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Stranded Artists

The Difficulties of Graduate Employability Help in the Arts. 


Now and Then

This will be my 3rd rewrite in about 20 months due to my uncertainty of point of view and my own internal struggle to put this out publicly. In 2015 when I graduated from University I felt stranded. I had, up until that point in my life, always been in full time education. My degree was my reward for devoting myself to academia. However, I am now of the opinion that my reward should have been a strong sense of professional direction and confidence in my own ability.

After finishing my final deadlines, I had what I would describe as a ‘burnout’. My self-confidence as a filmmaker was broken and I was massively in my overdraft. My lack of financial security came from the intense amount of pressure to make my final year films to a high standard - I paid for a location, I reimbursed actors and catered for a weekend - all out of my own money.

After spending nearly, a grand on 3 short films I was left deflated knowing that I had to turn these into something that would help me get my degree. The films came together but not to the high standards I had set myself. Feedback (and lack thereof) from peers and tutors left me with little to no confidence in my ability to make films. This is something I am still trying to get over.

Support

I feel like I really would have benefitted from some real world and effective careers advice throughout my 3 years. From bid-writing, to submitting to film festivals, self-promotion/brand identity and sector-specific CV writing. All of these I did not get and I really can’t understand why.

What support did exist? From what I can understand, at the university they have a dedicated Career’s Service that can help with a whole host of student’s employability problems. I contacted The Careers service to see if they were around when I was there. 
The Careers team has been around for decades, so yes, the service was available in 2015”

I also wanted to know more about them, some key quotes were: 

  • “We operate a free life long service to our graduates.”
  • “The advice we give is always dependent upon what the student
    wants to know on booking the session.”
  • “Several factors have to be considered… what are their aspirations, capacity/knowledge of opportunities (as we are here to empower and enable students), where they are willing to commute or relocate to, how realistic their career goals are and how self aware they are etc… it really depends upon the individual’s goals, abilities, previous skills and experience.”

Did I miss something at University? This sounds like exactly what I may have needed. I was intrigued to know if there was a session I missed – I wanted to know if it was my fault. How does the Careers Service advertise itself?
We try to attend induction sessions and access class groups where possible. However, we encourage academic staff to signpost our service to students and for students to proactively utilise the intranet to find our service promoted there.”

This leads me to the crux of this article: Should careers advice be compulsory sections of a University course or a separate service
to be accessed outside of the course programme?

Surveying

I asked a few of my peers from my University course to answer a survey. I tried to appear unbiased when I approached them for their opinions. One of the questions I asked was: “On a scale from 0 to 10 how prepared did you feel for a career in the arts when you left University? (10 being extremely prepared, 0 being completely unprepared)”. After averaging their responses it came to resounding 4.8.

My course cohort consisted of about 20 filmmakers and for this survey I got 5 responses. I should also add that these responses were taken in September and October of 2017.

One of the other noticeable responses I got was to the question: “How would you describe your satisfaction with employability help/advice from your time at University?” Responses were a choice on a scale from Extremely Satisfied to Completely Unsatisfied. 4 out of 5 respondees said they were Unsatisfied with the last respondant saying they were Completely Unsatisfied. Surely results like this cannot be ignored.

The final question I will highlight is: “During or After University did you ever use the University Careers service?” There was a range of answers to choose from. 1 respondant answered with “No” whilst the others all answered with “Haven’t heard of it.”

Promotion

As a digital marketer it is clearer to me now, than 20 months ago, that the key to fixing the current problem is through promotion. If the University want to stick to having a separate service open to all then they need to get better at marketing themselves.

Are emails enough? I don’t think so. I believe in order to engage young people you need to meet them where they are. Making sure to infiltrate lectures is an absolute must in order to capture student’s attention. My true belief is that it should have been mandatory (or at least scheduled in) to have a one-to-one session during the final year. Imagine the amount of good work that could be done by holding young people hostage asking them questions about their futures.

Now it is time for me to admit that I most definitely did get emails from the Careers service during my 3 years. I specifically remember being in the library and being told that I could get CV help from “a fella over there.” I was there at a time that they had facilities to help me but I never took on that help. The obvious answer as to why I didn’t take up this help is that I had too much on my plate at the time with my final deadlines. The University should have been massively promoting the Careers service – doesn’t making sure their students get jobs help with the University ranking or something?

Solutions

I try to be solution focussed as much as a 25-year-old, who has just finished an apprenticeship, can be. If University is a way of preparing young adults (and students of every age) to invest in an area of expertise then surely a careers proponent of the syllabus is needed?

Throughout this piece I have been looking at University courses as a whole, but now I want to focus on the arts-based courses, as I can only draw on my own experiences. The arts are a notoriously difficult sector to break into – especially as a young and aspiring artist. I propose that we no longer leave our artists stranded without professional help.

A module dedicated to bid writing and funding would be extremely vital. A written project in which the strongest bid would get some sort of prize - to make sure it is marked and assessed to the standard of real-life bids. Bring in real life bid-writing support and encourage young people to start bid-writing with known funders in the area of expertise.

Another module could be around building a brand – have this tie into a style development module. Not only look at artistic influences but have students perform a self-assessment skills audit looking at skill gaps. Use these as a basis for a piece of work to improve the supposed skills gap.

I may be asking a lot of University courses. In my head, a total restructure to a careers focussed agenda is beneficial to everyone – most importantly students. Don’t get me wrong, I fully enjoyed my time at University as it benefitted my personal development massively. However, if I was asked to recommend University to 17/18-year olds now, I would probably tell them to look for apprenticeship opportunities. My apprenticeship helped me get my foot in the door, it gave me the experience and the confidence to push on in my career.

Conclusions

I shan’t keep you much longer, I just want to finish with some final thoughts. I feel there is currently a massive disconnect between the University Careers service and the students who are engaging with it. A careers-focussed curriculum is my answer to better equipping our students for the future. I was once a stranded artist hoping to find a job. It wasn’t until I jumped on the HMS Apprenticeship did I actually manage to get anywhere near my professional goals. 


I would really appreciate any feedback from the article by commenting below or messaging me across social media. If you would like to learn more - I have an appendix of the data that I may be able to share with you. Thank you for reading! 

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