Area colleges and universities are falling short in preparing graduates for careers in digital media, a new study suggests. Cross-industry collaborations could help fill in the missing pixels.
“The survey really highlights some gaps that are preventing the industry from moving forward,” explained Ron Green, executive director of digiSTORY KC — a Kansas City-based non-profit that works to cultivate and promote multimedia, story-based talent and expertise in the midwest and introduce kids in the city’s urban core to digital media pathways.
The survey was conducted by the Kansas City Institute For Media, Animation And Graphic Innovation in Education (KC IMAGINE) — a collaborative effort by digiSTORY KC and Thank You, Walt Disney Inc. — and Kansas State University Olathe.
Designed to answer questions for colleges and universities, Kansas City-area digital media companies were polled on everything from career readiness of job candidates to overall needs within the Kansas City creative community.
“The gap between how universities are preparing the talent base compared to what newer digital firms need from that talent base [is substantial],” Green added, noting schools can use the findings to understand what the private sector needs and expects from early-career hires.
“Half of the survey respondents reported that KC region job candidates fall below the skill level requirements for area digital media firms. The primary skill areas needed for those jobs are technical skills and essential or ‘soft’ skills,” KC IMAGINE said in an executive summary of survey results.
“Because these jobs require significant hands-on technical proficiency, employers look most for past work experience and for a strong portfolio of work in candidates.”
A lack of ability to write clearly, proper journalism training, exposure to real world job experiences, inadequate portfolios of work, and a realistic understanding of what digital media careers entail were all identified as weak spots for early-career applicants.
“The universities and colleges will take virtually any applicant and seem to graduate almost all students that make it to the requisite hours, so the degree has become very poor as an indicator of someone that is going to be excellent at 3D animation in the way that we work,” one respondent answered a question that gauged the impact of university programs.
“Companies spend approximately 6-12 months teaching a new hire the skills that are important to the company,” read another response.
Having spent decades in various roles at Hallmark, Green’s passion for digital media and creative career paths runs deep and the findings of the survey weigh heavy on him, he said.
“We need more partners from the private sector,” Green said of ways talent gaps can be filled, specifically noting more work to offer internships in digital media and, on the part of digital firms, continuing education programs that can help mid-career workers adapt to changing practices and technologies.
Enter KC IMAGINE, designed to promote collaboration between stakeholders in the Kansas City region’s digital media industry, he said, noting the effort unites leaders from educational, civic, and entrepreneurial organizations in hopes of creating new avenues for preparing talent to serve an evolving, extensive, and decentralized digital media landscape — which accounts for more than 34,000 jobs and is expected to grow by 15.2 percent by 2022, according to the Mid-America Regional Council (MARC).
“It’s an attempt to pull together the ecosystem consisting of the digital media firms, the professionals that work for them, the colleges, universities, and K-12 programs that give kids awareness around digital media,” Green explained.
“The survey was so important because it has crystallized some understanding about just how much work is needed to pull this industry together and move forward.”
Findings also revealed proposed next steps for KC IMAGINE and what it could do to bridge the gap.
Suggestions included inviting digital media companies into the curriculum development process, hosting a regional conference where stakeholders can work together to identify needs and solutions, increased partnerships with existing programs such as the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation’s Skilled KC, and creating digital media focused internship and fellowship programs.
Learn more about digiSTORY KC in the video below, then keep reading.
Using the findings, KC IMAGINE and efforts like digiSTORY KC and Thank You, Walt Disney could stand to create a digital media hub in Kansas City — much in the same way the region has become known for its animal health prowess, the organization said.
Click here to read more about Thank You, Walt Disney — which recently closed an $8,000 fundraising gap to restore Walt Disney’s original studio in Kansas City.
A step towards increased awareness of digital media careers, KC IMAGINE will host a June 18, virtual career camp, set to include breakout sessions and one-on-one conversations between students and digital media professionals.
Click here to register for Digital Media Career Camp.
Subject matter experts including Louis Byrd, founder of Goodwim Design; Michael Ong, studio art director at Hallmark Cards; Ryan Manning, studio head at Bad Rhino Studios; and Steve Biegun, lead creative technologist at Dimensional Innovations.
Startland News will take part in the career camp’s journalism track.