I've just completed yesterday, a job interview with a candidate with a degree in Multimedia from a local private university. From a fairly candid discussion with regards to the degree course content and the candidates job prospects, it has encouraged me to write about an issue that has been on my mind for a while - the "neither here nor there" degree courses.
I will use the above candidate, Sherry (not her real name) as an example. To give a bit of background, in the internet and multimedia industry today, there are typically 2 types of candidates employers are looking for - (1) the computer programmer (obviously) and (2) the graphic/multimedia designer (to design the various interactive screens, animated sequences etc.).
Sherry did very well for her SPM examinations - scoring some 6As and 2Bs. She wanted to join the IT industry which seems to provide a bright future career, and at the same time was "excited" by the "multimedia" concept. Hence her first choice of a Bachelor's Degree in IT, majoring in Multimedia in a local private university. Unfortunately, as such courses are in our education system (offered by many public and private colleges and universities), they are often "muddled" in their course content - consisting of a mixture of basic IT courses as well as teaching the students how to use certain multimedia tools. The resulting problem for her today:
- She will not be good enough to be hired as a Programmer, as her foundation in programming is still too weak (although she could have been good, given the right degree course with the potential she has shown in her SPM)
- She is skilled in multimedia tools such as Adobe Photoshop, Macromedia Flash, Macromedia Director etc. However, being a pure science student in secondary school and university, she has no foundation in art and graphic design - making her a weak candidate for Web Designer. After all, one of the key criteria for the works of a web designer is to ensure aesthetic qualities in a web interface. The multimedia course is hence analogous to teaching a student how to use a paint brush, without showing the student how to paint pretty.
- It is unsurprising then to find that a large pool of the so-called IT graduates are finding it difficult to seek employment because what they have undergone in university puts them in "no-man's land", particularly in the IT industry. Our candid discussion led to the next step in which Sherry should take. The questions raised were like whether she should pursue a career in IT through further studies to improve her foundations in programming or whether she should pursue alternative careers, say enrolling in a management trainee programme.
Anyway, my key contentions as highlighted by Sherry's predicament are as follows:
- Unversities should stop offering "trendy" courses which are poorly thought-out on the mistaken notion that they will be "attractive" to prospective students. It is important that these courses are tailored to the right set of students for the right objectives. Degree courses should have sufficient academic rigour in exercising the analytical and thought process instead of merely teaching skills in using a software application.
- Teaching software product knowledge in tools such as Photoshop, Flash and Director are more applicable as "Certificate"-based courses (which students may take separately at the University or at other commercial colleges) as these are definitely not "degree" based courses. As an analogy, Microsoft Word is to writing as Photoshop is to drawing. One should not be awarding degrees for "studying" Microsoft Word!
- Universities and colleges are contributing to our pool of unemployed graduates by offering courses which are not providing the right foundations for the relevant job positions in the respective sectors.
- By packaging these product skills as a degree course, it also leads to serious mismatch with regards to the graduates employment and remuneration expectations. Graduates of the above "Multimedia" and other similar degrees are expecting to be paid the same as graduates from other more rigourous courses like "Software Engineering", as well as similar rosy career paths. These expectations are unfortunately far from reality. Graduates in "Multimedia" in this case are competing against graduates from Art & Design Schools who are possibly weaker from an IT perspective, but are stronger from a design and aesthetic perspective - and they come at a much cheaper price! The Art school students are usually weaker in IT skills, but that can be easily compensated by a few short months of training on the various design software applications like Photoshop, Flash and Director (not very difficult applications to learn - hence not suitable for degree courses). Students from Art schools generally have lower salary and career prospects expectations, and hence are easier to be satisfied and retained by employers. Hence, from the above perspective, why should employers fork out more money for these multimedia graduates, incur more effort in growing and retaining them while at the same time, they are likely to be less artisitically inclined than the Art school graduates? Employers will not pay the same salary, and offer the same growth path to "multimedia designers" than software engineers, as the latter clearly have more challenging and sophisticated skills required and their growth space is wider and more technically in-depth.
Unfortunately, there is a lack of objective information evaluated by independent parties on the usefulness of these courses in the job market. Students are therefore advised to consider very carefully the courses to choose to subscribe to in university as a supposedly minor difference between "multimedia" and "computer science" will actually result in vastly different outcomes subsequent job placement and future career options.