How the UK takes you from schoolroom to workplace

by Micaela Papa

 

“Yay!”

That was the single word in my head after learning I had gotten into my desired masters programme in the UK.

The next few words were “oh no.”

I had not received confirmation on my scholarship yet and I knew that even if I got it, it might not be enough. London is notorious for being the most expensive country in the world to live in, and the meager few pesos I’ve saved up from years of being a news reporter wouldn’t buy a lot of fish and chips after conversion to the almighty pound sterling. I knew I had to get a job to augment my savings – but how?

Media is one elitist beast. To get “in,” you usually have to know someone, or at least know someone who knows someone who knows someone.

My employment at GMA was one of those freak accidents where they actually hired a fresh graduate who had absolutely no ties to the company. In fact, despite my day job, networking still scares the living daylights out of me. Imagine then, my anxiety of living in a country where I hardly even knew which side of the road cars were coming from, let alone knew people that could help me land a job.

What is a bagong salta to do in this brave new world called Great Britain?

As it turns out – a lot. The educational system, nay, the media industry and even the greater social setup do much to aid the awkward transition from schoolroom to workplace. While it’s still not perfect, and the industry here makes it much easier for new entrants to penetrate and flourish in the industry without having magical networking powers. The following are just a few examples of how the British system not only helped me get jobs to stay afloat during my studies – it also granted me amazing opportunities which will help my career in the long run.

1. University Careers Service

A Tier 4 UK Visa (which is what we international students generally receive) allows you to work 20 hours a week during term time, and 40 hours a week off term. You’ll likely find those first 20 hours of work thanks to one of the many employment initiatives of your own university’s careers service. 

In the Philippines, job fairs may be held by corporate entities or well-meaning student organizations at the end of the academic year, but in Britain, there is a dedicated department working all year long to help students join the labor force. This department will regularly hold careers fairs both for part-time work during holidays, and for internships or even full-time employment after graduation. It will also assist you in choosing the field suited to your interests, writing your CV and preparing for an interview. 

A Tier 4 UK Visa (which is what we international students generally receive) allows you to work 20 hours a week during term time, and 40 hours a week off term.

The advantage in subscribing to your uni’s careers service first is that the jobs recommended have been specially curated to ensure you don’t get abused by your employer whether in wages or working hours. The first jobs I held were either directly under the university – a space surveyor and campaign caller – or found through one of the abovementioned careers fairs. I have that to thank for my very fulfilling role teaching photography to young people under NCS’s The Challenge.

2. Apprenticeships, Mentoring Schemes and free Extracurricular Training

Even outside the university, there is an insane amount of support to help you land a job. In my field alone, top networks such as the BBC and Channel 4 launch apprenticeship programmes several times a year. I myself am about to undertake an exciting professional placement with the BBC starting September.

Countless organizations like the Production Guild holds free Film Production Workshops for 18-24 year olds looking to kickstart a career in media. Festivals such as Edinburgh International TV Festival and Sheffield Docfest have schemes for young people (The Network and Future Producers, respectively) to receive bespoke training and mentorship from the best in the industry. 

These are all free. The best part is, you don’t need a college degree or (in most cases) previous experience to avail of these opportunities.

The logic behind this is that experience trumps academic credentials. In a Channel 4 Open Door event that I attended, the network head even said that going to university may be unnecessary, and that he preferred to permanently hire someone who’s done an apprenticeship over someone who just graduated from a media course in uni.

3. Grants to support Student Work, Pitching Sessions

Even as a student, there are grants and bursaries you could get to support your projects. One World Media is a wonderful foundation that gives a grant to create journalistic pieces about the developing world. While the grant is primarily designed to give early to mid-career professional journalists the financial boost to cover their dream stories, the fund is also open to students doing a relevant dissertation film. I was selected for the 2016 batch of grantees for this purpose.

Couple that with the fact that your uni would usually give you free software such as Microsoft Office 365 and Sophos Antivirus and you’re ready to get cracking.

It doesn’t just end at giving you the money. Many of these organizations also provide mentorship and networking opportunities with the industry players who can turn your student project into an actual commissioned documentary for a major media outfit. Through Sheffield DocFest, the UK’s biggest documentary festival, I have been given the opportunity to pitch my planned documentary to TV execs and had face time with commissioning editors from BBC, Al Jazeera and National Geographic to understand what they’re looking for.

4. Free Events for Students

I’ve always believed that the best way to gain a professional edge is to expose yourself to as many new experiences and lessons as possible. You might think that being a student will limit your adventures in the “real world,” but the UK allows countless opportunities to broaden your knowledge outside the classroom.

Take for instance, BAFTA – the big daddy of the British film, television and gaming industry. It regularly holds lectures, advance screenings, and Q&As with your favorite British actors and directors. You would normally have to pay a handsome fee to attend, but if you’re a student, you can follow their special facebook page and gain access to these events – for free.

5. All online – the great equalizer

Going back to my earlier problem of not knowing someone who knows someone – I was able to go from 0 to 60 mph as soon as I arrived in the UK primarily because all of these opportunities can be found online.

Internet penetration in the UK is much higher than the Philippines - according to the Office of National Statistics, 87.9% of adults in the UK had recently (in the last 3 months) used the internet. This gives a student equal footing since you already have free access to the internet via eduroam, which allow you to connect not just in your uni, but other universities and halls of accommodation in 70 countries all over the world (imagine walking in Brussels and suddenly getting a wifi connection). 

Couple that with the fact that your uni would usually give you free software such as Microsoft Office 365 and Sophos Antivirus and you’re ready to get cracking.

There is a website for every need imaginable. Hiive offers tools such as a CV database as well as listings of job openings, workshops, and even funding opportunities for anyone who wants to work in the creative industries. The Talent Manager is a database where media freelancers and companies can easily access each other. Finally, the BBC Academy website and twitter account offers free online lessons and other resources to users worldwide.

About the author

Micaela Papa, one of three UK Student Ambassadors of the British Council, is a cum-laude graduate of the University of the Philippines and has been a recipient of multiple awards, both local and international, in her work as a news correspondent and documentary film maker for a local news network. She is currently taking her MA in Documentary by Practice at Royal Holloway in London as a Chevening Scholar.