This is a guest post from Jaz who is a BA Graphic Arts Student at Winchester School of Art.
Having finished my first year of university, I thought it was the best time to get some work experience for future prospects. I had applied for a few jobs and internships but I was met with rejection on the basis of not having enough previous employability experience. But, how was I supposed to get work experience when no one was giving me the opportunity in the first place? I was stuck in a rather difficult situation that most young people find themselves in.
Stuck in this rut I decided to look into jobs within the university and that’s when I came across the Excel Southampton Placement Programme. I found out that it was a paid placement opportunities only for University of Southampton students. Having looked through the placements, I applied for the Southampton Opportunity and Employability Support Officer role.
Although this was not a design related job (being an art student) I did not want to disadvantage myself from growing in other areas. The job description was indeed daunting and involved tasks I had never taken on before. I honestly thought it was far beyond my remit but applied anyway as I had nothing to lose. To my surprise I actually made it through to the interview stage. I went into that interview thinking every negative possible thought about myself like for instance they won’t choose me because I’m only 19; I have no previous related experience; this isn’t even design related; everyone else is better than me, etc. I was in a pretty anxious spot; however my ‘eagerness’ and ‘potential’ shone through and I ended up getting the job!
The job entailed:
- researching key opportunities that are offered for students to develop within the programmes of study and alongside their studies within the academic areas.
- creating opportunity profiles to promote the features and benefits.
- articulating the skills students will develop.
- supporting the academic lead for employability in the academic area to develop their employability programme for the following year.
- helping establish relations with local schools and design agencies as well creating employment prospects with them.
The tasks were really quite interesting and aroused a curiosity in me to take on challenges that I had never delved upon before.
In between all of this, I also set up a much needed student support scheme for the WSA campus. I discussed the set-up of the scheme with stakeholders such as the student body, WSA academic and professional services staff. I then originated an overarching structure and strategy, produced supporting materials, including a handbook, promotional posters, flyers and wristbands, carried out appropriate training and associated training materials for those I selected. I am currently overseeing the scheme with responsibility for the student advisors, events, online platform, yearly recruitment and promotion.
Everything seemed to be going at such a fast pace and as an overt worrier I still did not believe in myself but the support and encouragement from my host boosted my morale. I never felt undermined and was treated equally as though I was a staff member. Before I knew it the 12-week internship was over and I was amazed that I had managed to accomplish so much within such a short period. I now felt that I was capable of handling multiple projects all at once. The key was to believe in yourself, say yes to an opportunity and then follow it through to conclusion.
During the 3 months of the internship I met other interns working alongside me on the Southampton Opportunity Programme and made valuable contacts, as well as friends for life.
A colleague, Bradley Heslop, introduced me to Enactus Southampton. Enactus is a worldwide, non-profit organisation that aims to improve the standard of living and quality of life of people in need by mobilising university students. It allows student leaders to create and implement projects across the world that empower and benefit communities socially, economically and environmentally. I now run a media team from WSA that designs promotional material for the projects of Enactus which covers illustration, graphic design, videography, photography and animation. And I am always looking to expand the team, if anyone is interested. Whilst remaining confident and positive, I now lead and manage a team, making vital decisions and do public speaking, things I would never have imagined myself doing before, being the shy person I was.
I wanted to make WSA students more aware of employability prospects and realised WSA did not have a platform that showcased the commissions received from external companies. We receive endless emails, and let’s not lie here, they get deleted more often than not. And so I set out to create an employability opportunities blog for WSA covering graduate positions as well. The blog can be found at blog.soton.ac.uk/wsaopps.
The blog is successfully up and running and helped promote the Careers Event that has taken place recently. As a student ambassador I was able to help out at the event, guiding speakers to the correct locations and making sure all went smoothly. It was through this that I met with the creators of Gradlancer. Gradlancer is a platform that connects exclusive freelance opportunities with university students. Their platform allows students to build up a portfolio of relevant work by completing projects related to their degrees, all of which are provided by employers from all over the UK. Had I met them a year ago I would have had difficulty holding a conversation; I now had so much to talk about and was able to make a good impression of myself and the university. Consequently, I have been asked to be a brand ambassador for Gradlancer. Please do sign up.
Opportunities are now knocking on my door though that’s not true in the real sense as they were always there for taking and embracing, I just did not have the courage to open that door! The skills and knowledge that I have now gained and developed, have prepared me to enter the real world of employability. I am ready to take on challenges and grow myself with each experience. I am very grateful to the university for having seen through my potential and given me the chance to prove myself!