This week's blog is by Chris Elliott, readers’ editor at The Guardian and chair of the NCTJ’s accreditation board.
Does getting an NCTJ qualification help me get a job? And if so, where are they? These are perfectly fair questions, and just the kind one hopes bright, would-be journalists have the foresight to ask.
These and other pertinent questions were put firmly to senior industry figures at the NCTJ Journalism Skills Conference, held last November at Bournemouth University. Time and again, those industry figures replied that the jobs are there, but you have to demonstrate the core skills to get them.
Senior journalists from print, broadcast and online journalism all agreed that the fundamental skills required have not changed. Pete Clifton, head of MSN UK, best summed this up by saying that he throws any CV in the bin that contains typos.
The NCTJ is there to do its best to ensure that journalists get the quality training that meets industry needs. In 2007, there were 42 approved centres running 69 accredited courses.
Today, there are 43 approved centres running 73 accredited courses – so those who fear an ever-expanding number of courses producing too many qualified journalists for the jobs available are mistaken. In a competitive industry currently in transition, the key for those starting out is to stand out – and having the gold standard NCTJ qualification is a crucial part of doing so. All too often, if that is missing during the paper sift of applications, those CVs go no further into the process of selection.
It is certainly more of a challenge for journalists to come to a consensus these days on what constitutes “the industry”. The NCTJ has been training journalists for the newspaper industry for more than six decades – and now trains journalists across all platforms, both traditional and new media. Even during the hard economic times of the past couple of years, students from accredited courses have continued to secure trainee reporter posts on newspapers.
An accreditation visit recently took place at a centre with strong links to their local papers. They are rewarded with seeing the majority of students from their fast-track Diploma course move straight into trainee reporter jobs with those papers.
The NCTJ standard requires students on accredited courses to complete at least a couple of weeks of work experience. Many students who secure trainee jobs straight after graduation return to their work placement newsrooms as staff, and even if they don’t, work experience listed on a CV makes the candidate more desirable.
Every accredited course up for re-accreditation, or any course applying for accreditation for the first time, is also required to supply to the NCTJ a list of first-job destinations of the most recent graduating class. Those lists reflect the range of career opportunities graduates are pursuing – newspapers, agencies, radio, TV, all manner of national, regional and hyperlocal websites, magazines and freelancing – and help the NCTJ to keep abreast of student employment patterns.
Journalism skills – and indeed, NCTJ qualifications – are transferrable in other fields. In addition to the above, many students from accredited courses decide to work in PR and communications. And sometimes individuals will work in both fields at the same time, as the core skillset allows for versatility.
As in any industry, there will be good candidates who struggle to find work. But the 366 students who achieved the gold standard of A-C in their Diploma exams plus 100 wpm shorthand in 2012-13 might find a measure of comfort in the words of one lecturer from an accredited course: “At a particularly difficult time for the news industry, there are still more jobs advertised that require NCTJ qualifications than there are graduates who have passed the Diploma.”