NACE Journal / Fall 2022
As modern career services professionals, it is important that we find meaningful ways to engage both students and employers. Our employer-led workshops at Ringling College of Art and Design do just that.
Ringling College of Art and Design, a small visual arts college of 1,700 students located in Sarasota, Florida, has always had in mind to do things differently. After more than nine years of overseeing the on-campus recruitment program, my personalized approach to relationship building and skills-based recruiting has made us a top recruiting school for entertainment and arts employers. One of the key ways we have created a dynamic program is by encouraging companies to create workshops for students while they visit campus. These workshops have resulted in students improving their portfolios and building professionalism skills, while also serving as a recruiting pool for employers to identify top talent.
Personalizing Recruiting for Employers
Our personalized approach to recruiting began more than 30 years ago under Phyllis Schaen, who was director of the Center for Career Services. Her model was simple: Be personable, remember the details, and step back to let the students shine. By making sure each company was treated individually, she was able to build up the number of companies returning to Ringling College each year from zero when she started to more than 60 by the end of her tenure. We have continued to follow that model; currently, we enjoy strong relationships with more than 120 organizations.
Our personalized approach means that, unlike many other institutions, we do not host traditional job fairs. Instead, we work with employers to help them develop targeted job postings that focus on specific skills and a plan for attracting students with those skills. As part of this, we have found that, for some companies, conducting a workshop during which students can develop and demonstrate skills that match the company’s needs and make the students more marketable is a win-win for both employers and students.
While portfolios show a student’s artistic ability, there can still be a gap between the artistic talent and the needed application of the artwork for a product or service. More than 10 years ago, the toy and game manufacturer Hasbro added a workshop to its on-campus visit. The workshop began by teaching how to sculpt toys digitally. At the time, Hasbro was transitioning from traditional sculpting to digital sculpting within its studios. Since then, the program has evolved to include whatever skills Hasbro needs most.
In order to participate, students submit their digital portfolios at the beginning of the year to gain a seat in the fall semester workshop. The submission and vetting process ensures participating students have the basic skills needed to complete the assignment. The initial on-campus workshop includes Hasbro artists teaching the students the task and skill, and giving examples. Between Hasbro’s fall and spring visits, the students work on their individual projects with the help of Hasbro’s artists, who serve as mentors throughout the process.
From a student perspective, this opportunity is priceless. It affords key networking time to meet Hasbro recruiters and artists separate from the larger presentation crowd. It also helps the students gain a skill that is valuable at many companies—not just Hasbro. Whether they get hired as a result of their workshop deliverables, they finish with a project worthy of adding to their portfolios. It’s even an experience they can add to their resumes.
From an employer perspective, Hasbro has created an effective recruiting pool. Not every student completes the action figure assignment, thinning the field of potential applicants. Those who do complete the assignment had five months of interaction with Hasbro artists: Did the student behave professionally? Did they learn along the way? How did they implement criticism of their artwork? All of this serves as a mini evaluation period.
Since its inception, the workshop has evolved for Hasbro to plug and play new concepts and ideas. Recruiters now come to campus with a checklist of skills they are seeking. For example, following the 2018 workshop, recruiters considered how well the participating students matched their criteria for hiring:
- Artistic creativity for new property expression/expansion,
- Ability to translate the design from concept drawing to final 3D model,
- Depth of software knowledge,
- Knowledge of human and animal anatomy,
- Attention to detail and scale,
- Meeting deliverable timelines and schedules, and
- Flexibility to adapt feedback from customers or a mentor and incorporate it into the final product.
This is essentially turning the job description on its head. Seek the talent first, then incorporate it into the company.
In the 12 years since Hasbro began the workshop, the company has recruited more than 90 students from Ringling College. By comparison, most of the companies that recruit on our campus only have one to four spots to hire our students annually. The workshop component has been so successful for the Hasbro sculpting team that many other Hasbro departments started taking notice of Ringling College talent and have visited to recruit for their own departments.
Hasbro is just one example of how Ringling College has implemented workshops. Several other companies have also used this model with our students over the years. Truly, the most valuable component of such a workshop is the extended time it provides for students and employers to network. Those interactions serve as their own sort of interview. Students who may otherwise have been overlooked during a portfolio review can shine in brainstorming sessions, when they are presenting their pitches, or in demonstrating their production management skills. For example, a number of years ago, one company conducted a story development workshop. While that workshop attracted primarily story artists, it also attracted our students in the Business of Art and Design program. The workshop enabled these students to promote and demonstrate their skills and talents in a different way; ultimately, the company hired one of the students from that program. In fact, she still works there and has since brought other Ringling College students aboard.
Addressing the Needs of the Company
Interested in starting a workshop with employers?
Start by consulting with recruiters with whom you already have long-term relationships to determine if a workshop could address their needs. If you know of a specific role they hire for, there may be a skill within that role that would make the most sense for a specialized workshop.
When we are considering a new workshop, we focus on the specific needs of the company. We consider two questions: What problem can we solve for that company? How can we best show that our students can solve that problem?
Answering these questions provides a basic structure for the workshop. From there, we determine whether we will need a faculty member to facilitate the workshop. Once the details of time, place, and scheduling are resolved, the artists facilitating the workshop can determine if a screening process is necessary, if mentorship will be involved, and if a rubric for the final student work is needed.
Company workshops are now a core offering of our employer relations program. They take time to develop and implement, but have ultimately been incredibly beneficial to both students and employers.
Alejandra Lance-Henterly is the director of the Center for Career Services at Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, Florida. Previously, she served in the Center as the associate director for employer relations. Lance-Henterly also worked at Indiana University in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs, where she received her master’s degree in arts administration. Her career services journey began at her undergraduate institution, Miami University of Ohio, where she worked as a mock interviewer.