Featured image: MFI Employability Lead Lisa Trencher and MFI Placement Coordinator Rachel Shepherd
Between the safety net of education and the uncertainty of the future, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the prospect of starting your graduate journey. For fashion students, whilst enthusiastic to enter the fashion world, preparing to enter an increasingly inaccessible industry can seem daunting.
We sat down with Lisa Trencher and Rachel Shepherd, representatives from Manchester Fashion Institute (MFI), to talk about that transition. From securing placements, to making use of alumni and connections, to the highs and lows of the process, they helped us demystify this journey.
Lisa and Rachel, respectively Employability Lead and Placement Coordinator at MFI, boast a collective 40 years of experience within the industry. With both women specialising in design, and with an array of expertise in product development, sportswear, graphic design, as well as the business side of things, we trust their insights on the fashion industry.
If you’re thinking about a career in fashion, it’s definitely worth listening to what these fashion industry gurus have to say. Alongside their how-to-guide on how to get started, we’ve asked them some of our burning questions.
What gap needs to be bridged in order to secure placements?
Lisa – I would say students need to develop their confidence in a very competitive market and develop their network through LinkedIn, LinkedIn learning, RISE courses, university employability events; particularly the Graduate Jobs and Placement Fair and the Future Me Week in January at Manchester Met. You can also connect with the Enterprise Team, undertake part-time work via Jobs4Students, get involved in societies at The Union and explore the Career Hub.
All work experience is good too. We recommend students prioritising their CV and spending time understanding what they have to offer. As job titles are continuously evolving, look past the titles and investigate the job specifications instead.
Rachel – Remember that no employer looking for an intern is expecting the finished article. Comparison is the thief of joy! Be confident with who you are and what life has given you so far. Generally, simple transferable skills such as punctuality, organisation and good team work, which can prove so much and entice prospective employers, are often overlooked.
How can students tap into the MFI alumni and connections?
Lisa – If students are active on LinkedIn they can connect to the alumni. Students also need to be proactive in connecting with our guest speakers at talks, which they will find to be very helpful.
Rachel – I am always looking to enable student mentoring. If a student approaches me with regards to a placement application, I will endeavour to introduce them to a returning student. The placement panel aims to do this on a quick and easy one-stop scale. Our wonderful returning cohort, on an individual level, are always happy to mentor the younger students. It’s all about giving back and sharing experiences – another form of networking for all involved.
What is the best part of this experience for you?
Lisa – I find that the students who return are very generous with their time and are keen to help, as they remember that it was tough. For us, our students on placement (and graduates) in industry are our ambassadors, and they pave the way for future students. The confidence of returning students is the best thing, and the collegiate approach upon their return is something we are very proud of.
Rachel – Not only does a placement fuel your professionalism, it should also provide key life experience. It takes a large team of support for the student to secure a placement. The students see this and learn from it. Especially through engaging with staff and the teams within the businesses, they learn the importance of team building, working, and all this encompasses hence why the alumni give back so easily. Team players are quite simply, always successful in work and life.
What resources do the placement team offer and how can students reach out, especially for those who don’t have an integrated placement year/unit in their course?
Lisa – The Student hub & Careers Team are great resources for support. At MFI, we have a specific LinkedIn group where we post opportunities and we also invite speakers from companies who offer placements.
China Booth, our Arts and Humanities Placement Coordinator has also shared some valuable resources. These include placement introduction sessions, where all eligible placement students will receive an in-person or online session that covers all the basics of what a placement is and the timeline.
Get Placed is a series of employer panels and skill workshops designed to support students in securing their placements. The sessions range from application support to interview preparation. The employer Q&A panels invite some of the top employers onto campus to provide valuable insight to those seeking placement opportunities.
Based in Geoffrey Manton, the Jobs Hub provides drop-in sessions which allow students to receive support from someone within the placements team – whether that be general questions or a CV check.
There are also several digital resources available to students via Career Hub, including CV building and checking, cover letter guides and practice interviews. The portal also allows students to see which roles are currently live and ask questions to the placement team. The team also provides support via one-to-one appointments with your designated placement supervisor for those struggling with applications.
Do you have any key takeaways for anyone embarking on their placement journey?
Lisa – Prioritise your health and well-being, as optimum health equals optimum performance. Understand that you have a lot to offer to the industry. Take ownership of your employability skills, doing a little each week (depending on other commitments) to produce work for assessments that starts to build your portfolio. If your part-time work commitments and course seem like enough, then come back to your placement search when you can. Engage in your personal tutoring sessions too, manage (and read) all emails every day so you don’t miss any opportunities. It is important to understand that it is YOUR journey, which may be different from your peers.
Rachel – Enjoy the process! Regardless of the outcome, placement gained or not, the learning from applications, interviews, assessment centres and more, is priceless for your overall employability and professional post-university outcomes. Use the experiences to build and enhance your presence on LinkedIn, and equally inspire and educate those around you. This is also the beginning of networking, an essential industry practice.
MFI Employability Lead: Lisa Trencher, Cavendish South, L.Trencher@mmu.ac.uk
MFI Placement Coordinator: Rachel Shepherd, Cavendish South, Rachel.Shepherd@mmu.ac.uk
Arts & Humanities Careers Team Advisor: Nicola White, Geoffrey Manton, N.White@mmu.ac.uk
Placement Coordinator: China Booth, Geoffrey Manton, firstname.lastname@example.org