Dr Barbara Henderson worked for local newspapers and the BBC in the north-east before moving into teaching. She is a senior lecturer in journalism at Leeds Beckett University.
It started with one of those assertive students. "For nine thousand pounds," she said, "I expect you to put me in front of people from the likes of the BBC. I might stand more chance of getting a job."
Many readers here will not have had to face the level of competition (or debt) that younger entrants to journalism do today. As tutors on one of the many journalism degrees around the UK, we must do all we can to give our students a competitive edge.
At my university, there is another factor at play. It has to do with that under-considered aspect of diversity: class.
Our student demographic tends towards students from the north, who do not have contacts in the capital and who are often the first in their family to go to university.
They have anxieties about articulating ideas with confidence, about their regional accents, about how to afford unpaid work experience.
This lack of self-belief is a recognised syndrome for working-class students. But 'getting a job' is one of their prime reasons for going to university. And there is a growing recognition, particularly since the Grenfell tragedy, of the need to get more diverse voices heard in the media.
Our approach to improving employability has been three-pronged: the gaining and maintaining of a recognised industry accreditation for the course; 'speed dating' events in which students are put in front of industry representatives; and the introduction of a 'guest editing' programme in which industry representatives work alongside tutors during practical sessions.
Accreditation by an industry body is hugely beneficial to teaching. It protects the interests of students and staff; it enables regular reflection, feedback and improvements; it provides a 'stamp of approval' on graduates entering the workplace.
When students come to open days, I always advise them: if you do not come to us, at least go to another accredited course – NCTJ or BJTC.
Most universities’ employment teams are good at helping with generic skills, such as CV writing, but simply do not have the contacts for bespoke journalism-related events.
'Speed dating' proved to be a successful and fun formula for enabling students to be 'put in front of' those in newspapers, magazines and broadcasting. My job is to round up a selection of high-quality industry representatives and bribe them with lunch.
This year’s event included the BBC, BBC Sports, Global Radio, Vice, local newspapers and PR companies.
Students book ten-minute face-to-face slots with these employers and chat to them about how to get work experience and how to make their CV stand out. It gets universally positive feedback, from all parties. Students have been asked to pitch their stories and to directly apply for placements, so there are tangible results.
When students go for work experience, employers remember their names – instant contact building!
It works for tutors, too, because employers reinforce the need for those competencies we try to teach: work ethic, professionalism, team-working, evidence of IT skills, and oral and written communications.
The danger is, of course, that it is often the highly-motivated students who sign up for something extra-curricular. To reach all students, we have also brought the industry into the classroom - and not just to give talks.
Although all lecturers have industry experience, we are still viewed as 'teachers', so during our regular broadcast news days we now bring in guest editors from radio and TV, to work directly with the students and challenge them to work to industry standards.
It is a proud moment when the news editors 'pinch' a story idea or talent-spot a good student.
How does your university help students break into the media industry? Let us know @journalismnews
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