A recent survey has revealed that work placement opportunities at game devs are at worryingly low levels; Skillsearch's Games & Interactive Manager Giles Fenwick examines the key issues that are preventing the next generation of talent from getting a foothold in the games industry.
It's a genuinely eye-opening stat for anybody reading Creative Skillset's 'Workforce Survey 2014' report; only 21% of people in the UK games industry have undertaken work experience prior to entering the sector compared to the national average for creative media that stands at a far more healthy and inclusive 41%.
It's a worrying roadblock as work placements offer invaluable experience and networking opportunities for university students, acting as a potential springboard into full-time work later down the line. The reason for the low figure are numerous - from devs concerned about the perceived hassle and potential cost of a work placement to the very real legal requirements - but with a minimum of effort though, such obstacles can be overcome.
There is an elephant in the room though which is harder to contend with; the issue of supply and demand. The popularity of game courses has increased dramatically during the last decade, an explosion reflected by Skillsearch's own experiences. Over the past five years, we've been lecturing on employability in games at universities across the south and have seen the numbers of participants boom.
While that's great news for the industry as a whole, it means there's more competition than ever for placements and full-time work and the need for graduates to stand out from the crowd. And it's here where our own experience has shown that students are not helping themselves and their future careers as much as they could be.
The two main issues - ones which we drive home time and again at our lectures - are the lack of completed work and networking. The former is critical; we have seen countless student portfolios which contain plenty of projects but are unfinished. The hope in these students' minds is that one day, their projects will be finished when they have time (or are paid to).
The reality though is you must be able to show fully finished projects that potential employers can judge on several fronts including, yes, that you're technical proficient but more importantly, boast a genuine work ethic coupled with a real passion for game creation.
As for networking, it still remains the best way to meet the movers and shakers of the industry and get your 'brand' out there; going to as many relevant meet-up.com groups as possible, attending GameJams and entering competitions like Dare to be Digital is essential and means you'll be boosting your profile both face-to-face and in this digital age, via social media.
Critics will argue though that it is developers themselves that are acting as roadblocks to placements and work. In our experience, it varies from studio to studio but the majority are looking to bring on graduates with larger companies such as Rockstar and Relentless offering excellent opportunities for graduate intakes.
For devs though who remain unconvinced by the benefits of work placements, we always go out of our way to highlight why they are so important; you're able to get an early pick of the country's best graduates before they are openly on the job market plus placements offer the ideal opportunity to trial someone and teach them how your studio works before you decide to offer them a full time job. On a pragmatic level, an intern is also a proven way to add an extra pair of hands to a project that will help, not hinder it.
Another criticism about student work placements is levelled at the universities running game design courses; that they are not doing enough to forge closer working relationships between the students and the industry. It's an issue that Darrenlloyd Gent, Principal Lecturer and Undergraduate Coordinator (Games and Digital Media) at the University of Greenwich is aware of but believes is not simply down to academia.
"Universities do need to be playing a bigger role in acting as a conduit between their graduates and the industry - but that needs to cut both ways," he explains. "For instance, I was at a meeting between academia and the industry where a well-established company was bemoaning that universities don't approach them. Alas, I'm still waiting for a reply to my own approach to them..."
According to Darrenlloyd, this scenario occurs on an all too frequent basis and he urges anyone in the industry to engage with their nearest university and meet up with students to see what they're doing. From his own university's point of view, Darrenlloyd also understands the importance of making students employable: "Employability is one of our driving forces and Greenwich has a wide range of initiatives," says Darrenlloyd. "We have core courses for all second years to become ready to find work; from CV and portfolios to mock interviews and even business plans. We have a dedicated employability team and this year we've more than doubled the number of students on placement for the forthcoming year."
Another key operator who can help increase the number of work placement opportunities are recruitment agencies who need to step up and play a more active role in bridging any potential divide. At Skillsearch, we are always happy to offer advice to students about how best to improve their CVs and portfolios while updating them on companies that have positions available even if we're not actively working with that particular studio.
To help developers, we offer free introductions to the best suited graduates based on that studio and its available positions. Such an approach is ideal for devs because a good recruitment agency will be able to provide their own character references based on their knowledge and experience of the candidate combined with university-sourced references.
It's the combination of these four elements - student, developer, university and recruitment agency - which offers the best possible roadmap to navigating the industry out of the work placement cul-de-sac it has found itself parked up in. And if the industry follows these guidelines collectively, we can expect to see Creative Skillset's 2016 Workforce Survey featuring games dev work placement results closer to the 41% average, rather than languishing at the bottom of the league tables.
Whether you are a graduate looking to break into the industry or a seasoned professional, please send your details to us if you are looking for a new position – firstname.lastname@example.org