Internship, Graduate or Apprenticeship


Sydney Tafe

During last week I trotted off to give a talk on career directions in the local web industry to a group of high school students.

This got me thinking about the best fit for career directions in the web industry. Seems I’m not alone, Alex Graham also has the same concerns.

It basically comes down to:

  • Study at University or TAFE and then trying to get a job with limited experience.
  • Doing an apprenticeship, studying part time while getting real hands on experience.
  • Doing an internship in your final year.
  • Setting up your own business.

The one aspect that most graduating students don’t take into account is that they’re not immediately 100% productive. This means that someone has to closely supervise them (at best). This means effectively the business is down 1.5 people. For small business, that makes up most of the web industry, this can be a major cost burden, and if not managed right terminal.

So you can see why many web firms are preferring to merge or take on experienced practitioners over inexperienced graduates.

This would point towards the use of the apprenticeship model, but the low value of the apprentices wages n Australia makes it difficult to hold an apprentice in a high skill demand industry.

Again the internship with reduced pay rates, doesn’t work either. A graduate, with no experience, is just as likely to go off with a few mates and start their own web design firm.

Now, I don’t have any problem with people banding together to form their own business. However let’s please consider that those few years experience while working for someone else will allow a graduate to learn business skills, client communication skills, and the reality of how the web industry really works. These skills are extremely critical and are usually what makes to business fail or succeed in the first few years.

So what’s the solution. Does anyone have one?

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  1. A lot of students in the Multimedia area were already doing websites for family and friends when I went through, and thus already did have some experience.

    Students aren’t necessarily unexperienced: take me for an example. I now have a Bachelor of Computer and Information Science, and a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Multimedia, and have experience in packaging design, print design, web design, client communication skills, sales and marketing, CMS (SilverStripe) and receptionist duties. But I would still count as a graduate.

    University, however, is not an end in itself, it is a means to an end. I would heartily recommend IT degrees to anyone who is interested in the back-end (programming, server-side, databases, Javascript, security, etc).

    Perhaps a mini-apprenticeship is what is needed? So when you employ your graduate, you explain that you are investing a lot of time and money in them, and there are things they need to learn specifically with your business, so there will be a learning phase with a lesser pay rate, which will end after 2-3 months at which you expect that they can handle it on their own?

  2. @kat B: having done a few web sites is not the experience I’m talking about.

    Most of the time the sites produced are good for the portfolios and that is it.

    They need to have worked under pressure, to have found the shortcuts and produced a completely professional result inline with industry best practice in a short space of time.

    I’m talking generically here, people with post grad or secondary degrees don’t count.

    I would still stick with the 6 months as training period to get them up to speed.

    I have also found that in a lot of cases you have to un-teach graduates the bad practices they have learn at university.

    In a some case the universities are not consulting with industry on what the best practices and skill set are that they require.

    Hence you end up with a cloistered unreal university course structure.

  3. Good food for thought on how we can help to make our industry more robust and capable.

    I’ve been in or around the IT industry since punch card, magnetic tapes and 300 baud modems. I don’t consider myself expert in anything though.

    My belief is that the technical skills can be learnt by anyone with aptitude and attitude, most IT or web people must be multi-lingual and continuall developing the tech side.

    Process side is equally or more important, how to work at and in a business, proj management and plain speaking communication skills for techs facing customers are essential for success whether in a persons own business or part of a larger concern.

    I spend most of my working day rectifying problems cause bt techs who do not follow these kind of pricipals and some days am horrified by the work that is left to paying customers for them to sort out.

    Without the skills to treat the customers well, there will be no work for tech and the IT/Web industry sustains a poor reputation amongst the general business public.

  4. Hi Gary
    I think this is highly relevant at the moment, especially given the tendency to assume that the incentive and excitement of graduates automatically converts to work skills.

    Could part of it be our approach to web training, where the focus is on the potential and the excitement of new tools, rather than the ways in which these tools integrate with business.

    Many training programs focus on skills creation, rather than on the purpose for web developers in industry – which is more often to foster innovative solutions that open up new business opportunities.

    Too often students graduate with an idea of a ‘perfect web solution’ rather than the skills to integrate knowledge management, innovative communication methods and the tacit rather than explicit knowledge into creative solutions.

    Many web graduates speak web language rather than transformational language.

    The web has evolved from sites to services, but training is still largely focussed on sites. Knowledge is limited to information which can be defined rather than encouraging web graduates to be creative in the solutions they offer.

    Web students should be required to participate actively in online networks to ensure they are up to date with trends.

    It’s an interesting post – and interesting questions – thanks.

  5. […] an easy question to answer – and it seems that I’m not the only one – both Alex and Gary have recently blogged about apprenticeships, graduate programmes and […]

  6. Good take on the situation, Gary and some interesting points from the other commenters.

    @Kat B – Many of the requests for work I get from students don’t include anything in the form of a portfolio outside of what they have done during their course (if any at all), most of which isn’t relevant to the job they are seeking.

    Like has been said, universites and TAFE’s really need to work with industry and find out what it is we need, and part of that should be making the students a part of the industry through organised projects or like Harriet suggested networking.

  7. What about Traineeships – they have them for Web and you get someone who is being trained in what YOU want and you can get some money for training them as well.

  8. @jennie. I was aware of traineeships, but not the details on them. I was under the impression that they were for the traditional trades.

    More information would be helpful.

    Also one problem is that you can only train people in what is available.

    In most cases the quality of the training output does need in many instances to be supplemented with an inhouse skills update. As the courses on offer just can’t keep up with the pace of the industry.

  9. Traineeships do have traditional areas but they also include qualifications in IT, Multimedia and Web. The beauty of traineeships – within the constraints of the training package – is that the employee and employer can negotiate with the trainer about what units and what focus is needed to suit each individual.

    I know with our Website courses we are having people from industry coming back to pick up, what we call skills sets, that cover areas they haven’t had the opportunity to learn and now need eg. CSS, flash/fireworks, web security etc. This way the student gets the in-house training they need as well as the industry training. The whole point of the traineeships is to be flexible and current.

  10. I don’t have a perfect solution, but I think the apprenticeship model is the way forward. Back in Germany apprenticeships are the common way to learn a job, be it a trade, admin or event IT jobs. The other main way to get into a career would be university education, i.e. study CS.

    The latter usually leads to a better paid job and further career options (particular in corporates), whereas the apprenticeship gives you a combined school and hands-on training. To understand the context – apprentices in Germany work in their company 3.5 days a week under supervision and attend classroom based-training 1.5 days a week (it’s basically a school). They’re getting paid by the company, but obviously an apprenticeship salary of about 600-900 Euros per month. Usually the IT apprenticeships take 2 or 2.5 years.

    To be honest – I can’t see anything being wrong with it – you wanna learn a job or a trade – at least you get paid (given that they would come right out of school and quite a lot don’t know anything of the real work life). Really people (let’s call them pre-juniors 🙂 can’t expect to make 80k a year.

    On the other hand – and that’s what I’m always being puzzled about – a whole amount of companies in the industry do not seem to have a clue what to pay experienced people. Just yesterday there was a job posting from “the leading e-learning company”, “lots of international work” blabla – and those guys were looking for Flex developers in Sydney for 50-65k. Wish them luck…

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