Berklee ‘prepares’ Masters students for working life

Masters students in Berklee’s Valencia campus in Spain have started a new 15-week ‘personal preparation’ programme as part of their curriculum

Career and life coach Jodie Rogers explains…

As each new term begins, bestowers of education across Europe are under pressure to ‘download the knowledge software’ into hopeful students anticipating a working life filled with opportunity and appreciation. I say ‘download’ because lately many students I’ve met seem to view classes as a ‘plug & play’ scenario, where turning up is the main requirement.

But ‘learning’ is a DOING word, and some students are in danger of forgetting this. I’m seeing a widening chasm between the academic world and the working world.  To tackle this, I’m working at Berklee for the next three months with fellow life coach Nevena Vujosevic to help students better prepare themselves for life after study.

Young people are so busy ‘surviving’ in University and meeting academic requirements, there is usually little time or impetus for focusing on, let alone developing a plan for, what will happen when they emerge. They find themselves at the edge of a precipice with a ropey bridge over the crack. The danger is that how you’re measured in University is no longer relevant as soon you step outside of it. Employers need you to be able to hit the ground running, and for this, students to be self-starters, problem-solvers and do-ers.  This in itself requires experience.

Universities know this, which is why so much effort is often put into encouraging apprenticeships. But they’re not always popular with students, many of whom think transactionally: “If I’ve paid thousands for this Masters, then I want a management job when I’m done, and  I‘m not working for free for anyone”.  

But it doesn’t work that way, and that’s what we’ll try and address. The idea is to empower the students to have a greater sense of ownership over their futures and take responsibility and accountability for their careers. We want them to recognise that only they can make it happen.

Whose job is this?

The wider academic world might ask, whose job is it to work on this, to prepare our students for the reality of what awaits them post- graduation? The Careers departments (and there is a vast difference in investment in these across the board) cannot realistically bear the weight of ensuring that every single student in every possible target ‘industry’ leaves their institution with confidence, a clear sense of purpose, direction and of their own story and what they have to contribute. Careers divisions at Universities do an excellent job for many, but there is only so far they can go. They are a lighthouse in a thick fog, but we need lights right along the coastline. We need a new approach and a different kind of investment. There are always experts who the task can be outsourced to, but why not bring that whole ‘bridge’ between academia and the workforce in-house?

Enter Berklee.  In addition to its International Career Centre, which provides a holistic and innovative approach to career development, the Valencia campus is now piloting, for its Global Entertainment and Music Business graduate students, a 15-week professional development coaching programme. In a powerful move to help them be more employable, the University has offered 10 students a chance to focus on planning their career and learn how to apply the principles of marketing in business to their own ‘personal brand’.

Berklee’s programme director of the Global Entertainment and Music Business Masters degree, Emilien Moyon, explains: “This isn’t about CV-writing, networking or how to approach employers. We want this to take our students several levels deeper, blending the benefits of traditional personal and professional development coaching with a broader understanding of the realistic needs of industry. The fact that the course also turns marketing & branding principles onto the students themselves (as if they were the product, which in this case they are) makes this the perfect fit for our Business Masters students. This particular Masters programme was designed on the philosophy that students must develop their career as a start-up.”

How does it work?

In weekly classes that began in mid-January and with the bonus of three personal coaching sessions each throughout the term, the 15-week programme presents music students with an opportunity to become more accountable (for themselves) ‘go-getters’, to uncover and develop their ‘unique competitive advantage’ and learn how to leverage it. It’s a combination of individual reflective work, group work that demands feedback and the sharing of some vastly different perspectives and goal setting.  Their individual outlooks on life and long-held values are distilled, ‘personal brand diamonds’ are created and students are expected to constantly be ‘in-action’ during the pilot by applying this learning to the outside world and feeding back to the group in a safe environment.

Why is this necessary? Can’t you just go and get this from the Careers department if you’re keen enough? I don’t think so. It’s a reflective learning process that forces an individual to dig deep and become more self-aware in a way that will help them articulate what they want from their life and their career, and not least to be able to tell their story to potential employers with self-assurance, intention and authenticity.

Every student will emerge with new-found clarity on who they are, what they have to offer and how to communicate that in an effective and differentiating way. They will understand themselves as a ‘brand’, have a 12-month career action plan and an adjustable scale of their personal ‘job wants’ and ‘job satisfiers’.

The value of self-awareness

Have we lost sight of the importance of this type of internal learning process in the hangover from the fees culture of the last decade? Learning should bring about energy and appetite to grow and connect the dots. Yet in many cases, Universities have become mere vendors in the eyes of some students: “I pay my fees, you give me employable status and opportunity”.

Berklee has made an important move towards encouraging the self-awareness and self-development that would tackle this, and I hope others will follow. It’s time to take the pressure off the education system and the sense of expectation it endures. It’s time to put the onus back onto the student, empowering them to make working life happen for themselves. Otherwise we risk nurturing an unhealthy, unhappy blame culture in a generation that doesn’t take accountability and responsibility for its behaviour.

Moyon concludes: “Students who will graduate in 2016 will have, on average, 13 different jobs in their career. The music industry especially is extremely complex, full of job opportunities on which you can start amazing careers, but you need to be able to identify these opportunities and to use your idiosyncratic set of skills in a smart way in order to carve your professional journey. I believe this professional coaching class is fundamental for our students to build a long-term competitive advantage in the world of entertainment and I want this opportunity to be given to more students in the future.”

Jodie Rogers is a popular self-empowerment coach, mentor and speaker across four continents, and visiting professor of Professional Development Coaching at Berklee’s campus in Valencia. For a decade before this, she worked at one of the world’s biggest marketing companies. She also spent 14 years studying human behaviour, psychology, self-development, behavioural economics and NLP.


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