Getting a foot in the door
When I graduated from Uni a few years back I suddenly found myself staring at a black hole between where I'd been and the challenge of landing my first job in the Creative Industries. After studying Graphic Design for three years I had successfully nurtured a passion for design and a fear of getting a job in equal measures. Despite the fact that part of my course had been aimed at preparing us for the 'real world', I have to admit that part of me felt incredibly under equipped and short on ideas when it came to approaching design studios.ÃÂ
The problem I was facing wasn't down to bad teaching at Uni - I still have the utmost respect for a couple of my tutors who I often realised were going well beyond what their job description required to ensure we picked up as many design skills as possible. However, now I'm on the other side of the fence, having setup a small design studio which is now growing and recruiting students itself I can more clearly see how big the jump can seem from 'eager student' to 'commercially viable employee'.
One of the biggest shortfallings of traditional design degrees I believe is that a lot of on the job skills don't translate that well in a traditional classroom environment. Things like meeting with clients, writing proposals, turning concepts around quickly in order to be able to win business, designing under considerable pressure and multi-tasking several projects are all practical realities that aren't always realised whilst studying at University. Essentially the vocational aspects of the job are superseeded by more 'conceptual' thinking that often leads to great portfolio pieces which bear little value in a commercial and client driven world. What then might help?ÃÂ
First, I'd say that here in Birmingham that work of 'FEED' at Matthew Boulton college should be flagged up for taking the right kind of steps forward in terms of setup and resources. Unlike many other more 'classroom/lecture theatre' based courses, the FEED studio based at Millennium Point seeks to create a more 'real' studio environment for students to work in - providing workspaces for students to use as well as putting out FEED Magazine, a great read that's getting some deserved industry recognition. As well as being a really nice space to work in, the importance of collaborating and working around other designers is for me one of the biggest issues that this setup helps to address. Just as when you train to be a mechanic it's helpful to learn in a garage with tools around, so is it useful as a designer to have a creative space to think in, with good kit and like minded people to bounce ideas off.ÃÂ
Second, the type of projects that are being worked on are infinitely easier to undertake (and mark) when the brief is 'live'. Therefore, it's always useful when local businesses etc can help support the work of Universities by offering a real project brief for students to work on. When I was studying I rarely got my hands on 'real work' unless I was freelancing - it's obviously really hard for lecturers to keep trying to pull exciting projects out the bag and so as far as I can see it, businesses who are looking to commission design work locally could do a lot worse than putting the brief out to local design students as well as agencies. Even in this scenario if the work produced doesn't always tick the boxes for businesses it does at least offer a good range of ideas from enthusiastic designers and give students the opportunity to cut their teeth with a real client. From a students point of view the shift goes from being 'what's the big idea', 'how can I be original and creative' to being balanced with equally useful concerns such as 'how do I properly set that document up for print', 'whats an appropriate font to be using on a website', 'how will this photocopy' 'how should I conduct myself when explaining ideas to the client' etc. What I'm saying here certainly isn't that conceptual projects with no client are bad, just that there is a void in students skills set that local businesses can help to fill whilst also benefitting themselves.ÃÂ
Next, I'd say that companies already established within the Creative Industries themselves can take some responsibility for easing the transition that students are required to make when jumping from Uni to a first job. Currently at 383 we have two students with us on placement and try as best we can to offer advice/suggestions to any students that come knocking wherever time permits. Schemes such as Graduate Advantage are also a great way of offering employment to candidates who've recently graduated from regional Universities. As well as being a free service, Graduate Advantage are also very thorough in the way they take down requirements for the job role on offer and translate these when interviewing students on agencies behalf. For me, this is a win win scenario as not only do you save time on recruiting the right type of person, but you also forge strong links with Universities direct which can be utilised again and again in the future as business needs grow.ÃÂ
And lastly, the sixty four thousand dollar question - what can students do to help get themselves noticed a bit more by agencies? This I think is probably one of the most exciting and easy areas to improve upon as most of the tools are free to implement and fun to use. Given the pace at which things such as blogging, lifestreaming and online networking are moving the web has become a great way of saying a lot about yourself before someone has met you. Students with a clear passion for design and a keen eye for new trends could (and arguably should) be setting up a tumblr or other bookmarking tool to help potential employers check out what they're consuming online. This is an updatable and accessible way of illustrating content you're looking at in a format which is accessible and familiar for employers within the creative industries. Being ahead of the crowd in these types of environments might just be enough to get you noticed and help you stand out from the crowd. When I was at Uni MSN and Skype were all the rage, but practically they weren't much help to me finding a job. However, on sites such as Twitter your updates and interests are right there for other people to find (infact this is the way we've found a few of our current team members after following their updates online). The bottom line here is that there's plenty of tools that can be used to put information online for prospective employers and it's a free and fun discipline to adopt.
I'm sure that in any industry there are hurdles to try and jump when landing a first job, but for me a few of the issues I faced when graduating in design are ones which I believe can be fixed with a bit more joined up thinking and initative. It's really encouraging to see that when compared with other areas of the country, our local Universities are forward thinking when it comes to breaking the mould on how students are taught - something which I'm sure will add to the continued growth and success of the Creative Industries sector as a whole in Birmingham.ÃÂ ÃÂ