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Why you need a course that offers placements

Brooke Boland

Theory isn't enough. Education in the arts industry requires practical experience so your college's ability to enable work placements is a key issue to consider when choosing a course.
Why you need a course that offers placements

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After a national strategy was announced in 2015 to guide further growth in practical education it became very clear that theory just isn't enough. This has become even more evident in the arts with the rise of vocational training and new partnerships that see students getting work experience early on.

The benefits of this approach are clear. Students learn how to collaborate better ‘on the job’ and are seen as more employable when they graduate with some experience under their belt.

We ​speak to educators in the arts and entertainment sector to find out more about the kinds of work placements and practical experience tertiary arts educators are offering students and why they are important in the creative industries.

1. So you can find your speciality

At NIDA work placements often help students to solidify what they want to specialise in and are a critical part of the course, said Jane Newton, NIDA Vet Manager.

In the Diploma of Live Production and Technical Services the content is designed to be broad, covering how live production works and the various technical roles the area of study includes. This breadth is augmented by work placements later in the course.

‘Because the content is quite broad, students can start to identify a certain area they would like to grow and specialise in. Then we really try and tailor their work placements to whatever area they find particularly interesting,’ said Newton.

 ‘We had a student who had previously worked on big corporate events and she was very keen to work in a small theatre environment. We found her a really small placement with Griffin Theatre Company. She really relished that opportunity because it was so different from what she had done before and she decided that she wants more of that. ‘

Aside from work placements, practical experience is also offered across the range of study areas on offer. Students enrolled in Specialist Make-up Services work on NIDA’s bi-annual production seasons, Musical Theatre students stage a dedicated showcase performance, and those in Stage and Screen Performance take part in a end-of-year showcase of their own devised stage and screen works.

Read: How to make the most of your vocational diploma

2. Exposure to industry leaders

At the Adelaide College of the Arts practical experience takes on a slightly different form as a ‘masterclass’ where students and recent graduates get to work with practicing artists and arts industry professionals to learn new skills.

The masterclasses are the result of collaboration between TAFE SA and the Helpmann Academy, drawing on industry connections to create beneficial workshops.

As part of the masterclass series this year, students worked with internationally renowned Australian artist Richard Bell to paint a 19 metre mural installed on the western wall of TAFE SA’s Adelaide City campus, and emerging dancers attended one led by Rainer Behr, dancer and choreographer at Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch Dance Company.

‘Tertiary learning needs to be directly connected to Industry. As Adelaide is an arts city, our students reap the benefit of this with close program connections across all areas of the creative industry,’ said Bridget Alfred, Creative Arts Development Manager.

The Adelaide College of Arts design school is right next door to Australian Fashion Labels – a fashion business that has seven in-house labels, including Finders Keepers, TY-LR Bachelor, C/MEO Collective, and Keepsake.

‘Our top fashion students are selected for vocational placements with Australian Fashion Labels.’

Read: What is it really like at art school?

3. Overseas experience

The JMC academy finds a wide range of placements for students studying Entertainment Business Management with internships at companies like Comedy Central, MTV, the Pyrmont Festival, and smaller unknown ones like the Human Sound Project. In the end, these internships translate into credit points that go towards their degree.

But they also have an exchange program where students can study in the United States or even Holland.

‘I have four Entertainment Business Management students from Sydney about get on a plane and go to LA for three weeks where they’ll study at the LA Film School,’ said Pat Maloney, Head of Entertainment Business Management at JMC.

The overseas exchange allows students to experience life in a different culture while doing a similar course, albeit from a slightly different angle and approach, and with different people, said Maloney.

‘One of the underpinning concepts at JMC is that you can’t just give someone a degree, you can’t just give them a bunch of knowledge or a lot of theory, you have to actually underpin that and attach that to some kind of practical experience. And the more real world that is the better.’

‘People come back and go, “Oh my god that was the best experience of my life”.

Read: Getting a grasp on budgeting

4. Helps you get the job

As work placements allow students to gain real industry experience, they also allow them to start building their own work connections which may lead to the coveted job opportunity.

The Academy of Film, Theatre and Television (AFTT) offer a range of placements tailored to each individual student enrolled in the Live Production Course.

‘In 2014 we had work placements with 'The Lion King' which was very successful and liked by all students immensely,’ said Farlie Goodwin, Head of Live Production and Management Services at AFTT.

As a result of a placement, former student Marta Losiewicz was offered the position of Swing Assistant Stage Manager on the day of her graduation, said Goodwin. 

‘That is a total success for AFTT as the reason behind work placements is they integrate students into the professional industry, network with fellow stage managers, and hopefully that translates into job offers.’

The placements also teach students how to troubleshoot should problems arise in the real world.

‘No matter how much you have read about something, you won’t know how you’ll react to a ‘situation’ until you have been through it. That’s why at AFTT we base our Live Production Course in practical experiences both in a safe and controlled environment of the college's auditorium and work placement within the professional industry,’ said Goodwin.

Read: Why collaboration is essential for creativity

About the author

Brooke Boland is a Melbourne-based freelance writer. She recently completed her PhD on gender, translation and women's writing and has tutored undergraduates at Victoria University and the University of NSW.

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