City College Manchester, School of Design and Visual Arts

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1 MANCHESTER CITY COLLEGE THE VIRTUAL COMPANY.CO.UK INSTITUTION PROGRAMME TITLE FOCUS COMMENCEMENT OF COURSE NUMBER OF STUDENTS AIM WEBSITE COURSE LEADER City College Manchester, School of Design and Visual Arts The Virtual Company To provide work experience as part of HE courses students pr. year To manage and deliver focused work experience opportunities, innovative training and education solutions and business incubation. Jim Grainger INTRODUCTION The Virtual Company is an initiative set-up by City College Manchester to manage and deliver a wide range of training and work experiences opportunities, innovative training and education solutions and business incubation. Its aim is to manage and deliver a wide range of training and work experiences opportunities for students and to make it possible for a wide range of businesses and freelancers to benefit from working with further education. The Virtual Company is set-up the umbrella of the college as a department of the School of Design and Visual arts where it support around 90 students from four HE courses: HND Graphic Design, HND Multimedia Design, FD New Media Design and HND Applied Arts. The programme sees the employment of SMEs and freelancers by the College to create a virtual company, using students to undertake commercial work for external commercial work for external commercial clients. BACKGROUND: DEVELOPMENT TRIGGER The Virtual Company was set-up through the realisation that it had become more and more difficult to find quality work placements for the students. The School of Design and Visual Arts has always had a strong vocational approach with focus on work experience as an integrated part of the courses offering a range of HND courses. However, as companies entered the digital age, work experiences became of less quality and often provided a wrong focus of work for the students as they often merely were regarded as cheap labour and, as companies were getting smaller and working under increased pressure, they did not have the capacity to accommodate students into their daily work. In 1999 the College started to develop a relationship with a large employer in the industry. The aim was to shift the 2 nd year classes into work experience on the company premises and, in return, the college would up-skills the employees on new media subjects. But before the project was to go live, the project collapsed, which forced the college to revaluate how to provide work experience for their students. Previous experience, both with small and large companies had

2 proven to be unsuccessful. Unconventionally, the college decided to set-up their own company to build on the idea of live projects provided by commercial clients. The focus of the company was to provide work experience relevant to the students instead of purely work placements where students did not get to work on quality projects. Pilot Project The original idea for the company originated in September A pilot project was set up with the Manchester based Spoken Image digital company which saw students work on a live project together with a freelancer managing the project. During de-brief it became evident that the freelancer had found it difficult to work in the educational environment and it was realised that it projects needed to run off-site to provide the right environment for the work experience. The College decided to rent a space at the Manchester s Craft and Design Centre, located centrally in the Creative Northern Quarter to function as a production office. Following the pilot project in September 2000, the project became more structure in March 2003 when the domain name was registered and the website set-up. THE CONCEPT: THE VIRTUAL COMPANY The Virtual Company having been successful established since 2003, has established itself as an umbrella organisation active in the creative industries in Northwest. It specialises in Continuing Professional Development and skills training knowledge transfer between Higher Education & Business, work experience brokerage for Higher Education and Research & Development for the creative industries. The Virtual Company core is built on the idea of live briefs from clients. It provided students the opportunity to work on real projects for real commercial clients. The idea of the Virtual Company is to outsource the management of the live projects to freelancers who will function as a project manager on the project, working with the course leader, the student (s) and the company to fulfil the brief and to ensure that the project is beneficial and relevant to the students learning and is delivered inline with client requirements and brief. Through the Virtual Company it has also become possible for freelance designers and professionals to work with the college as part time lecturers. Working with a pool of approximately 60 freelancers from across all creative sectors, the Virtual Company is able to run and deliver a large range of projects within a variety of different areas (from photography, to interactive to multi media design, as the Freelancers have expertise in diverse fields). Furthermore, through the Virtual Company the college is able to build links with industry and respond to large range of projects as the management of the projects have been taken out of the day-to-day management of the school. The Virtual Company works with their clients on a variety of ways. The focus is on developing quality projects for the students in reply to the brief and payment for students work is negotiated on an individual level. The Virtual Company is conscious not to undercut the design industry and has chosen to pay the freelancer for their work. The Virtual Company is therefore an opportunity for the Freelancer to develop their own skills i.e. technical skills. The programme has received funding from EU Social fund but it is now receiving core funding as it has proved that it works. Outcome and opportunities for student The concept is based on the idea that each student get to work on a live project as part of their course. Every year, all HND students will go through the virtual company and receive support. All students will work on a live project as part of the course, participate in an exhibition and receive support from the Virtual Company in the shape of i.e. funding support. After graduation, students have the opportunity to receive incubator support with set-up advice and company advice.

3 The Space: The physical aspect of the Virtual Company The central production office for the Virtual Company, The Space, is a 333 sq ft, ground floor prime commercial unit located within the Craft and Design Centre in the heart of the Creative Industries quarter Northern Quarter in Manchester. The Space is designed to enable work experiences and its brief is to become more realistic, by being launched, managed and delivered by industry professionals from the heart of the Creative Industry Quarter where freelancers and students meet and work. It is designed to enable customised training to be delivered to the Creative Industries, and to function as business incubation for recent graduates to trail business ideas by providing exhibition, retail and office space, in return for mentoring of students. The Space offers a wide range of advantages for the students as it functions as a real working studio and is set within a creative environment among a dozen commercial studies of local artists. It features exhibitions for students work as well as external exhibitions and are a meeting space for visiting artists. LINKS TO INDUSTRY Apart from working with local companies on live projects, the Virtual Company has been working with national and international companies and strengthening their links with the industry. The Virtual Company has, amongst others, been working with two large agencies in London and several companies in Spain. Striving to create a real professional work experience for the students, the Virtual Company developed a project with the famous shoe brand Camper from Spain. Over a period of two months, the Head of Women s Shoe Design paid a visit to Manchester four times to brief, advise and view the new shoe designs developed by the students. Design Show Bus To promote students work to potential employers, the Virtual Company decided to approach this challenge from an untraditional angle. In June 2004 the Virtual Company hired a luxury coach to take students and their work around the North West design agencies. The design bus stopped in key locations around Manchester visiting companies such as BDH, 3T McCann Erikson and other hubs for the creative industries. The highly untraditional approach to showcase the students work turned out to be very effective. Perceived by industry, it was perceived as totally innovative and, as a result, the students work was in demand among the companies. A total of 64 design executives boarded the bus and looked at the HND Graphic Design and Multimedia Students during the show. Exhibition Apart from working on live projects, the students also get involved in various other projects and initiatives utilising their creative skills and talents. For an exhibition planned and organised in Barcelona by the Virtual Company staging students work, students were involved in planning, organising and marketing of the exhibition and producing a catalogue for the exhibition. The Virtual Company has now set-up a

4 publishing company to enable the publishing of students publications. This is another example of how the Virtual Company has been used as a vehicle to enable exciting projects benefiting the students and the college. OTHER INITIATIVES Laser Innovation Centre The college is leading the way in applying new cutting edge technology with the Creative Industries. The college has opened a 250,000 Laser Innovation Centre, which delivers customised training in the use of the latest laser to Artists, Designers and Makers from the North West. The Centre is offering a Professional Development Qualification in the creative use of lasers that will introduce artists to the essentials of the use of the technology for cutting and welding of a wide range of materials, thereby enabling artists to explore ways of integrating the process with their current practice. Developing new processes A recent add-on to the Virtual Company is the establishment of a PhD under the company working in collaboration with the Laser Processing Research Centre at UMIST and Liverpool & Manchester Design Initiative. Having recently acquired a number of new laser technologies and established the Laser Innovation Centre, and with the aim to increase their understanding of how to optimise the use the equipment, the Virtual Company applied for funding to fund a 3-years PhD post from the Regional Development Agency. The aim of this unique PhD is to understand how new laser technologies can be used to assist the creative industries and artists in developing new and innovative work and processes. The PhD is an innovative partnership between science & engineering and the creative industries as is aims to create opportunities for in-depth investigation into processes that can be used directly by Artists, Designers and Makers in the Creative Industry. During the first year, the PhD students have been working with artists in the region on how to apply the new laser technologies in the arts and the project has come up with a new process currently being patented as a result of combining arts and science. NEXT STEP Based on the successful model of the Virtual Company, the College is currently in discussion with several universities to franchise the model/idea. The Virtual Company is furthermore in negotiation with a national organisation to set-up a partnership to run tailored training for the company employees with the aim to create in-house students work experience at the organisation s premises in return for the development of their in-house training facilities in the areas of IT and design. The pilot concept would see a professional working inside the company with the responsibility to develop and facilitate a range of different projects for the company using students to undertake the work. LESSON LEARNED The Virtual Company has only had positive experience working with the industry. It has found the collaborative model very successful, providing both students and companies with valuable outcomes. Key factor for this success are outlined below: The Virtual Company has made the decision to bring in dedicated staff to run the projects with the students and the companies. Experience has shown that it has not been possible to fit the management of the projects into the normal workload of college staff. A key element to the success has been outsourcing the management of the project to freelance designers and artists.

5 Another key success factor is linked to the use of freelancers, who have brought in additional expertise enabling the Virtual Company to respond to a wide range of creative briefs. The knockon effect of this has been an increased level of creativity among students who through this experience have been encouraged to move the limits of their creativity and scope of work. Careful selection of projects and the use of experienced freelancer is a key element to the success criteria. The Virtual Company careful evaluates each project to ensure that they fall within the remit of the company and that they are reciprocally beneficial to both the students and the company. For example, projects are not taken of if the deadline is too short or if they are purely used to safe money for the company as the Virtual Company is conscious not to undercut the industry. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION: City College Manchester The Virtual Company Project Manager Jim Grainger Telephone: Website:

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