Our Talent Development Manager Erin gives her take on college courses around the region.

A couple of weeks back I gave a talk to two groups of students from the Games Development and Software Development courses at Gateshead College. We've been engaging with more college level students recently, having also hosted the Next Gen Skills Academy (Sunderland and Middlesbrough colleges) last month at the ZeroLight studio. Traditionally we've always engaged directly with University students in their 2nd and 3rd University year in order to support them to make applications and prepare for the world of work. However increasingly, we're receiving strong applications from college students.

Last year we took on our first college student into our Tech Team - Kelly, who had studied on the Next Gen course at Sunderland College. Kelly had worked in various IT jobs in the past and had a real passion for programming - the Next Gen course was the ideal way for her to develop these skills further. But Kelly recognised that if she wanted to land her dream job after finishing her college course, there was a lot more she could be doing whilst studying to make her applications as strong as a university graduate.

Firstly, Kelly matched her college study hours with independent study in her own time. Using various online resources, she put in practice the coding skills she was learning at college by entering competitions & game jams. She used online resources like Udemy, Pluralsight and Stack Overflow to engage with the development community across the world. When she didn't understand something, she had the confidence to ask - not only her college lecturers but seeking advice from others online who had encountered the same coding problems. Everything was a learning experience for Kelly and as a result, she emerged from college with a great portfolio of work that she was very proud of.

Kelly found that she did get a few rejections when she started to apply for jobs, with her application dismissed simply because she didn't have a university degree or enough experience.

When we received her CV and portfolio last summer, Kelly's application was in amongst the graduate group for our Associate Software Engineer role. When we sat down to review this, we started with her portfolio. It was very strong, and in many cases, better than that which we had received from graduates. Without looking through her education history on her CV, we wouldn't have immediately known that Kelly hadn't studied at University.

Kelly is a great example of what college students are capable of, and both the Next Gen course and Gateshead college's suite of digital courses are showing employers that they don't need to limit themselves to a pool of university graduates. College courses like these are becoming increasingly relevant. The Next Gen course in particular was developed by digital companies such as Sony, Microsoft, Double Negative and Framestore. The student space is designed to replicate a commercial studio environment and students have access to great software / hardware including a VR lab, as well as a host of industry mentors. The aim is for students to develop specialist portfolios relevant to industry needs.

The message from ZeroLight, in terms of landing a junior level role, remains the same whether we are recruiting from college or university - you've got to go above and beyond the course curriculum to show your passion for working in the industry. Kelly did exactly that whilst studying at college and has subsequently opened the door for a new generation of college students here at ZeroLight.

With relevant vocational digital courses like these being developed by forward thinking colleges, talented students who cannot access or aren't interested in university study will no longer slip through the cracks when it comes to recruitment. We're excited here at ZeroLight about being more involved with these innovative new approaches to technical educational.