AddThis SmartLayers

Course accreditation not a key factor for employers, study finds

Lily CanterNew research has found the majority of journalism employers do not consider course accreditation to be a key factor when recruiting for entry-level jobs.

A study found that editors expected applicants to demonstrate that they had relevant work experience and basic writing and digital skills rather than a degree from an NCTJ, BJTC or PPA accredited undergraduate or postgraduate course.

The research was carried out by Dr Lily Canter, subject group leader for journalism at Sheffield Hallam University,and a former former regional journalist who served as features editor on the Northampton Chronicle and Echo.

She found that half of employers also said that they would employ someone with no journalism training at all if the applicant could demonstrate a strong online portfolio.

Dr Canter interviewed 14 editors from newspapers, magazines, websites, TV and radio as part of her research.

Employers who took part in the survey include Johnston Press, the Press Association, BBC, BuzzFeed, Sky Sports News and The Guardian, among others.

Of those interviewed, only two respondents referred specifically to accredited journalism courses when asked what training they would expect new recruits to have.

A third of respondents said they were specifically looking for evidence of media law training, four referred to shorthand and five referred to work experience as a form of essential training.

One national broadcast editor told Dr Canter: “Rather than a first class honours from a BJTC course I would be more impressed with someone who has written a blog or has 10,000 Twitter followers or runs their own website or YouTube channel and I can look and think yes, that is good stuff, they’re a good journalist.”

Two respondents brought up the attainment of the 100 words per minute shorthand qualification, which they argued was an effective way of “filtering out people who are really committed” and measuring a candidate’s “application rather than intelligence”., but the regional press employer admitted there were exceptions to the rule.

They told Dr Canter: “We would specify that we would expect to be interviewing people who had their NCTJ prelims preferably 100 wpm shorthand and when we do the initial sieve of applicants that would be the first thing we would do in terms of putting a yes and no pile together.

“Equally if we are aware of someone who has been in with us on work experience and we think they have got talent and we like them and we think they would fit in the newsroom and depending on where they are at and what the job is we would probably prioritise that above the qualifications. But we would still expect them to be on route to those qualifications or we would push them towards them.”

The findings were revealed at the Association for Journalism Education (AJE) conference at the University of Greenwich last week and a full paper will be published in a future edition of the AJE journal.

Said Dr Canter: “To date there has been no independent research into the value of journalism accreditation to industry employers. Instead there is an assumption that accreditation matters and provides superior training.

“This research, although small in scale, raises questions about the correlation between employability and accreditation.”

16 comments

You can follow all replies to this entry through the comments feed.
  • June 30, 2015 at 8:39 am
    Permalink

    Is the journalism course at Sheffield Hallam recognised by the NCTJ? The training organisation is not mentioned on the details provided on the university website, although the BA course (says the website) is recognised by something called the Professional Publishers Association. This “small scale” (Dr Canter’s words) research perhaps shows what the researchers want it to show and I take issue with the intro on this piece. The research is clearly not comprehensive enough to support the claim that “new research has shown the majority of employers…..” By its own admission, the research covers 14 editors, which allows for no such claim. This may be htfp’s assumption rather than Dr Canter’s conclusion (because she will know, as an academic, that no such conclusion has been established) and I think htfp should present a more balanced story by telling us wherher the course is NCTJ accredited and perhaps what the NCTJ think about the findings.
    Dr Canter, by the way, was the academic who returned to a JP paper for a couple of days’ work experience and was gobsmacked to discover reporters had to write headlines, pic captions and source pictures before publishing straight to the web with little or no checks. See previous story on this website.
    In all, a 2:2+ for the research and a 2:2- for the report. Disappointing. I’ll discuss these marks in tutorial if you want.

    Report this comment

    Like this comment(9)
  • June 30, 2015 at 9:50 am
    Permalink

    “something called the Professional Publishers Association” … looks like a zero for your own research or industry knowledge, Idle old chap.

    Report this comment

    Like this comment(2)
  • June 30, 2015 at 11:02 am
    Permalink

    I heard Lily deliver her paper at the Greenwich conference and it was certainly thought-provoking. She did acknowledge a dilemma, though: even though employers may not mind about accreditation (and probably just assume a course is accredited), apparently potential students DO care about whether a course is accredited, because they think employers will also care! And that affects recruitment to courses. So we put a lot of energy into chasing accreditation. BJTC accreditation is an assurance of certain standards, but a non-accredited course might be very good too – as Lily also said.

    Report this comment

    Like this comment(1)
  • June 30, 2015 at 11:20 am
    Permalink

    It is hard to know where to begin with this piece, though it would have been nice to have a call from HTFP to discuss the implications of it.

    “New research”? Using what methodology? The “majority of journalism employers”? Or “most members of a small group approached”? “Key factor”? How big does a factor have to be to qualify as “key”?

    We’ve always thought it is one of the joys of journalism that it is possible to find a place in the trade without any qualification – and no editor we know would pick a candidate without passion and some evidence of an ability to write. But the editors we talk to tell us an NCTJ qualification gives them the confidence to put trainees straight into the newsroom.

    Idle Rich asks if we accredit the course at Sheffield Hallam. We do not. But we do feel that Dr Canter, in the interests of full disclosure, might have mentioned that Sheffield Hallam applied for accreditation from us, but failed to achieve the standard we require.

    Report this comment

    Like this comment(27)
  • June 30, 2015 at 11:45 am
    Permalink

    According to Sheffield Hallam’s website, “we intend to seek NCTJ accreditation for this [MA Journalism] course”. Not saying this invalidates Dr Canter’s research outright but it suggests a conflict of interest. The NCTJ isn’t perfect by a long stretch but I still believe the principle of having an independent accrediting body is sound.

    Report this comment

    Like this comment(5)
  • June 30, 2015 at 1:07 pm
    Permalink

    An interesting article but one I feel has absolutely no substance whatsoever. A grand total of 14 employers were interviewed which is hardly an extensive survey in anyone’s book.

    I also note that of the five junior/trainee reporter jobs on HTFP the following is highlighted:

    Archant: “The successful applicants will have passed all their NCTJ preliminary exams or, as a senior, hold the NQJ or equivalent qualification…”

    Sussex: “The applicant must have passed their NCTJ qualification (or similar) including 100wpm shorthand.”

    Newsquest SW: “Successful trainee applicants will get help and support to pass NQJ qualifications.” (I don’t think it is possible to take the NQJ without having already taken the diploma).

    Warrington: “Applicants should be qualified to NCTJ preliminary standard and have shorthand at 100wpm.”

    And finally, Congleton: “You should be offering keenness and willingness to learn, have passed all (or at least most) of your pre-entry components, be optimistically close to 100wpm at shorthand…” and, perhaps more damning, “I WILL NOT reply to anyone who does not have relevant training.”

    Now, I accept it isn’t the largest survey but it is 100% of the jobs currently available on this site for those leaving courses (accredited or unaccredited). Real, hard facts.

    With up to 80 applicants for each trainee role, editors tell us all the time that those without the NCTJ do not even get past the editor’s secretary.

    A shoddy attempt to discredit the qualification gained by hundreds of hard-working trainees each year. If anything, the real issue within journalism training is the amount of non-accredited degree courses which entice students in but then fail to deliver courses which will lead to jobs on graduation. But that’s for another day…

    Report this comment

    Like this comment(20)
  • June 30, 2015 at 1:07 pm
    Permalink

    I would be interested to find out more on this. It does not tally with my own experience as a job hunter with 30 years’ journalism experience. I find it very difficult to get across to employers that Irish journalists are not going to have NCTJ as it is a British qualification. It is not good enough to argue that it is open to Irish people or other immigrants to take the course, because Irish newspapers recognise British journalists’ experience as valid when it comes to employing them, I cannot see why there cannot be a reciprocal arrangement. How is it that Irish journalists can work for the BBC or Sky, but not for the regional newspapers?

    Report this comment

    Like this comment(1)
  • June 30, 2015 at 2:23 pm
    Permalink

    @tim Holmes Cardiff.
    Thing is, Tim old bean, I have never heard of the Professional Publishers Association. I have never met anyone from that organisation or stumbled across any job applicant who has quoted them or referred to them. Or been involved in any course that has been accredited by them
    The posts here from the NCTJ, and others, answer the questions I posed at the start. Sheffield Hallam applied for NCTJ accreditation and didn’t get it. A very small cross section of editors took part in this research and the conclusions do not support the assumption at the top of the story.
    I do have to add that, as a recruiter, although I look for qualifications, and an NCTJ shows commitment and purpose, what I really want to see is spark, guts, wit, humour, drive, personality, confidence, general knowledge and natural talent. I always know it when it walks through the door.

    Report this comment

    Like this comment(4)
  • June 30, 2015 at 2:56 pm
    Permalink

    The PPA “promotes & protects consumer & business media publishers in the UK”. So now you know. As journalists, therefore, I think we can be excused our ignorance.

    Report this comment

    Like this comment(1)
  • June 30, 2015 at 3:48 pm
    Permalink

    I believe having an NCTJ accreditation body in our profession is even more important than ever, especially in this digital, mass online era of blogging, tweeting and direct publication to the web.

    I took the one year NCTJ course at Sheffield Stradbroke (formerly Richmond) college around 1990. The students were a mix of university graduates like myself (mod languages) and school leavers, and I’d say we all found the course equally exacting, while inspiring. Media law was a crucial part of our course, as was understanding local/national government, and the shorthand proved essential in news gathering ever afterwards. I was lucky – partly on the strength of my NCTJ training – to be then taken on by a major news agency, where we were given further in-house training.
    I think it is essential as a profession we have an accreditation body such as the NCTJ, which maintains a certain standard of training in the industry. In some ways I would put it on a par with a recognised qualification in teaching say, where wit, flair, skill experience and knowledge also go a long way, but many employers would prefer a teacher with an appropriate teacher training certificate.

    Report this comment

    Like this comment(2)
  • June 30, 2015 at 4:54 pm
    Permalink

    — I would just add to my previous comment, that to be accepted on an immensely sought after NCTJ course (- they all were) I went through a rigorous interview with intuitive college course tutors who would have weeded me out at that stage even, had I not been of the right material. As it happened, this Monday interview in Sheffield memorably followed the Hillsborough Stadium disaster that Saturday, and some of our discussion involved how we would cope as a journalist reporting on death and tragedy, on whatever scale. I do hope today’s journalism course tutors also go some way to instil in students the daily realities of being a news journalist.

    Report this comment

    Like this comment(2)
  • June 30, 2015 at 6:21 pm
    Permalink

    Well, we have all met them, haven’t we. Not a scribble of shorthand and no piece of paper, but a nose for a story and brilliant writing style. I worked with as a sub an older reporter who delivered scoop after scoop with superb grammar and concise writing and could report anything from murder trials to classical concerts and he did not have a justified complaint against him in three decades. He wouldn’t get a job now ( but then he is nearly 70!).
    Have anyone noticed the dismal standard of writing among young journos, especially on weeklies. I cringe.

    Report this comment

    Like this comment(0)
  • June 30, 2015 at 6:34 pm
    Permalink

    As someone with experience of jumping through NCTJ accreditation hoops I can assure you that while there may be value at the heart of what they do, they are bloated with out of date panels full of those lamenting days gone by. Take the editor who said no press release driven material ever appeared on her pages, or the other editor who said “no-one cares about video unless it’s a dog nailed to a surfboard”. Yes, that’s my experience of the NCTJ panel in a nutshell. The NCTJ is right to put traditional values in place, but it needs to recognise the change within the industry and allow courses to bring their abilities and knowledge (which is usually more relevant than its ivory tower brigade) to the table. Anyone who saw their laughable first attempt at assessing broadcasting skills will recognise that they have some way to go before they reflect current media rather than outdated models. The future of journalism is about traditional values underpinning rather than undermining new tools.

    Mind you, change would mean the editors don’t get their free lunches and the chance to see what the future might hold as they head off as part of their accreditation panels.

    Report this comment

    Like this comment(0)
  • July 1, 2015 at 12:52 pm
    Permalink

    It’s really quite incredible that universities are still taking money from people for journalism courses. They might as well be studying to become blacksmiths or something.

    Report this comment

    Like this comment(2)
  • July 2, 2015 at 10:56 am
    Permalink

    I thought journalists were supposed to look under carpets and ask difficult questions? I passed my NCTJ exams decades ago and yes, whilst the key skills they stand for still have value, I’m not at all sure they have the same value today in our rapidly-changing multi-media environment.
    The NCTJ has always been the creature of regional newspaper editors who expect universities to deliver fully skilled and experienced journalists with zero charge to them. For years they have got away with this scam and meekly universities who seek accreditation for its marketing value have danced to their tune.
    But the respect these editors once had is waning. Seems to me that both the dwindling number of readers and students, who are expected to fork out for NCTJ exams on top of their £9000 course fees, are getting wise to this.
    Surely whatever the methodological value of Hallam’s research the defensive reaction by the NCTJ isn’t worthy of a body that calls itself a charity that is subject to Ofqual scrutiny. The best it can do is a feeble attempt to shoot to messenger and to point to it own, in-house commissioned research (that quizzed only its core audience).
    If this was any other body journalists would be ripping it apart and calling for an independent study of its figures.
    Dog doesn’t eat dog – or accreditation bodies too, it seems.

    Report this comment

    Like this comment(1)