This article covers how students can develop key transferable work based skills in art, design and media.

What is personal development planning?

Personal development planning is a structured way of reflecting on own learning.

Any course that integrates the use of learning logs, learning portfolios, development plans, diaries and similar processes are already integrating personal development planning (PDP) in some way. Many lecturers in art, design and media will be aware of the benefits of students being able to evaluate their learning. The idea is that students analyse their abilities and development as the course progresses. They can then use these results to set themselves targets for improvement and as such become more autonomous.

Feedback from employers is that students are creative, enthusiastic and experimental, but that they often lack the kinds of skills that enable them to work in a professional environment. This is because they haven’t had many opportunities to interact with clients and others in a professional context. While students on in art, design and media are often expected to evaluate their outcomes, they don’t always see this holistically and become aware of how they can use the skills in a vocational context.

Workplace skills in art, design and media

Many students will move on and attempt to engage in a career in the creative sector. This resource will specifically look at how to foster skills for getting into and maintaining employment in the creative sector. After consultation with employers, the following elements continually arose and formed key criteria for employment:

  • Working within constraints
  • Defining product requirements
  • Social media presence
  • Portfolio building
  • Interview skills
  • Pitching
  • Communication skills
  • Presenting
  • Understanding roles
  • Managing time
  • Setting benchmarks for production
  • Networking
  • CV writing
  • Getting feedback
  • Getting clients
  • Work experience

Using Personal Development Planning on a course

Any projects that include some or all of the above will support students in developing critical skills that will make the transition to employment and higher education easier and more successful.

One way of structuring this is to have a Personal Development Planning log or diary of skills developed across the programme that students can use to track their development The start of the course can include a skills audit that students complete to identify their strengths and areas for development. It isn’t always easy for students to reflect on their experience in a holistic and transferable way, they might not be able to see that going for an interview has helped their communication skills for example.

Having a lesson on relevant skills and how these relate to professional roles can help make the skills seem more relevant and realistic. As the students progress through the course they can add to their skills log and set further targets. Ideally, the point close to applications for progression also culminates in a review of their progress overall and sets long term career development goals. This approach has the potential to help students identify their career progression path.

Preparing students to work within constraints

It is unusual for professionals in this sector to get “open” briefs, where they can experiment and produce any kind of outcome. While there are some big design companies and career roles that allow autonomy and high levels of freedom, these jobs are actually few and far between and are mostly the preserve of well-established professionals that have the influence and finance to do what they want. It is important for students to realize that most client briefs contain significant constraints with focused objectives.

If the learning experience for students is based on very open briefs, without significant constraints, students may find it very difficult and frustrating when transitioning to employment. Students can find that there is a gap between how they have been taught to be personal, individual and experimental, actually clashes with the new constraints that they have to deal with. Ensuring that students can work within and embrace constraints is an essential part of preparing them for employment.

Defining the outcomes of projects as realistic products that students might find in the marketplace can streamline the process. It doesn’t have to mean that all the outcomes are generic. Students students will still find room to be creative within these constraints. Design and Media based projects in particular demand a high level of skill in understanding client requirements.

Many creative practitioners actually prefer working with constraints and feel this drives creativity and innovation. Here are some ideas for incorporating constraints:

Short skills workshops with limitations at the start of a course, such as:

  • Only using a monochrome pallette
  • Communicating either only words, colour, texture
  • Having to incorporate a specific material into work
  • Setting strict dimensions
  • Having to use a set of words

Whole project constraints:

  • Having to use a company colour palette and style guides
  • Parameters on the space and dimensions of work
  • Having to use a specific media or platform
  • Having a very clear message to communicate


Skills for communicating work

The development of portfolios, whether they are art and design or media based, is key to ensuring students have a good chance of gaining employment.

Practical work should be collected and presented well and some courses focus their attention on doing this at key points throughout the year. This is combined with units that entail portfolio production. It is also possible to include a task within each project that ensures students are generating work for their portfolio throughout their course. This means they see presenting their work as integral to their working practice. Each project could include a web blog post or design boards as part of the outcome.

Web based portfolio opportunities and technologies are steadily increasing and varied. It is a good idea to have a broad based presence instead of limiting this to a single web site. Most companies and professionals will use a range of media to ensure maximum presence, such as their own personal portfolio site, personal blogs, Facebook presence, accounts on Linkedin, Twitter etc. It is also advisable to place work on Behance or Instagram and other creative forums.

Communication skills, interview skills, pitching and presenting

Students are possibly the most terrified of this area of their future professional practice. They are comfortable producing work, but have never needed to present or communicate their ideas to anyone but their teacher. Yet, it will be these sorts of communication skills that will allow them to get work, undertake teamwork and maintain employment in this sector.

Activities that will support the development of key communication skills are really broad. One way to avoid dropping students in at the deep end is to try safe, guided approaches that build confidence and also allow students to try different methods of communicating.

Creative professionals are constantly working with new people, clients and partners. Bringing in guests and people that students don’t know will help you assess how they perform in more realistic scenarios. Some professionals in business partnerships will be happy to come in and discuss project outcomes with students. This can be tricky to organise, but even if this doesn’t take place, it is possible to bring in lecturers from other courses to join critiques etc. Most Schools and Colleges will also have a career centre with staff dedicated to ensuring that students can progress. They are usually able to set up mock work or education interviews.

Each project presented to students can easily include an element of communication, whether it is pitching, presenting ideas and outcomes or working as a team. Trying to match the project as closely to a professional scenario will help lecturers identify where these key points might be and include them in the tasks of the project brief.

In conclusion

Students will really welcome a realistic experience. The advantage of undertaking something similar to employment in an educational environment is that it is safe and controlled. The situation can feel like a positive stepping stone before encountering the real world and having to work and make decisions on their own. However, a lot of students won’t be ready to make the huge step and see the relevance and validity of this kind of learning as they will be there to create artwork. Yet, the more they encounter work experience, the more the will appreciate the complexity and difference between workplace and education.

Further reading:

• Cottrell, S., Skills for Success: The Personal Development Planning Handbook, Palgrave Macmillan, 2010

• Helyer, R., The Work-Based Learning Student Handbook, Palgrave Macmillan, 2010

Carol Eikleberry, Career Guide for Creative and Unconventional People, Ten Speed Press, Berkely, 2007

• Littleford, D., Halstead, J., Mulraine, C., Career Skills: Opening Doors into the Job Market, Palgrave Macmillan, 2004

• Carter, C., Izumo, G., Career Toolkit: The Skills for Success, Prentice Hall, 2012

• Holmes, K., What Employers Want: The Work Skills Handbook, Trotman Publishing, Lincs, 2011

Valuable PDP resources for lectures. While these are meant for HE level lecturers, they support and justify ideas behind PDP

Daniel Freaker Daniel Freaker Educational Consultant, Painter, Writer, Designer