Ibrahim Lahoud on nurturing talent: 'They are the “future” and I am the “catalyst.”'
Posted on August 26, 2019

"Fresh graduates are not seen as an investment, but rather as a liability," says brand consultant and university instructor Ibrahim Lahoud. In an interview with him on the relevancy of universities' curriculum nowadays, the reality on the ground, and how to boost students' employability, he says "The recipe here is very easy, yet so impossibly hard to find in universities."

 

OPPORTUNITIES AVAILABLE IN THE AD BUSINESS FOR FRESH GRADUATES CONSIDERING THE CURRENT CLIMATE

Zero opportunities. And it’s not only the current climate. It’s the ongoing greed and short sight by many in the industry. Fresh graduates are not seen as an investment, but rather as a liability. What a pity.

In today’s economic downturn, hiring -of courses qualified- fresh graduates is practically the best thing that can happen to an agency. Why? Because they are keen, motivated, “cheap”, and mostly “want” to work versus those who “have” to work. How’s that for strategic thinking?


A SPECIFIC ADVICE TO FRESH GRADS TO ADVANCE THEIR CAREER
Leave! Now.

You’re awesome, but no one appreciates you. You chose this industry despite your family’s typical aspirations of seeing you graduate as a doctor, lawyer or architect. You stood firm and you made  it. Now you’re being insulted by the dinosaurs of the industry, those born before the internet or brag that Social Media is dead!

Leave! Now. Go somewhere you’re appreciated, somewhere they believe in you for how good you are, not for your degree.


ON FRESH GRADS BEING JOB-READY
No, graduates are not well equipped, at all. It is true that universities lag behind, big time. Most, not all, still teach the same curriculum they put in place back in the 80s’ with some cosmetic alterations. Universities are the number one culprit in graduates not getting hired. The reasons are many aside for meagre curriculums. You have the teachers, some are so inadequate, old-fashioned and out of context it’s scary. Then you have the corruption, and I’m not going to even start here. And finally you have what I label the “full-timer syndrome”. Some teachers who stopped working to teach full time, became disconnected with the evolution of the market, and are still teaching the ways of the 70’s!

Employers lament the gap… Yeah… That’s what they do best, lament. They always complain and never do anything about it. If the graduates have intrinsically what it takes – and that’s easy to probe if you have the right HR, interview techniques and lowest amount of ego – hire him/her, train them, mold them, turn them into your protégé and earn their loyalty, for ever.

 

ON HOW TO BOOST STUDENTS’ EMPLOYABILITY

The recipe here is very easy, yet so impossibly hard to find in universities. It all boils down not to the content of the course, but rather to the way you deliver it, and how it organically interacts with other courses. Universities are not schools. This is very important to understand. A university is about developing a broad knowledge base, training students to be multi-faceted, and get to know more than what they study, more than their specialization. In branding for instance, if you don’t understand banking, you cannot brand a bank. That applies to every industry touched by branding.

In my twenty years of teaching and mentoring masters’ classes on marketing and branding, I came to realize that these are not “students”, and I am not a “teacher”. They are the “future”, and I am the “catalyst”.  While this might sound poetic and cliché to some, it is the simple naked truth. During my first couple of classes of the academic year, I conduct syllabus-independent open discussions with my students, where I gear them towards feeling and acting like a real designer in a real-life situation, and where they start perceiving me as their creative director or client, depending on the situation. I remove all peer-pressure and establish a real agency mood. This allows them to develop a real-life language, behavior and scenario, and gives them an overview of real world tactics.

Universities have to stop “cocooning” students inside the shell of a stiff curriculum, grades and peer reviews system. This will NOT help graduates. Students need to start experiencing the real scenario from day one of year one at university.

Universities have to stop looking at their income and start looking at their “outcome”. They have to understand that their one of the few (if not the only) industry where the client and the product are the same! The student.

 

“In my twenty years of teaching and mentoring masters’ classes on marketing and branding, I came to realize that these are not “students”, and I am not a “teacher”. They are the “future”, and I am the “catalyst.”“

 

ON THE IMPERATIVE OF GRADUATING MULTI-FACETED TALENTS
Polyvalence today is not an option. It is a prerequisite. And I understand why agencies are looking for it. You cannot hire a copywriter specialized in migraine-medicine-writing “only”, pay him a monthly salary and pray to get a migraine medicine account. This applies to every facet of the industry departments.

In their personal life, all graduates are very polyvalent. They master gaming, skate-boarding, social media, skiing, hiking, music, writing, painting, cooking, surfing, etc. and they are awesome at it. So, there is no valid argument for them not being intellectually equipped to be polyvalent. It is up to the university to provide the motivation, syllabus, course structure and methodology to chisel a rough student with potential into a polyvalent masterpiece.

Then bonus is that you do not need to teach them about technology. They can teach us! We need to teach them how to harness their tech-mastery for the service of the communication industry. And for that, it starts again with the teacher. I have noticed through personal research, that a lot, and I mean a “lot” of teachers in marketing and communication do not have any presence on social media, or have a primitive one, but completely lack the manipulative dexterity, aside from changing their profile picture every fortnight and wishing happy birthday to their connections. Pathetic! And they are teaching Marketing and Communication. Communication!!!!

 

LAST WORD…

My daughter graduated “Magna Cum Laude” in graphic design from one of the top universities in the field, since November 2018. She is still looking for a job as we speak.

The problem is that we blame it on the economy, the business, untrained fresh graduates, politics… But we never blame ourselves, agencies and universities alike, for having massacred the industry and kept hundreds of fresh graduates begging for a job. My daughter, and hundreds, if not thousands like her are paying the price for ignorance, greed and short sight.

Many owners, creative directors, human resources managers and others forgot the day they were fresh graduates looking for a job.