Finding the right jobs for your trainee

Trainees or intern as they are called are part of the responsibilities an art director has. I’m not talking about the bad habit of using trainees as regular workers, sometimes referred to as “precarity” or “underclass”, but about the trainees coming from schools doing a few weeks of internship to learn about the real work in an agency.

I had in the past problems finding the right jobs for the trainees as I was caught up in my daily routine and when they actually showed up at my desk I wondered what would fit. I therefore setup a routine for finding jobs around the year to have them ready. Find out how I did it and the 3 rules for successfully managing a graphic design trainee.

The simple job blackboard

During the year you come around quite a few low priority jobs which are easy to do and you postpone them because they are boring, time consuming and other jobs are more important. Instead of keeping them on your todo list make a separate todo list for your trainee. If you have co-workers make this trainee-todo list public, so they can add their jobs too.

The good side of this is, that they actually do real jobs you would normally do so it does not feel like low quality work. It shows them that graphic design is not only shiny creative mayhem, but often a time consuming tedious repeating work. Last but not least the trainee contributes to a real project, so he feels actually part of the agency and when the project is finished the trainee can claim to have been part of it.

Three simple rules

  1. Categorize jobs by difficulty
    When you setup your job blackboard give the single jobs a difficulty level, let’s say simple, medium, difficult (for a trainee) and give the trainee only jobs he/she can master. It saves you and the trainee from frustration. Yes, they should learn something, but you can be sure, that something you claim to be easy for the trainee is not.
  2. Split long jobs
    Some jobs are easy but take a long time. Try to split repetitive jobs into junks to avoid that the motivation of trainee. Don’t treat your trainee like a mule – you would split up the job for yourself don’t you? If you have more than one trainee is good practice to split longer jobs among them to avoid envy.
  3. Don’t multitask them
    This is fairly new. Against previous studies whom claimed that the young generation can multitask more easily because they are the so called digital natives. Professor Martin from Westwell Flinders University, Australia, found out something very interesting:



    WESTWELL: Strictly speaking, there’s no such thing as multi-tasking. What we do is switching our attention very quickly between doing one thing at a time but interspersed. Now what we find is that actually young people are less able to do that because of their brain development. The area of their brain that deals with this switching between two tasks isn’t as well developed in younger people until their early twenties compared to older people. So actually older people are much better at multi-tasking than young people and I’ve done some research to demonstrate that, to show that. Younger people claim that they can stay on task when they’ve got multi-media, so they might be you know trying to read a book or do their homework whilst they’ve got music playing and whilst they might be instant messaging friends or you know something like that, so they’re consumers of different media at the same time. They may claim that they can multi-task in that way, but the evidence is telling us that they can’t and actually the performance on the task at hand, particularly the primary task – let’s say doing their homework – is actually diminished by trying to deal with all these multiple inputs at the same time. (taken from the BBC Podcast Analysis)

It’s therefore good to avoid to rush to the trainee every 15 minutes with a new task and to not have them read the email all the time. Make a daily plan and introduce new tasks only on breaks.

Finally I just want to say a last thing about the extended benefit of having trainees. Finding graphic designers who fit well into your organization and the projects you work on is often difficult. Often you hire someone to find out later that he can not adapt or doesn’t have the right capabilities. Trainees, especially if you have the opportunity to have the same come in for a couple of years, can not only be judged but you can also train them to your needs, make them fit well in your organization and develop exactly the skills needed. This is a huge advantage and can boost the success of your projects. So invest into your trainees and you will be rewarded.



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