Skillsearch speaks with the studio behind the classic Total War series and survival horror Alien: Isolation to get their valuable insight into what it takes to qualify for their innovative graduate scheme.
Graduate schemes have something of a 'patchy' reputation in the industry. For instance, critics argue that game degree courses are not current or focused enough on the skills needed by the industry, meaning graduates start off on the wrong footing. Others say the problem lies with the graduates and how they present themselves while hunting for placements. And some criticise the videogame sector itself for not helping graduates enough to get the work experience they need to kickstart their careers.
But such criticisms are not ones that can be levelled at Creative Assembly, the West Sussex-based award-winning developer, who has an enviable track record for supporting fresh talent through its far-reaching graduate programme. Skillsearch spoke to Emma Smith, Talent Manager at Creative Assembly, to glean her views on why the studio invests so heavily in graduates, what course leaders need to be doing to help their students get ahead - and how graduates can make themselves stand out from the sometimes fierce competition.
Why is your graduate scheme so important to Creative Assembly?
It provides us with a constant injection of fresh skills into the studio while giving our existing team members the chance to become leaders of the future by officially mentoring such bright, passionate new talent. It also helps graduates develop the life skills needed for moving out of education and into the world of paid employment.
How does your scheme work?
Much like our standard recruitment process; applicants are reviewed in the same way as any seasoned professional. Candidates from across different areas of education are openly invited to apply instead of us focusing on, say, one particular course or university. This approach encourages quality and, of course, diversity amongst our candidates.
We often meet many of our final trainees at game shows while they are still in higher education, and it's fantastic to remember meeting them for the first time and then seeing them on their first day at Creative Assembly. And when they do finally join us, we give them access to a game the studio is actually working on, not squirrel them away to work on separate projects where they won't see the results of their efforts. It's an approach that is very different to what the norm is within the industry.
How effective has your scheme proved to be for both graduates and Creative Assembly?
We have had approximately 40 trainees over the past two years with 90% of them staying at CA and taking full employment. We have also seen positive results within our established teams too - in-house developers have embraced and thrived in the resident mentoring scheme, allowing them to hone and improve their leadership skills, which has led to several internal promotions. It's been a win-win situation for everyone so far!
How do you attract graduates in the first place?
We proactively reach out to graduates via gaming channels, LinkedIn, networking and through other events. We also conduct regular portfolio reviews and offer career advice externally with undergraduates and other interested parties. This enables us to build relationships with talented individuals who have a genuine and very real desire to be part of the games industry.
What kind of role should educators play in creating post-grad opportunities for their students?
We believe that course leaders and lecturers should proactively engage with the industry to make sure they have the right insights to pass on to their students. It is essential that they educate with an accurate understanding of the current skills that their students will need to secure gainful employment on graduating.
How should graduates make themselves stand out in a crowded marketplace?
For graduates to be truly successful, it's more than just getting a degree because most people will pass with good grades. What really sets a potential hire apart is the ability for them to show their natural talent and passion for creating amazing gaming experiences as part of their application to our studio.
Also, we recommend that they seize every opportunity to learn outside of the course environment; for instance, to get involved with game jams and small projects and tinker with new software and programming languages. Don't tell us why you should have a position at Creative Assembly - show us.
The Games industry in the UK has benefited from being able to attract the best talent from all over Europe but not every company shows commitment to developing their own talent from entry level up in the way that Creative Assembly do. The UK Games jobs marketplace is a great place for experienced job seekers as there is so much demand at the moment but the same can't be said for graduate job seekers. Could this be about to change? Skillsearch have started to see the impact of the uncertainty around Brexit with some candidates willing to work anywhere across Europe now crossing the UK off its list. We were told just three days ago that someone had been advised from a lawyer friend to pull out of a role they were exploring with us until the relationship of the UK and the EU was made certain. We expect this to be a trend - albeit hopefully not a major one - over coming months and it's a trend that will deprive the UK Games industry of much needed expertise. With this uncertainty surely it will be wise to invest in the future now by hiring and skilling up those Games Graduates out there struggling to find opportunities? Whether Brexit makes an impact or not we still think that Creative Assembly's scheme sets them apart from the competition.