Yesterday I took our esteemed intern along with me represent the company I work for at the Employer Fest in Newport ( http://www.newport.ac.uk/events/bymonth/Pages/EmployerFestMarch12.aspx ). Generally a good day, but it re-iterated something that has been troubling me for a while in regards to students in South Wales studying “media” courses.
This was the second careers fair I`ve been to this year as a representative of our agency.
What I`m discovering more and more is that there is a fundamental mis-understanding of what is required by the students to be industry-ready.
The life skills needed to be able to begin a professional career in a busy deadline driven web agency like ours are just not being taught.
Bright eyed students are coming out of uni full of degrees, passes, grades, distinctions, uni awards, a million facebook friends… and assume that is enough to be able to walk into an agency and be given a high-paying, high-responsiblity job.
Its not enough, but in their defence, students aren`t put in the environments to be able to know these things.
A cotton-wool path.
Nursery is safe. Kids are protected, looked after.
Primary school starts to teach core education, keeping the safe protected environment.
Depending on location, middle school allows further progression through the curriculum, in a safe protected environment.
Secondary school often brings with it life challenges such as relationships, growing pains, terriotorial clashes, but is fundamentally still safe, and the students protected.
6th form and college allows more individual expression, making the safe, protected environment feel like your own.
Then there`s university. You leave home. You stay out all night, anywhere you like. You drink more than your body-weight in alcohol most weeks. Relationships come, go, come back again, go again. You`re living life the way you want. As long as you make the grades, everyone is happy.
But uni still has the same core responsibilities of nursery. Students are safe. They are protected, and provided for (generally speaking).
And after uni? You`re dropped out into the big bad world. No protection; nothing is provided.
This crash into the “real world” is so sudden. Nothing that is taught on the journey to this place has prepared students for this. But surely that can change?
A deadline is dead. It doesn`t move.
There is no clear awareness of the importance of deadlines. When I was at university, we had weekly deadlines. Every Friday was critique day infront of the lecturers and fellow classmates.
If during the week there was a special student offer on beer somewhere, the majority of the class would turn up on the Friday empty handed. The lecturer would roll his eyes, classmates would snigger, and that would be that.
You can`t get away with that in business. If you miss a deadline, you have to pay the consequence.
Work is work.
I love my job. I enjoy coming to work everyday. I enjoy the banter with fellow staff members, and being able to produce quality work for clients.
But its hard work. Sometimes its long hours. It can get stressful, difficult and frustrating. Some days you just want to stay in bed and make it all go away.
But you can`t.
The rewards of succeeding; of solving a seemingly impossible problem; of being able to get a team together and work out the answer; are amazing. You can`t buy that feeling.
Students need to be aware of that. Maybe they need a project that is nearly too much work. Something that will occasionally stretch them, in their safe environment.
Real experience counts.
Alot of universities offer year in industry placements as part of the course. Many do this really well. I`ve found, through my own experience at uni too, that local to Cardiff, the universities don`t seem to be very proactive in helping students arrange work placements.
A year (or even a few months) as an intern in a real business will allow students to get proper, real, hands on day to day actual working-life experience. A month at a business will teach them far more than a business module in a media course.
I know it can be tricky, and there is alot of administration involved, but at the end of the day if students are keen to gain experience, the university should be helping them every step of the way.
And ofcourse, there needs to be businesses willing to take on interns. We took on our intern with no previous experience of doing it before, but 6 months into a 9 month contract he has become a valuable part of the company.
We interviewed for the position, and chose the lucky guy based on his skills, aptitude, ambition and drive. As a business, you don`t have to take on liabilities. Get the intern(s) that will help you as well as them.
Its not all doom and gloom.
Having said all this, I really do think students studying media courses with practical aspects really are passionate and have the want to get into business.
We, as professionals, need to nurture that natural hunger, and (some) businesses need to be open to discussions with universities about how to ensure their students are getting a fair outlook on what to expect once the cotton-wool runs out.
Off the back of this, I personally am arranging some speaking dates with local universities, to try to help shed some light on what “real businesses” look for from fresh recruits.
Get in touch if you`d like more info.