One door, many opportunities – creating corridors to graduate career support

So often university is described as opening the doors to future opportunities. Year after year graduate employers flock (virtually, nowadays) to careers fairs country-wide in the fight to find the best and brightest talent. But what of the businesses whose presence is not felt in that annual ‘milk-round’ season? The businesses that cannot recruit a year ahead; or those unable to stand out amongst the internationally renowned brands?

The need

At Lancaster University, we pride ourselves on our beautiful, modern campus and strong community of like-minded thinkers. Our small city is situated on the edge of the Lake District, surrounded by countryside and coastline; with our nearest significant urban centre being Manchester, about an hour away. Perhaps because of our size and location, we feel particularly strong ties to our community and wider region. We feel the weight of our very real civic responsibility to contribute to the ‘levelling up’ agenda, helping to position the North West as a beacon for positive economic, health, social and educational change.

We take enormous pride in our diverse student community, welcoming students from all over the world. A large proportion of our undergraduates - 90% in fact - are state-school educated students, and 30% are first generation entering higher education. Many come from families in our region - the bustle and bright-lights in an enormous city is not for everyone!

Many of our students aim to remain in - and contribute to - the North West; committed to and proud of their roots. Just because students wish to stay in the North however, does not mean they have any less aspiration to have an impact; be creative, innovative and play a role in the ongoing regeneration of their region.

So how do we, as a careers team, support these students to open those doors?

Where do we start making building relationships with those employers who do not have the annual intake and marketing-welly of the big brands to trail around the country with big exhibition stands and free merch?

The allies

Thankfully we are not alone in this journey, we have allies!

For five years now, the annual Two+Two creative collaboration event in Manchester has proven to be the one day of the year when a hundred doors are opened for students in Lancaster University Management School’s Marketing department. The brainchild of Creative Resource MD, Julie Ollerton, the initiative was founded as a philanthropic initiative to bridge the gap between the enormous demand for creative talent in the North and the university students hoping to find their future career paths. Recognising the lethal combination of a perceived lack of opportunity in the North West, and the students’ perceived assumption that they may need to head to London; Two+Two was established to plug the leak of talent, giving agencies in the North the chance to build a bigger profile with graduates and providing a platform to find talent. As Julie puts it:

‘it’s about levelling up and making sure that industry is inclusive, no matter what your circumstances. For a lot of young people, moving to London is a really difficult thing to do. Internships aren’t always paid or well paid. And, even if they get a full-time job, the cost of living down there is so expensive.’

Julie was keen to highlight that there are larger agencies in the North West than many students would think; independent agencies, network agencies and multi-national. The majority however are small, owned or run by creatives or marketeers who just don’t have the exposure or network.

Two + Two offers agencies of all shapes and sizes a stage. A way for them to meet budding talent, see the talent in action and potentially continue conversations with students, post-event.

Stepping through the door

On the day, the event provides participants with the chance to stretch their creative legs outside of the classroom. Working in teams from other universities and across creative disciplines, it gives students the chance to be mentored by, and network with, local professionals. It sets students a challenge in the form of a brief – and off they go to get their inspiration flowing.

Understanding more about the creative landscape and the people occupying it is crucial - for both our students and for university careers teams, who are there to support them through their journey.

So crucial is the value, in fact, that I have taken an active role in supporting the ongoing evolution of this amazing event. As a single careers coach within my department, I have limited capacity to track down and build relationships with the sheer volume of would-be-student-employers.

Put simply, events like Two+Two are a win-win.

The many corridors

A win that we have in fact replicated, small-scale, in our first year ‘Marketing Me’ personal development module. Inspired and motivated by the value brought by an enterprise-led initiative like Two+Two, I have been running an annual ‘Launch’ event. Using the same ideas, I bring alumni-mentors to campus to support our marketing majors to work on a brief for a real client; many of whom have come directly from relationships cultivated by Two+Two. This year, we are thrilled to have Havas Lynx Group providing our brief around raising awareness of the healthcare sector as a would-be career path; alumni from the WHO and NHS providing our keynote speeches; and alumni representing employers from every size and shape across the UK, including the North West.

However, replicating our own event locally is not the only bonus corridor that the Two+Two event opens up to us. The relationships that I have been able to cultivate have resulted in fast-track graduate entry schemes with a major NW agency network; multiple guest lecturers supporting our curriculum; and probably most importantly, multiple permanent graduate destinations, internships and placements.

The door to the ultimate destination, via Stockport of all places…

For me, Two+Two stands as a shining example of industry backing talent; investing time, effort and resource into creating one BIG open door for students and universities alike. The event is run entirely philanthropically, with Julie investing her own firm’s time, finances and resources to get it off the ground and run it every year. Yes, it is an enormous team effort that we all do our bit to support; but that one door was opened entirely by Julie and her team at Creative Resource… whoever would have thought that such a door might open from a Stockport office!

Without it, we would have little insight into the scale and breadth of the need and opportunity just down the M6; we would be knocking on an infinite number of doors trying to find the right way to showcase our talent and build much-needed connections institutionally. Without it, the growing creative communities in the region would struggle to see, realise and have the vital chance to recruit the incredible potential coming from our region.

One event. Many, many doors of opportunity. For all of us.


Vicky Metcalf is a Careers Coach at Lancaster University Management School.

Lancaster University Management School is one of the leading schools currently offering the Help to Grow: Management Course. For more information, click here