OPINION: Real world education solves industry skills shortage

Ian Thomson
By Ian Thomson | 23 May 2013

During my years as both an agency head and an advertising lecturer I’ve found that the great majority of marketing and design graduates are poorly prepared for working in the real world. Most don’t possess the skills to make themselves useful from day one and few understand the industry beyond their one particular specialty.

Don’t get me wrong, there are absolutely those high achievers that exit their education with the knowledge and drive to succeed in your organisation straight away, but they are few and far between. No doubt any agency hiring new staff would concur.

So why and how is our education system failing both advertising graduates and the industry at large?

I would argue that the underlying reason behind this problem is the way educational institutions are approaching the training of our future advertising professionals – courses are often simply not tailored for the realities of the market, or quick enough to react to the rapidly changing needs of the advertising industry and technologies. As a result, graduates aren’t prepared for working life and don’t possess job-relevant skills and realistic expectations, causing employers to get frustrated. Agency internships certainly give students a head start, but it’s not enough. Their education and training in advertising needs to be hands-on and work collaboratively with their on-site internship experience so when they do step directly into an agency they can complete industry relevant tasks immediately. Their skills need to mirror that used by the industry.

At Macleay we’ve refreshed our advertising course through regular industry advisory panels to incorporate new, core units that reflect real industry requirements to help equip graduates for their transition into the workforce. It’s about extending past general skills and moving teachings across to specific industry abilities to fill the gap where there is a disconnect between graduates and agencies.

For example, we’ve realigned the program so it encompasses new media and digital production as we found most agencies needed graduates to also be highly trained in these areas. All students are now trained in be multi-skilled, whether that is an account manager putting together a pitch-winning proposal using InDesign and Photoshop, or an art director shooting and editing a making-of video of the creative process of a project to be released on social media. These skills are vital in producing industry relevant graduates.

The advertising profession lives from the ability to apply a creative solution to a problem and the only way for students to learn this is through practical, hands-on teaching. After organising for our students to work with agencies on real client briefs and participate in mentorship programs with working professionals they begin to understand the real life process. One they have gained access to that insight and experience, in addition to their education, they’ll be able to hit the ground running when they graduate and in turn become extremely invaluable to agencies. It’s a win-win for both student and agency.

The advertising world is going through a dynamic and rapid period of change, and here in Australia we must ensure the next generation of homegrown advertising professionals are at the forefront of that change, and are primed for careers both here and abroad. Let’s train our students to be ready for the real world.

Ian Thomson
Advertising Program Leader
Macleay College

comments powered by Disqus