Developing Transferable Industry Skills

This article covers how students can develop key transferable work based skills through relevant projects in art, design and media. It also looks at the role Personal Development Planning can play in supporting the development of professional skills.

What is Personal Development Planning?

This article covers how students can develop key transferable work based skills through relevant projects in art, design and media. It also looks at the role Personal Development Planning can play in supporting the development of professional skills.

PDP is defined by Norman Jackson in his HE briefing as, “a structured and supported process undertaken by an individual to reflect upon their own learning, performance and / or achievement and to plan for their personal, educational and career development.” (from: ).

Any course that integrates the use of learning logs, learning portfolios, development plans, diaries and similar processes are already integrating PDP in some way. Many lecturers in art, design and media will be aware of the benefits of learners being able to evaluate their learning. The idea is that students analyse their abilities and development as the course progresses. They can then use these results to set themselves targets for improvement and as such become more autonomous.

For many programmes, it is an integral part of the course, such as on the Foundation Diploma in Art and Design. Other courses also have evaluative and reflective elements which are not about the evaluation of products and outcomes, but are more like elements of a personal tutorial process, which require consideration of important transferable skills, abilities and understanding.

A key element of feedback from employers is that students are creative, enthusiastic and experimental, but that they lack the kinds of skills that enable them to work in a professional environment. This is because they haven’t had many opportunities to interact with clients and others in a professional context. While students on level 2, 3 and 4 courses in art, design and media are often expected to evaluate their outcomes, they don’t always see this holistically and become aware of how they can use the skills in a vocational context.

Developing Transferable Industry Skills

Workplace skills in Art, Design and Media:

Many students will move on and attempt to engage in a career in the creative sector. This resource will specifically look at how to use the learning programmes to foster skills for getting into and maintaining employment in the creative sector. After consultation with various employers, the following elements continually arose and formed key criteria for employment:

  • Working within constraints
  • Defining product requirements
  • Social media presence
  • Portfolio building
  • Interview skills
  • Pitching
  • Communication skills
  • Presenting
  • Understanding roles
  • Managing time
  • Setting benchmarks for production
  • Networking
  • CV writing
  • Getting feedback
  • Getting clients
  • Work experience

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Using Personal Development Planning on a course:

Any projects or elements of a course that include some or all of the above will support students in developing critical skills that will make the transition to employment easier and more successful.

Whilst Level 2 learners can cover some of the above within their programme, it is possible to cover almost all of the above on Level 3 programmes by introducing key units and tasks in projects. Ideally, each project will cover different elements.

One way of structuring this is to have a Personal Development Planning log or diary of skills developed across the programme that students can use to track their development of skills and experience. The start of the course can include a skills audit that students complete to identify their strengths and areas for development. It isn’t always easy for students to reflect on their experience in a holistic and transferable way, they might not be able to see that going for an interview has helped their communication skills for example.

Having a lesson on relevant skills and how these relate to experiences can help students to make links between what they have done and how these relate to the skills audit. It is possible to also track these against National Occupational Standards:

As the students progress through the course they can add to their skills log and set further targets. Ideally, the end of the programme also culminates in a review of their progress overall and sets long term career development goals. This approach has the potential to help students identify their career progression path.


What kinds of tasks in projects will support workplace skills?


  • Constraints and product requirements:

It is unusual for professionals in this sector to get “open” briefs, where they can experiment and produce any kind of outcome. While there are some big design companies and career roles that allow autonomy and high levels of freedom, these jobs are actually few and far between and are mostly the preserve of well-established professionals that have the influence and finance to do what they want. It is important for students to realize that most client briefs contain significant constraints.

For many students who step into creative employment, this is extremely frustrating. They find that there is a gap between how they have been taught to be personal, individual and experimental, actually clashes with the new constraints that they have to deal with. Ensuring that students can work within and embrace constraints is an essential part of preparing them for employment.

Defining the outcomes of projects as realistic products that students might find in the marketplace can streamline the process. It doesn’t have to mean that all the outcomes are generic and students will still find room to be creative within these constraints. Design and Media based projects in particular demand a high level of skill in understanding client requirements.

Art students will also need to develop some ability to work in a self-directed way and come up with creative solutions that don’t result in easily marketable products. However, it is still possible to provide certain constraints such as a specific location where the work needs to be installed or being part of a themed exhibition.


  • Portfolio and presence:

The development of portfolios, whether they are art and design or media based, is key to ensuring students have a good chance of gaining employment.

Practical work should be collected and presented well and some courses focus their attention on doing this at key points throughout the year. This is combined with units that entail portfolio production such as Unit 10: Personal and Professional Development in Art and Design in the BTEC Nationals professional specialist optional unit. It is also possible to include a task within each project that ensures students are generating work for their portfolio throughout their course. This means they see presenting their work as integral to their working practice. Each project could include a web blog post or design boards as part of the outcome.

Web based portfolio opportunities and technologies are steadily increasing and varied. It is a good idea to have a broad based presence instead of limiting this to a single web site. Most companies and professionals will use a range of media to ensure maximum presence, such as their own personal portfolio site, personal blogs, Facebook presence, accounts on Linkedin, Twitter etc. It is also advisable to place work on Flickr and other creative forums.

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  • Communication skills, Interview skills, Pitching and Presenting

Students are possibly the most terrified of this area of their future professional practice. They are comfortable producing work, but have never needed to present or communicate their ideas to anyone but their teacher. Yet, it will be these sorts of communication skills that will allow them to get work, undertake teamwork and maintain employment in this sector.

There are many units within the BTEC Level 2 and Level 3 Art, Design and Media courses from Pearson which do entail the need to demonstrate communication skills. It is advisable to look closely at the units available and ensure that a significant proportion include this kind of learning.

Activities that will support the development of key communication skills are really broad. One way to avoid dropping students in at the deep end is to try safe, guided approaches that build confidence and also allow students to try different methods of communicating.

Creative professionals are constantly working with new people, clients and partners. Bringing in guests and people that students don’t know will help you assess how they perform in more realistic scenarios. Some professionals in business partnerships will be happy to come in and discuss project outcomes with students. This can be tricky to organise, but even if this doesn’t take place, it is possible to bring in lecturers from other courses to join critiques etc. Most Schools and Colleges will also have a career centre with staff dedicated to ensuring that students can progress. They are usually able to set up mock work or education interviews.

Each project presented to students can easily include an element of communication, whether it is pitching, presenting ideas and outcomes or working as a team. Trying to match the project as closely to a professional scenario will help lecturers identify where these key points might be and include them in the tasks of the project brief.

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Understanding roles, the Art, Design and Media industry sector and professional workflow:


Level 2:

On Level 2 BTEC Art and Design and Creative Media Production there are units that clearly engage students in understanding the job roles and sectors that they hope to move into:

  • Level 2 Art and Design: Unit6: Working in the Art and Design Industry
  • Level 2 Creative Media Production: Unit 3: The Creative Media Sector



Level 3 Art and Design:

The more students are aware of how their practice relates to real employment in art and design, the more committed they will become and the more relevant they will feel the projects are to their career opportunities. The following units within the Level 3 Art and Design specification will help give students an understanding of professional practice:

  • Unit 9: Professional Practice in Art and Design
  • Unit 10: Personal and Professional Development in Art and Design
  • Unit 11: Freelance Work in Art and Design
  • Unit 14: Community Art
  • Unit 15: Fundraising for Art and Design Work
  • Unit 17: Management of Art and Design Projects
  • Unit 18: Collaborative Working in Art and Design
  • Unit 20: Developing Business Models for the Art and Design Sector
  • Unit 21: Starting a Small Business
  • Unit 22: Setting up and Art and Design Studio


Level 3 Media:

Level 3 Media has highly specific units that support the understanding of relevant sectors and workflow:

  • Unit 5: Working to a Brief in the Creative Media Industries
  • Unit 8: Understanding the Television and Film Industries
  • Unit 9: Understanding the Radio Industry
  • Unit 10: Understanding the Sound Recording Industry
  • Unit 11: Understanding the Print-based Media Industries
  • Unit 12: Understanding the Interactive Media Industry
  • Unit 13: Understanding the Computer Games Industry


To allow for further development of professional practice students can also cover:

  • Unit 14: Working Freelance in the Creative Media Sector
  • Unit 15: developing a Small Business in the Media Industries


In Conclusion

Students will really welcome a realistic experience. The advantage of undertaking something similar to employment in an educational environment is that it is safe and controlled. The situation can feel like a positive stepping stone before encountering the real world and having to work and make decisions on their own. However, a lot of students won’t be ready to make the huge step and see the relevance and validity of this kind of learning as they will be there to create artwork. Yet, the more they encounter work experience, the more the will appreciate the complexity and difference between workplace and education.


Further Reading:

  • Cottrell, S., Skills for Success: The Personal Development Planning Handbook, Palgrave Macmillan, 2010
  • Helyer, R., The Work-Based Learning Student Handbook, Palgrave Macmillan, 2010
  • Carol Eikleberry, Career Guide for Creative and Unconventional People, Ten Speed Press, Berkely, 2007
  • Littleford, D., Halstead, J., Mulraine, C., Career Skills: Opening Doors into the Job Market, Palgrave Macmillan, 2004
  • Carter, C., Izumo, G., Career Toolkit: The Skills for Success, Prentice Hall, 2012
  • Holmes, K., What Employers Want: The Work Skills Handbook, Trotman Publishing, Lincs, 2011

Occupational standards:

Valuable PDP resources for lectures. While these are meant for HE level lecturers, they support and justify ideas behind PDP:

Daniel Freaker Daniel Freaker Educational Consultant, Editor for Pearson Portfolio.