General Assembly – ‘turning thinkers into creatives’

General Assembly launched in New York in 2011, offering full-time immersive programmes, long-form courses and classes and workshops. Offering skills-based training in design, technology and business, its stated aim is to ‘transform thinkers into creators’. General Assembly now has a base in London, and offices all over the world.

We talk to General Assembly’s regional director Matt Cynamon about General Assembly, and opportunities outside ‘traditional’ education models.

General Assembly

Design Week: What is General Assembly’s offer and who is it aimed at?

Matt Cynamon: General Assembly’s vision is to grow a global community of individuals who are empowered to pursue work they love. We do so by providing best-in-class education in the most relevant skills in technology, design, and business – as well as providing access and opportunities in the most exciting fields of the 21st century economy. We originally launched in New York in 2011 and since then, have expanded to eight further cities globally, including London, Sydney and San Francisco. The type of digital education GA offers is open to anyone who is looking to learn new skills – whether they’re trying to find a job, change careers, upskill in a current position or even launch their own company.  At GA we offer both short classes and workshops or longer, full-time immersive courses, in order to cater to the varying needs of our students. If you want to just ‘dip in’ and gain an insight into a certain subject, a short evening class would be the way to go. If however, you want to learn a whole new career and skill-set, a full-time, six-week course is likely to be the best option. Across all classes and courses our instructors are industry professionals, who have worked in their area of expertise and the curriculum is informed by the types of digital skills employers are looking for – so this is a great benefit to all.    

DW: Why do you think there is such a big opportunity for new types of ‘non-traditional’ education providers such as General Assembly?

MC: The opportunity is mainly around the pace at which the digital and design space is changing and growing and therefore so are the skills needed to work in these areas. At GA we teach skills such as web development, UX design, digital marketing and data analytics – to reflect what employers are looking for right now. It’s these types of digital skills that are the building blocks to a successful career in the 21st century – but it’s also important to remember that it’s a process of continuous learning, in order to keep up with new advances.    

General Assembly

DW: Why did you decide to focus on the digital and design sectors, and why do you think there is an opportunity in these areas?

MC: The digital and design space is informing everything, from how a business is perceived by its customers to how it increases engagement, sales and satisfaction. Design, for example, is about the entire customer journey and user experience, not just the look of a product or website. More than a quarter of all our students are design-focused and go on to use these skills in a variety of ways, due to the opportunities a good understanding of design can bring. Many leading entrepreneurs from companies such as Airbnb and Pinterest for example, have a background in design, which shows how valuable and transferable these skills can be.   

DW: Why did you decide to launch in London?

MC: London is an international economic capital with so much potential. It’s a focal point for many traditional industries throughout the UK which are being transformed by technology – including sectors such as retail, finance, travel and fashion. In terms of our business, having a base in London has really enabled us to open up GA to a wider audience. We’ve had students from diverse locations such as Moscow and Paris coming to London to learn, which was one of our ambitions when we first decided to launch here.    

General Assembly

DW: What is the teaching structure, and what are the advantages of this for both tutors and students?

MC: All of GA’s instructors are top practitioners in their respective fields. With how fast the industry is changing it’s crucial that we bring in instructors who are out in the field and really doing it on a day-to-day basis. For example, our current User Experience Design instructor has 15 years of experience delivering web and mobile products for blue-chip clients at agencies as well as working internally at companies like Huddle and the BBC. By bringing in current industry experts, our instructors are not only primed to deliver the most relevant content, but they can also provide students with an insider’s perspective on how to break into the industry.

DW: What sort of things do GA graduates go on to do?

MC: GA graduates go on to do all sorts of things – we’ve had students who’ve changed from corporate jobs in the City to join startups, we’ve seen students launch their own businesses, we also run apprenticeship programs to help students get their first jobs with exciting tech companies. Every student journey is slightly different but our main aim is to help them into not only a job, but a job they will love. It’s really encouraging for example, that 95 per cent of job-seeking students from our immersive programs have been able to find employment within three months of finishing the course.  

General Assembly

DW: What are GA’s future plans in the UK and Europe?

MC: By 2015 GA will have close to 50,000 alumni. That’s bigger than Harvard Business School. But what makes our alumni so special is that they are well positioned to build, design, and create the products, services, and companies that they dream of. To steal a quote from Peter Drucker, ‘The best way to predict the future is to create it.’ There is arguably no stronger group of individuals that can execute on that quote than GA students. Therefore, our vision for the future is one in which we continue to support and connect our alumni far into the careers. A student’s life at GA doesn’t end when the course is over and everything we do from here on out is to strengthen our alumni community. Specifically within the UK, we plan to open a new, larger London campus and offer even more classes and courses – so watch this space for further updates.

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