Aquent Aquent

Partnering with Schools to Build a Talent Pipeline

by Steve Singer

Partnering with Schools to Build a Talent Pipeline

If you’re only now joining us in this ongoing series, we’ve been taking a look at various methods for creating and maintaing an effective talent pipeline.

In our last post, we looked at some ways to use networking events to grow your talent pipeline.  In this post, we’ll look at how building relationships with local schools, colleges, and universities can put you in touch with a steady stream of new talent.

Schools want to partner with employers

It’s no secret that the cost of education continues to climb. As a result, there is more and more pressure for schools at all levels to demonstrate the value of what they teach, particularly when it comes to job placement.

For this reason, schools will always be interested in having employers come in to talk to students about their business and, more importantly, describe in detail what they are looking for from job candidates.

To be a valuable partner to these schools and the students they serve, here are some approaches we recommend:

1. Provide practical career advice

As a company that has placed thousands of designers and developers over the years, it has been standard practice for us to speak to graduating classes of art schools or colleges of design. By providing students with practical advice on organizing their job search, what our clients want to see in terms of experience and work, and how to get a foot in the door when you’re right out of school, we establish ourselves as a valuable resource right at the beginning of their careers.

We are always very frank with students. Our clients want to see candidates with real world experience and a proven track record. Most graduates just won’t have that. For this reason, we view this kind of outreach as an investment in the future, encouraging students to stay in touch and seek us out a few years down the line when they've established themselves and are looking for new career opportunities.

2. Review student work

Since designers rely so heavily on their portfolios to make a first impression, we’ve also had success offering portfolio review sessions at schools or inviting design students to present portfolios to a panel of our clients at sponsored events. Both students and instructors find it valuable to get a third set of eyes on completed projects, while we get (and give our clients) an early peek at emerging talent.

If you are looking for talent with a more technical bent, you might consider conducting or sponsoring code reviews. Alternately, you could put on a hackathon in which students compete to solve a vexing technical challenge or develop an app for a local charity, for example.

3. Get involved with an internship or co-op program

Many schools—Northeastern University is one example here locally—offer internship and co-op programs to their students so that they can earn credits towards their degrees (and in some cases actual cash money).

Working with a university to figure out which programs your own organization could most logically support and offering qualified candidates internship opportunities is another way to forge bonds with young talent. Not only can this be a great way to get to know them and see them in action, so to speak, it also allows you to introduce them to your company’s culture and see if they are a fit.

In addition to college-based internship programs, there are also organizations like KIPP, with whom we're currently working, that are seeking private sector partners to offer internships to underserved middle and high school students. Internship programs like this allow you to build pipeline and directly serve your community at the same time. It's a win-win!

4. Start your own school

Of course, you don’t necessarily have to partner with a school in order to get to know talented people who are eager to learn and do great work. You could, instead, start a school yourself!

Happy Cog, a “multi-disciplinary web design, development, and user experience consultancy,” essentially did this when they recently launched “The Happy Cog Way,” a series of online courses on HTML prototyping, responsive design, CSS3, and other topics. With this initiative, Happy Cog could both share the expertise of their team while giving interested talent an “inside look at how we work.”

This, too, was part of the idea behind the launch of Aquent Gymnasium, which offers free online courses for digital designers and developers. By focusing on topics designed to be of interest to experienced practitioners looking to expand or improve their existing skills, we’ve found a way to teach people something that will improve their professional prospects while at the same time attracting qualified candidates to our digital doorstep.

What else?

These are some of the ways we’ve worked with educational institutions to build our talent pipeline. What successful tactics have you tried?

Photo Source (Creative Commons): Queen's College.

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