Just when you thought the caring, sharing Nineties were drawing to an abrupt close thanks to the millennium bug (how smug are we Mac users now, hey?), along comes a new survey into multimedia highlighting a major problem. Companies don’t rate areas like expansion, premises, pricing uncertainty and mergers and acquisitions as the most important issues they’re likely to face over the next year; no. What multimedia companies see as their main barrier to growth is a human resources problem, notably the lack of suitable staff out there.
Interactive London from New Media Knowledge – a partnership between North West London Training Enterprise Council and the University of Westminster – examines revenues, attractions, geography and human resources in the multimedia industry.
At the launch of the report, Stephen Whaley, director of New Media Knowledge, summed up the contents by saying: “With major opportunities in the new digital economy, the industry cannot rely on creativity alone. It needs to attract high level technical expertise and more business awareness in order to realise its full potential.”
The findings do indeed show that companies are desperate for technical and programming skills. They also show, interestingly, that more than half of the industry’s staff don’t have a bachelor degree or equivalent. The reason for that is probably best summed up by one interviewee in the report, who is quoted as saying: “We don’t touch graduates unless they’ve had a placement, or regular experience.”
So, in an area where average revenues per head are a tiny 42 667, where is a design group building a multimedia arm or a micro company looking to grow going to get the much needed staff and skills without crippling themselves?
One organisation which seems to be attracting the right money, people, attention, companies and kudos is Shoreditch-based Hoxton Bibliotech, set up in January 1995 by Neil Barklem (chief executive), Chris Brennan (technical director) and Patrick Nicholson (information systems manager).
“We began by launching our own magazine to build an audience for our work – a free lifestyle print magazine called Dtour, which focused on East London’s cultural dynamism. Our intention was to use this as a vehicle for publishing training programmes,” recalls Barklem.
Bibliotech began to generate income through advertising revenues before contacting the local training and enterprise council and regeneration agencies to gain support for its training programmes.
“By 1996 an e-zine called e-tour was launched which won a string of awards for its design and innovative approach. Since then we’ve harnessed our multimedia talent and ensured that our publishing experiences have assisted our training programmes,” says Barklem.
Three years on, the company offers a large range of day, evening and full-time six-month courses.
It has forged links with the industry through a consortium called the London New Media Training Consortium which has input from companies such as Online Magic, and it also puts together customised packages for companies (see box). But it’s in the six-month BTEC course for the local unemployed that Hoxton Bibliotech understandably puts its enthusiasm and commitment.
At a recent graduation show for the latest batch of BTEC graduates, the effort and energy on display from students, tutors and staff was touching, and it seems to be paying off with “success rates for unemployed trainees finding work and/or a qualification between 75-80 per cent”, according to Barklem. “Many of these first jobs emanate from having done a work placement with a publishing house,” he adds.
It’s these placements that are crucial to the students – and obviously to Hoxton Bibliotech, which may account for why the organisation puts so much energy into them, and gets good ones. Placement companies to date include BBC Online, Arhaus, Which Online, DNA, ITN Online and Occupy.
According to Barklem, a company giving a placement to one of these students can expect, “skills in Quark, Photoshop, HTML, Flash, Dreamweaver and project management”.
Back-up and support from Bibliotech come in the form of “an initial visit from a work placement officer to discuss what work is available and the level of support to be provided for the placement, a visit from a group of trainees during their course, the opportunity to view students’ final project work and monitoring of the placement in terms of company and trainee satisfaction”.
The emphasis the organisation puts on vocational elements should appeal to those companies surveyed in Interactive London which have difficulty finding people with a practical approach.
“I think the difference between college courses and our courses is that ours put the emphasis on vocational aspects and take into account industry standards. Our students learn how to manage projects, write bids, deal with client briefs, put together proposals and so on,” says Sonia Clayon, business and learning networks co-ordinator.
The latest batch of students don’t yet all have placements, so why not check out their work at the on-line graduates’ show at www.biblio-tech.net. Or get in touch with Sonia at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You never know, the graduates might even know how to handle millennium bugs.
For a copy of the survey Interactive London contact Michelle Milton or Paul Owens on 0181 357 7349 or e-mail email@example.com
I asked Neil Barklem, chief executive of Hoxton Bibliotech, what kind of training he would offer a fictional design consultancy wanting its creative director, project manager and a junior designer – all of them with little experience of multimedia – to spend a week training so that they could come back and build a respectable website for a client, and how much it would cost.
Creative director and project manager:
one day: overview of the Internet, including Web 400 + VAT
technologies past present and future, design concepts, e-commerce and marketing
half day: intro to browsers, copyright, managing a website 200 + VAT
All 3 staff:
half day: introduction to design tools 300 + VAT
Project manager and junior designer:
one day introduction to HTML, Photoshop for the Web 400 + VAT
one day introduction to Flash 250 + VAT
one day introduction to Dreamweaver 250 + VAT
Total cost: 1800 + VAT