This year, in the framework of our Lab Connections project, we have been cooperating with the British Council with the objective of supporting Creative Hubs’ activities in the field of youth employment and youth entrepreneurship. The problem of youth unemployment is very important for the European Commission. Following a request coming from the European Commission Directorate General for Education and Culture, we thought we could help the Hubs in exploring and perhaps redefine their role in terms of outreach and support to their users.
What is a Creative Hub?
A Creative Hub is a physical or virtual place that brings enterprising people -working in the creative and cultural industries- together. In the last 10 years, an increasing number of such hubs appeared all over Europe and the model became successful, especially among the young. The possibility of following trainings and the chance for peer to peer learning and mentoring offered by the Hubs played a big role in their success.
Thanks to the support of the British Council, who has been leading the European Creative Hubs network project in the past 2 years, we met with 5 of them: Factoría Cultural and Modo from Spain, Fab Lab Limerick in Ireland, Warehouse Coworking Factory and Matera Hub in Italy. They kindly agreed to provide us with information regarding their stories, their work and their community. They also opened their doors to us so that we could organise 3 participatory workshops for them to strategize (together with other Hubs and their users), share and develop new ideas. In this project we were kindly supported by Cat Drew from Uscreates (one of the experts on Lab Connections’ advisory committee) in developing and testing the methodology.
Warehouse Coworking Factory and Matera Hub
I had the chance to work with the Italian Hubs and learn more about their situation: the activities they organise, the challenges they have to deal with, their hopes for the future. Both Matera Hub and Warehouse Coworking Factory have their main focus in supporting young people from Basilicata and Marche regions respectively in developing a business or planning their career. They aggregate local entrepreneurs, artists and innovators, trying to foster exchanges among them, providing them with the support they need to get from a rough idea of business to a concrete output they could put on the market.
“We should have more Creative Hubs”
Speaking with some of the local stakeholders in their regions (public sector employees, academics, local entrepreneurs) it seems like they are doing a great job: all interviewees highlighted the importance of the services offered to the local youth. The current education system appears to be weak when it comes to preparing the student to accessing the job market, even if recent reforms are trying to change that (Italy has amongst the highest youth unemployment rate in the EU). According to them, many students still have an outdated idea of how the job market works and what you have to do when looking for a job and planning your career. At the same time many companies, especially the small ones, don’t have the resources to invest in skilling their employees but they request already some experience in putting into practice the competences acquired in university.
Sharing ideas and learning new things
Through a small survey, we gathered inputs from a small pool of young users of the hubs who expressed their enthusiasm for the space, the social contacts, the learning possibilities it offers. Within the Hubs, they can interact with people coming from a different sector or with a different university background, get an expert advice or a different perspective on their ideas and learn practical skills, such as how to develop a business plan, web writing but also soft skills. Additionally, Creative Hubs are also involved in EU funded projects and international students are also part of the community. Thanks to the exchanges within the Hubs, the users gain confidence and are more willing to dare and launch their own business. They have the chance of access trainings and a network of professional and companies active in their field of interest.
A bridge between the education system and the job market
The main challenges the Italian Hubs have to face are mostly related to how they are perceived by the local actors in the job market (such as local government and private enterprises) who often consider them as simple co-working business, without recognising their social role of “connectors” between the world of education and the job market. Another issue is the financial sustainability in the long term: most of the people involved in the hub teams are volunteers so they have to work for the hub in their own time. Acting as community manager of a Hub is almost a full time job and without this professional figure, the Hub could not function properly. These challenges limit its potential: the team members we spoke with underlined how they would like to support more people and become established actors in their regions, a reference point for all activities related to employment, art and entrepreneurship.
Participatory workshop in Marotta, Marche Region
On December 1st I went to Marotta, to facilitate our workshop at Warehouse Coworking Factory’s premises. Participants were coming from the surrounding area but a small group lead by Matera Hub joined too: people working for the Hubs, young users, representatives from local government and academia, many of whom we had talked with in the previous weeks.
The workshop main objective was to support co-design processes for the hubs to understand how to better bridge the gap between education and work. We structured the activities around different subjects: the Hub users and their experiences; the future of work; users/young people’s needs versus job market needs and new ideas for services the Hubs could offer. Similar workshops were held in Limerick the week before and in Madrid a couple of days later, hosted by local Creative Hubs.
We started with a persona exercise, where we asked the participants to split in 4 groups and create 2 profiles of Hub users per group, a realistic representation of the people who use it regularly. The objective was to identify who they are; the hopes and motivation driving their careers and how the Hubs are/could better support them in reaching their goals. Participants could either create a persona from scratch or complete some profiles we pre-defined by looking at the results of the above mentioned survey (some example of the results in the picture below).
The following task was the creation of a timeline, where the personas were imagined in different timeframes: in the 1950s, in present time, in the immediate future and in 2050. The participants imagined how the same profile would have worked in those periods, underlining the positives and negatives. For example, they imagined it was easier to create a business in the ’50s, during economic growth and a closer market but also the type of pressure a young person was subjected to in those times because of expectations and the choice of giving up a stable job; how the more we progress into the future, the more flexible and unstable jobs would be or how automation will replace the jobs that don’t require creativity and human interactions.
Right before lunch we worked on the needs of the persona developed in the morning and compared them with what the labour market (clients, companies, employers) needs today and in 2050. The aim of this session was to identify unmet present and future needs. Some of them were: soft skills, entrepreneurial and creative attitude, opportunity to share and possibility to innovate. Then we asked each team to write them down and place them in different “baskets” depending on the role the Hubs play in meeting those needs now, could play/won’t be able to play in meeting them the future.
In the following session, we created new teams around the unmet needs that the Hubs were willing to work on in the future. During 2 rounds of brainstorming first we asked each participant to answer a set of questions individually, explaining how they would deal with the challenge if, for example they were the owner of a big multinational company or if they only had one day. Afterwards we asked them to sketch one of their ideas on a piece of paper and pass it on to the person next to them who had then to work on it for 2 minutes before passing it on again, until all team members were given the chance to integrate each other’s ideas. A team discussion of each idea followed and the best 2 ideas of each team were selected and shared with the other participants.
The last part of the day was devoted to prototyping: each team built a model representing the idea, using the material available (wooden blocks, lego, coloured paper…) and filled in a template where we asked them to explain how their idea would meet the challenge, the role the Hub would have, what would they need to make it happen. The participants really enjoyed this exercise and came up with extremely interesting ideas, such as an intergenerational exchange project where the Hub could put in contact old people who were successful entrepreneurs back in their days with young people who would like to do a similar activity today. Creative Hubs could act as facilitator and also provide the physical space for this exchange.
Another group imagined how the Hub could support parents who work freelance giving them the possibility to attend the activities or use the space for their work while spending time with their kids. The Hub would make sure that the kids are in a safe and entertained while still being able to interact with their parents. The kid presence would not be seen as a burden but they would instead become an added value for the community.
The participants really enjoyed the activities, despite the lack of sufficient time to dedicate to knowing each other better. Most of them found the methodology very interesting and useful, especially because it helped them to develop new ideas and to share their experiences. They had the chance to discuss their issues, find commonalities and explore possible solutions together. The atmosphere was extremely positive and lively.
We wish to thank all them for their hard work. The outcomes of this workshop (and the other ones) will be shared with our colleagues in the Commission and with the British council, who will host the final conference of the European Creative Hubs Network project next January, in Brussels.