By James Potten, Managing Director of RED Academy
Education Secretary Damian Hinds recently spoke about the university fee system and the necessity of increasing variety in tuition rates across the UK.
His revised plan places an emphasis on how degree courses could benefit a student’s future career. He said that a combination of three things should determine tuition costs: the cost [to the university] to put it on, the benefit to the student and the benefit to our country and our economy.
There has also been an emphasis on the career strategy guidance and encouraging more schools and businesses to work together to better prepare students for the workforce after they leave school. While this looks like a promising move for current students, what about those who have already finished school and are looking to break into sectors like digital marketing? Often, this requires specialist knowledge and industry experience but without this first-hand insight at school, what can we do to help students fill the gaps?
Weigh up all the options
In the digital marketing world, there are many alternatives to fill gaps in learning, like work experience, sandwich courses, apprenticeships, and part-time and full-time alternative study options focus on real-world experience. In a poll from The Independent, 58 per cent of employers rated work experience as their most looked for qualification, with personality coming in second at 48 per cent. Time and time again work experience is proven to outweigh grades and a university degree during a job search in terms of value. By gaining hands-on work experience, students are better able to acclimate to work situations and, typically, have more success in the beginning of a new job or task. In a similar way, apprenticeships or courses that incorporate real-world experience are shown to develop work readiness and tend to yield a faster return on investment for both employers and employees.
Employers tend to see students that undertook an apprenticeship as delivering higher quality work more quickly than say students who have graduated without experiencing placements; it is for these reasons that the government aims to increase apprenticeships by 50,000 a year.
Sandwich and degree alternative courses are also a good way for students to gain the necessary background, while still maintaining classroom learning. By being placed in a work environment, students are allowed to make important networking connections, build social capital, and improve self-confidence through accomplishment. These environments also provide students with a safe place to make mistakes and to fail, which is often where true learning happens. According to one study, “employers view part-time study as a good model to develop work readiness” and “part-time students, including young students, do achieve a more favourable labour market outcomes at least in the first few months”.
Some options for part-time courses and other courses that incorporate real-world experience, specialise in short-term, highly focused courses, which allow students to work towards certifications while building real skills to help get them hired.
When it comes to digital marketing or digital design, to succeed students will often need a broad skillset and an understanding deep enough to put these skills into action.. While there is plenty of content out there covering the basics, being able to put this into practice and work on projects with support from industry experts and real clients is where real experience can be gained. Look for courses and projects where you can put theory to the test and take part in activities in an agency-style or work place environment.
With only about 50 per cent of UK students choosing to go to university, there are many alternative opportunities gaining traction each year. By combining real world knowledge and classroom instruction, typically lead by working professionals, students can not only increase their chances of landing a job that they can excel at, but refrain from taking on thousands of pounds of student debt.
The restructuring called for by Damian Hinds is necessary and will mostly likely help future, and current students, however it leaves out students trying to enter into industries that benefit from additional experience and training. For those students, it is up to them to find alternative opportunities that work within their own lives, while helping them to move forward in their careers. In order to succeed in a more digital and technical industry, people need to have the necessary training and background to adequately perform at a high level. Alternatives like apprenticeships, work experience, sandwich courses and part-time courses could help people bridge the learning gap, while allowing them to remain fiscally responsible.