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Au’Guest’ Blog Post – Nurturing the future of Brighton’s digital scene

Written by Joel Windels, Marketing Manager for EMEA at Brandwatch as part of the Wired Sussex guest blog month

Think students have an easy ride? Well consider this: I worked for 16 hours a day!

And after that day, I graduated with a stereotypically twenty-first century degree, a 2:1 in Digital Media or something.

However, I was one of that lucky generation which managed to coincide the 18th anniversary of our birth with not only the inaugural privilege of £3k annual university fees, but also the blessing of having graduated smack bang in the climax of the worst recession in almost a century.

It was a beautiful recipe for the development of a victim complex, an affliction that many around me succumbed to, with plenty of graduates moving back home or signing on.

However, with fewer jobs available and record-breaking student debts, my demographic had to look for ways to get ahead and build a career, regardless of the harsh climate.

And lots of us did.

Despite applying for dozens of jobs, eventually all I could manage was a zero-hour contract at the Brighton Centre, an entertainment venue. One of my colleagues there, a Masters graduate of Biochemical Engineering, had even had his earnest application to KFC ignored.

I spent lots of my spare time writing, volunteering and taking on modestly-paid editorial work in order to build up my portfolio, but it was difficult to make any real progression. In a joint bid to be both productive and to avoid council tax, I even enrolled upon a course at City College.

However, not too long after, I discovered the Sussex Internship Programme, a scheme that was run at the time by the wonderful Wired Sussex. Here, after two or three interviews, I joined 30 other bods in a two-day training course with Wired Sussex, before we all went off to work for 28 days, each at a different digital company operating in Sussex.

We were paid for almost six weeks’ work, but most employers were flexible enough to allow us to work elsewhere to top our earnings too.

As well as rubbing shoulders with the Digital Media: The Next Generation, the company I went to work for were great, and we fell in love. When we tied the knot with an official contract following the conclusion of the arranged 30 days, we were not alone. Plenty of my peers had also secured full-time positions in the wake of the programme.

After necking a potent cocktail of chance, hard work and the faith of others (beware of the vomit-inducing hangover), I awoke to find that I now lead a burgeoning marketing team at one of the world’s fastest-growing and acclaimed tech companies.

I work with no fewer than six or seven individuals (clients and colleagues) that were also given a giant leg up in their careers by the Internship Programme, one of which has been trusted with opening the Chicago office of Brandwatch, and another who became the company’s first Product Manager.

A senior Account Director at Brandwatch and local digital celebrity – though he’s made of atoms, not binary – also happened to be one of our coordinators and trainers when we were in the programme. Ours is an incestually small industry at times.

So in all it’s amazing how effective this scheme was in nurturing the future of Brighton’s digital scene, a sector that has been widely discussed and lauded in recent years.

Excited? Wondering how you can get involved? Well write a letter to David Cameron explaining to him that you think the scrapping of this funding was a mind-numbingly thick thing to have done. Or whatever.  Tip of the iceberg, really.

Politics aside, even without this programme in place, Brighton employers (with the aid of Wired Sussex) can take the initiative themselves.

At Brandwatch, I’ve tried to channel the spirit of the programme by hiring three interns at the start of July, who are all paid - albeit fairly modestly – in order not only to add more resource to our efforts, but also to ignite the energy that graduates bring to a workplace and to give the eager individuals that deserve it to grab the chance to get their careers started.

If more businesses tried to approach graduate employment in the same way, then perhaps we’d see an even more vibrant industry.

You’d be amazed how far a few pence and an open door can go.

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