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Training Matters: Will NCTJ diploma help get me a job?

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.”


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  • March 25, 2014 at 8:02 am

    “Pete Clifton, head of MSN UK, best summed this up by saying that he throws any CV in the bin that contains typos.”

    Surely he throws into the bin any CV that contains typos.

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  • March 25, 2014 at 10:13 am

    A very interesting use of statistics.

    The NCTJ annual report (see Vital statistics on page 3) also tells us 1,483 students were enrolled to take NCTJ diploma in journalism exams, as stated only 366 passed at gold standard or about 25%.

    The diploma is a preliminary qualification.

    Mr Elliott failed to tell us 170 trainees achieved gold standard by passing the NQJ – that means they actually completed the NCTJ training. The usual route is by finding a job as a trainee. These were 165 reporters, 2 sports journalists, 2 photographers and 1 sub-editor.

    Assuming the initial annual recruitment numbers are fairly constant with four more courses added since 2007, only about 11% of people who enrol on NCTJ courses complete the training…..

    Roll up, roll up….journalism skills are transferrable.

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  • March 25, 2014 at 3:41 pm

    Numbers Game’s conclusion that only 11% of people who enrol on NCTJ courses complete their training is inaccurate.

    The NQJ is for local paper journalists. But many NCTJ diploma holders go to work for magazines, broadcasting, digital / web media and PR, and never sit the NQJ … they don’t need it.

    That doesn’t mean their training was incomplete. The diploma is a complete qualification in itself. The fact that so many journalists in all spheres have passed the award proves that.

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  • March 25, 2014 at 5:31 pm

    Mr Thom you state on your website that you hold the NCTJ proficiency certificate, now called the National Qualification in Journalism (NQJ), so you have been through the process.

    Let me refer you to the NCTJ website:

    “The NCTJ Diploma in Journalism equips trainee journalists with the knowledge and skills for professional entry level journalism”.

    “The National Qualification in Journalism (NQJ) is the NCTJ’s professional senior qualification that examines all-round competence in a range of essential journalism skills”.

    So a diploma lets you start as a trainee but you need the NQJ to become a senior – according to the NCTJ.

    I appreciate many people never bother taking the NQJ….that was one of the points I was making. They never become ‘senior’ journalists in the eyes of the NCTJ.

    The facts quoted by the NCTJ on their annual report were the numbers I gave. They do have some figures for non-accredited courses which I did not quote because the story was written by an NCTJ representative talking about accredited courses.

    It is all available in the annual report….you can interpret the figures as you wish…….I guess you could look at it in a different way if you were trying to sell a training course !

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  • March 26, 2014 at 11:12 pm

    Numbers game: You unwittingly touch on a more important issue.

    Surely someone who cares so much about good journalism training would want to set an example by putting his own name to his posts, especially when they contain a cheap, and possibly defamatory jibe?

    Surely you will want to distinguish yourself from the irrelevant army of anonymous slanderers whose rantings would be better placed on a toilet wall?

    Or is it a case that you don’t practice what you used to teach?

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