When I used to dream of being a radio presenter, doing shows in my bedroom and recording them for my friends to listen to, I never expected to end up doing that job for real. I consider myself very lucky to have spent time doing a job that was essentially a hobby. But if you are looking to break into the industry in 2013, it is very different to how I managed it in the early nineties.
Back then I was doing a media course at what is now Thames Valley University, getting my English and Communications A Levels alongside it. Access to university was not as easy as it is now and I think the City and Guilds qualification would not have been enough to get me 'in' to a radio station had it not been for the wonderful Val Handley, who was running the newsroom at the newly launched STAR FM in Slough.
Myself and another student (Philip Chryssikos) volunteered to help out in the newsroom and on shows - and basically didn't go away for six to eight months before both being given jobs - presenting the evening show and reporting for the news team. By showing some enthusiasm and having a bit of talent, our careers were launched. Philip and I have gone on to have great success in the industry in big radio stations and newsrooms - and a large part of that is down to Val's offer to us.
In 2013 such opportunities are rare. Most people recommend embarking on a university degree course, even if you want to be a presenter. But even once that course is completed and you have your qualification, entry into the industry is difficult. Media is very much about who you know alongside what you know. Never has that been more important. With most people going to university, a degree no longer marks you apart. You need to shine in a hugely competitive market.
That's why I have developed Media Mentor; to help people who are just starting in the industry make some contacts but also help them understand the market place and the types of skills that fit certain jobs. It is also a hugely valuable sounding board. Being able to speak to someone who is independent can make a big difference. I have people coming to me who are just starting to people who have 20 years experience. A neutral ear is always useful.
We are churning out thousands of media graduates each summer, yet there just aren't enough jobs out there. To stand out from the crowd you need to do things differently - and unlike twenty years ago, there are very few stations offering you the chance to come in and learn. I ran a sports show with a team of 10 helpers - many have gone on to be front line broadcast journalists. Those opportunities just don't exist now. The argument is whether the talent comes through in the same way; that old chestnut about learning on the job or learning from a book. In radio, there is nothing better than doing it to learn. That way you soon find out whether you have it or you don't.
Mentoring is a great way to find that out and develop your skills at the same time. It is why SKY, the BBC and other media outlets have started offering staff a mentor programme. We are glad we thought of it first.