5 Things We Must Teach the Next Generation of Creatives

How the teens of today can learn the skills of tomorrow

I've seen our future. 

Each day, I come face to face with them in the hallways of the Manhattan Early College School for Advertising (MECA), a high school founded through a strong partnership between Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC), the Department of Education, the City University of New York, the 4A's and other partners in the advertising and media industry. 

There, we're preparing a group of wildly creative teenagers to fill the advertising and media jobs of today and tomorrow. For as much as I've taught them, they've taught me more, especially about the enormous competencies and unique deficiencies that digital natives bring to the drawing board. Our biggest task as educators has been to keep their creativity alive and constantly sparking. That's why we're teaching the next generation of creatives the following soft skills and technical skills (although everyone, no matter your age, could likely benefit from brushing up on these, too): 

Tech Literacy

I'll start here because most students face significant literacy issues when it comes to reading technical directions, learning coding or experimenting with new software. If you're going to be an entrepreneur, a self-starter, you have to be self-reliant and a lifelong learner, which is why we encourage our students to familiarize themselves with things like video editing or to become proficient in Photoshop or Illustrator. The more they have in their toolbox, the better they will be able to create and build.

Language Skills

It surprises people to hear that most of our students are poor communicators, and that's simply because they've relied so heavily on texts and digital communications to stay in touch with others. As a result, language skills—written, spoken and even body language—have suffered. They often lack the ability to express themselves well in a face-to-face conversation or to write a presentation or a nuanced letter. However, mastery of all of these types of language is today's social currency. It's critical to equip young people with the vocabulary they need to express themselves and to teach them good forms of written expression. 

Hand Skills

When you work with your hands, you discover things differently than if you use only digital tools. That's why I value high-touch skills as much as I do high-tech skills and believe strongly that young creatives must be taught to master an art form that involves working with their hands. Their sense of what's possible increases, and resources that aren't normally found through the digital world become available to them. 

Failing Well

All entrepreneurial spirits and lifelong learners know that failure is a part of learning. Great innovation rarely appears fully formed or flawless, and it's important for young people to accept that mistakes, failures and imperfect ideas can be used as a jumping-off point to create amazing things. We teach our students that accepting failure and taking risks is an essential part of being an entrepreneur. Instead of giving up or accepting failure, they're taught how to look at what they've done—at what makes it strong and what didn't work—and use that to create something even better. 


How do we motivate creatives to act in a socially responsible manner so they will use their talents to build a better, more inclusive and human society? Given our current political climate and how human interaction has in many ways been handicapped by texting, a creative education must include teaching our next generation to use empathy as a compass when building socially relevant and original solutions. The ability to care for others is key to the creation of advertising that not only addresses the client's needs but showcases compelling stories about our humanity.
In just a few short years, the talented students at MECA will be your new colleagues. You won't be disappointed. 

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Carol Sun
Carol Sun is an artist, designer and educator. At Manhattan Early College School for Advertising, she is a founding teacher, workforce developer and leader of the advertising department.

This past spring she was given the Awesome Possum Award from the Cause Marketing Summit.

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