Graduates today are left feeling ill-equipped for working life upon the completion of their studies. That was the conclusion from AdNews’ investigation that questioned if university is still relevant to the industry.
A fast-paced industry often means universities are unable to keep up due to long curriculum implementation periods; the university world lags behind the real world. The difference between the content of university and working life is real. However, we would like to argue that universities don’t just leave graduates with a hefty debt; they do provide a valuable springboard to dive into working life.
In order for us to explain, it is important to first reframe your view of what a university is. Switching from a perspective of ‘content-based learning platform’ to a period in one’s life where soft skills can continue to be developed, as well as a place that instigates a sense of lifelong learnings, will enable us to better understand how we can get the most out of new graduates.
So, to reframe the initial question, one should ask: “What skills does university help build that are most relevant to industry roles?”
Lesson 1: How to effectively work towards deadlines
Half a year’s worth of content in one essay, one presentation and/or one two-hour exam. Times four subjects - it’s not easy! University is often associated with the constant barrage of weekly assessments that overlap with multiple subjects, the stressful group work and the multitude of presentations that strike fear into the hearts of many. These short timelines can mean the difference between getting the marks to graduate or stay back for another year. The skills learned in managing one’s time are essential for working in the fast-paced industry that is media, as is the experience gained from continually working towards deadlines, which develops adaptability, resourcefulness and resilience.
Lesson 2: Working under the pressure of exams
University may not necessarily teach you exactly what you need, but it does teach you how to learn (and how to learn quickly), allowing you to apply yourself in almost any new context. Despite having studied business, we had no clear idea about what media agencies do or what they even are upon graduating. However, the experience of writing exams is hugely applicable to this particular industry.
When you are under a time limit, with the pressure of your course coming down to the final exam and you only have 30 minutes to write, you quickly start figuring what you do and don’t need to say. This experience enables us to understand, buy, and report on multiple different channels for our clients, all while working under the pressure of tight deadlines. Rather than looking at the content that a candidate has learned at university, looking at their ability to learn new things (and their sense of curiosity) may help you select people who can add value to multiple facets of your business.
Lesson 3: The presentation skills
During our time at university, almost every subject had at least one presentation. It became an integral part of our education, and what was once a daunting task evolved into a learning opportunity to express ideas in creative and compelling ways. Not only has this enabled us to communicate more clearly, but it has forced us to think outside of the box and do what other people aren’t. With time constraints added to the mix, we have also learned how to condense our learnings into the most critical and concise points.
Lesson 4: Appreciating diversity and learning how to work as a team
Many presentations and projects were conducted in groups, having to partner with diverse groups from different cultures, who have different ideas and ways of working. This has enabled us to understand the value of teamwork, utilising people’s strengths while balancing out their weaknesses. Every individual brings with them their own concepts and ideas, which can contribute immense value to the common goal, whatever that may be. Within the media industry, this is an essential skill to learn, to be able to work collaboratively and actively listen to others in the group, while having to communicate your ideas in ways that are easily understood by everyone. It allows us to comprehend that everyone is different, and that does not necessarily mean that there is a right or wrong way. It also teaches us how to decide when to fight for something or compromise, in order to work effectively as one team. These relationship-building skills will take any student far beyond the walls of university and are incredibly relevant for the workplace. You’re not only collaborating with co-workers, but also clients, publishers and creative agencies.
So rather than looking at university as a failure for preparing graduates on entering the workplace, employers should reframe their perceptions around what were the skills and values they got out of their education. Universities build a platform of skills to help graduates excel in the workplace and at life. Workplaces need to focus on these soft skills, to produce a mutually beneficial relationship that maximises the potential of their new employees.
Considering that 48% of people state that they don’t have access to the training and resources they need to do their jobs effectively, we should focus on leveraging the learning skills and experiences one acquires from University to develop the hard skills that will allow them to succeed in their particular role, ultimately generating even greater value for their employers.
By PHD account coordinators Zac Kelly and Tiffany Fazon