Apprenticeship and making it in digital media

The practice of apprenticeship has become something of a lost art in the digital media industry.

It seems every other digital media graduate wants to start their own thing, go the freelance route, and expect work to come knocking on their doors. The prospect of such a trajectory is not completely unfounded. From a cost perspective, it is relatively easy to set up shop, and start doing business. But the reality is, where barrier of entry is low, many other invisible forces come into play, leaving only the super talented, hardworking and lucky ones really making it right off the bat. For everyone else (including yours truly), It. Is (was). Tough.

To gain any headway into the industry, it almost requires putting oneself out there and asking to work for very little remuneration, in exchange for the opportunity for some experience. Sadly, as far as I’ve observed, there have been two ways this process has been bastardized.

First, opportunistic, conniving, cheap-ass individuals looking for free work under the pretense of “you could make it your portfolio piece”. For a plethora of reasons, you’ll rarely get a good portfolio piece out of such an engagement, and you’ll learn nothing that directly enriches the practice of your craft.

Second, agencies who s/apprentice/cheap labour/g without providing any real guidance and opportunity for growth.

There’s a lot to be said about how convoluted the industry is, as is every other industry, but when one is dealt cards, it is still up to one to play the best hands possible.

One of the better hands one could play, is to eat humble pie, seek out a well respected digital craftsman that one deeply admires, and offer to work for him or her in exchange for invaluable on-the-job experiences. Heck, offer money for the opportunity to work. I reckon it is a worthwhile investment that will pay for itself many times over.