a business in a rapidly changing world where rules and standards are written down as they develop would be hard enough for an experienced executive in their fifties, let alone a bright-eyed teenager or in their twenties who may have dropped out of school due to their digital success. This is part of the reason so many digital creators are running out.

“Most creators start and stay as one-person content production machines,” says Lucy Loveridge, who has years of experience supporting creators in the industry as Global Head of Talent at Gleam. Futures. “The creation itself takes a tremendous amount of time – writing, producing, filming, editing, managing the community – and most just need to increase the size of their team in order to be able to market effectively. “

As a result, Loveridge thinks we should teach kids what it means to be a creator, just like we do in other jobs. “Kids look at designers and see a viable career path, so we should educate them about what it looks like in reality versus the glitz and glamor that can often be portrayed.”

“With one major exception after the fall of the Soviet Union, the former satellite countries introduced media education in schools,” says Craig. “They understood that the shift from state media to capitalist media would create enormous social change. This is where we are in the transition from analog to digital to, now, the age of social media. We need to rethink the whole model – not just for literacy, but for economic and cultural sustainability.

The importance of teaching the skills necessary to survive the new world of work in the designer economy has been underscored by the number of times the rug has been torn from the feet of designers – forcing them to turn their businesses over to one platform to another in a matter of weeks. More recently, OnlyFans’ abandonment of its sex worker user base (before it quickly turned around) threatened to evict millions of users, who risked being homeless for their own purposes. digital presence. Similar seismic shocks were felt when Patreon repressed on adult content in 2018, when Tumblr closed its doors to sex workers later that year, and when YouTube 2017 “apocalypse”Has reduced the income of those who post videos there.

The solution? Recognizing that more education is needed. In 2016, I visited a YouTube summer school in Spain, where teens and pre-teens learned the basics of branding and marketing in airless classrooms. At first I didn’t care, but the school gave its students training in business management. China offers similar schools for its wanghong (creators) to succeed in the digital economy. Recently, a consultant doing research for a company looking to enter the creator economy asked me what those who publish content online need most. My answer was “help”. Help grow and maintain their business. Help fill out tax forms. But it shouldn’t be bolts: it needs to be built into the curriculum.

[See also: OnlyFans is abandoning the sex workers who made the platform a success]


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