Tag Archives: graduates

The Digital Skills Summit – brokering skills between digital companies, students, and universities

I couldn’t attend the Digital Skills Summit delivered by Manchester Digital and Manchester Knowledge Capital last week. This was a shame: going by the #mcrdig hashtag on Twitter and chatting to a couple of delegates, a lot of the topics discussed are close to my heart at the moment:

  • A Skills Broker for the digital sector in Manchester or “The North” was discussed. This gets its own set of bullet points below, you lucky sods.
  • MMU’s David Bird stressed the importance of paid internships for students in the digital sector. This makes total sense. Employers are expecting students and recent graduates to be business-ready and entrepreneurial, on top of being technically skilled designers, coders, online marketers and so on. Their expectation to get paid should be part and parcel of this.
  • CPD for established digital professionals was a thorny issue, with some dissatisfaction being expressed at the quality of what’s on offer in the region – though it’s unclear if this was aimed at the private sector, the support agencies, or the universities, or all of the above. A tough one, this, and easy to get bogged down in if you lump all these different parts of the skills supply chain into one. I’ve touched on this topic in a previous post, asking  what price should be paid for digital sector training. Price has an immediate impact on quality and I’m concerned that there hasn’t really been a broad enough, meaningful discussion on the quality of training that might be offered to one industry in, by global standards, a pretty small area.

So, this skills broker idea was mentioned – and I wouldn’t blame Manchester Digital for wanting to position themselves for it, though I’m unclear on what’s holding them back. It’s a really good idea: universities and businesses could be doing a lot more together, and not just work-based training, if the relationships were right. A third party with a good overview of wants and needs on both sides could do some real good, and would provide a consistent stage to get top-tier thought leaders in technology, design and training in the 21st century speaking and teaching in the region, without stepping on the toes of Northern Digitals, Econsultancy, or anyone else.

Would a membership-based trade body be the one able to do this? I’d say they’d need to match up against the following attributes:

  • Autonomous: they would have to have strong partnerships with HE and industry, but would have to work to its own agenda and have a crystal clear, realistic mission statement. Those two groups are effectively clients, but not necessarily the users: they’re the students, graduates and CPD customers, and if the mix of influence is off-balance their interests could easily be forgotten.
  • Knowledgeable about training, and training as a harsh, competitive arena, as much as they might be about digital. One without the other won’t do.
  • Nimble and responsive: waiting on committees, steering groups and stakeholder meetings for permission on projects and products they’re not able to assess in detail will just slow things down, and rarely affect the outcome. There are things that could be started literally right now, with no real barriers.
  • Open-minded and accessible: the new waves of talent can come from anywhere and there is no archetype of success in such a frequently disrupted industry. This must be visible as more than a lip-service equal opportunities policy.

How you’d fund something like this is tricky, and may only be solved by being as iterative in the approach from the outset as possible, making a virtue out of trial and error. I’d suggest something small, lean and mean which wouldn’t need a physical base to get going: once I’d improved my know-how, I found a decent laptop, phone, connectivity and transport to be the main capital resources whether we’re talking about placements, online training or training events. Constitution-wise I’d be wary of creating a co-op for the reasons above, although the relatively new CIC model may work well in this instance. It may not even be a full-time job for one person to begin with. Revenue-wise I’d say a pay-as-you go system would enable that essential speed, flexibility and JFDI factor. Contracts and SLAs would be a secondary concern, and not a barrier to getting started.

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Online trends: using the web for media careers advice

One thing I wish I’d figured out five years ago, back when I worked for Media Training North West, was this: when trying to attract people who need media careers advice, market the outcome – media jobs – not the service. In hindsight I feel pretty stupid to have only come to this conclusion more recently: a classic case of when working non-commercially, and at the beck and call of funders, one can easily fail to see the wood for the trees. However, that burial in detail has some value in knowing what is good media careers advice, compared to where users online are trying to find it.

Here’s a table comparing search volume on Google for “media careers” (blue line) and “media jobs” (red line):

Google insights chart of media careers v media jobs search volume, UK, 12 months

Roughly speaking, there’s ten times as much search interest in “media jobs” over “media careers”, and that’s just over the last 12 months. The top 5 SERPs for the first term aren’t, from my experience, necessarily the places where you’re sure to find the relevant jobs – indeed, it’s a sector where the majority of jobs aren’t advertised, particularly if we’re talking about broadcast and film.

Google is overwhelmingly used by the under-informed  so we can assume that a considerable chunk of those querying “media jobs” would value media careers advice and resources – even if it’s just to conclude that the industry isn’t for them. If you’re an organisation providing that service, your site would do better to be optimised along those lines. Providers of advice might argue that I’m misunderstanding what they do, but uptake has to be taken into account as a primary performance indicator.

So how are organisations out there doing on this? Here’s just a couple:

Skillset – the skills council for the creative and digital industries (whatever that means…)

Not bad in some areas – for more outcome-oriented keywords, say, “film jobs” or “tv jobs”, they’re usually within the top five of first page Google SERPs. They also claim to cover the games industry, and this is a sector which desparately needs realistic careers advice to be disseminated. On this point they fail hard – number three on the second page of results for “games design jobs” might as well be nowhere. Skillset’s domain is 13 years old and they’re inundated with good quality inbound links (such as a wealth of .ac.uk domain referrals) , so there’s no real reason why they shouldn’t rank well on this theme (hell, #1 on page 1 isn’t unrealistic). My guess at the problem? The content.

Prospects – the official graduate careers website

And a .ac.uk domain, to boot! They’re not a site specific to media, but keep in mind that the graduate talent pool is a major resource for all industries vaguely definable as “media”. They don’t rank on the first page for “media careers” or “media jobs” but if you pop “graduate” into the middle either of those phrases there they are. This makes sense, given their business as a big graduate recruitment portal, used by students, universities and recruiters alike, but it could be too small a niche given the flood of graduates out there that won’t include that extra term in their job searches. (And it’s worth noting from a legal point of view that you can’t exclude non-graduates from “graduate” recruitment: if the individual fulfils the criteria, with or without a degree, they can apply).

This is just a run-through of search visibility – landing-page user experience, and the quality of advice, is another matter. I’ve got a hunch that online is consistently under-used, and the massive potential for careers advice and CPD via the web is untapped. I think that’s in part because attempts to do so still think of it as a 1-2-1 or 1-to-many service, rather than taking a step back at the bigger picture of how individuals are sourcing advice and opportunities using the web.

I’ve not yet mentioned the high-ranking jobs portals that pWned the SERPs discussed above – places like totaljobs, Guardian Jobs, Mediaweek and Careermoves. It’s a mixed bag in terms of quality and relevance that needs further poking about, so I guess that’s the Part #2 of this post planned!

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