Joel is staying ahead of the game

College course work experience can be invaluable, writes Fran Molloy of the Sydney Morning Herald.

Finishing college with more than nine months of industry experience was a game changer for sports management candidate Joel Saaghy, who says his dream job at a football club was a result of the industry connections he made through work experience arranged by his college. Saaghy started full time at Wests Tigers Rugby League Club this year as a consumer business sales co-ordinator and in May he will graduate with a three-year Bachelor in Sports Management degree from the International College of Management Sydney (ICMS).


His work experience included stints at Sydney FC, the NSW Rugby League and Wests Tigers. He was offered positions at two other sporting organisations before accepting the job at Wests Tigers.


After he left school, Saaghy worked in retail for a few years, first for a games outlet and then for a mobile phone company, before deciding to pursue his lifelong dream of working in the sports industry. ''I have always had an interest in sport and in business management and this is a career where I can combine both of those things.''


Searching for a course to help him make that career transition, he visited the ICMS campus and says he was impressed by the institution's professional atmosphere, which includes the requirement for students to dress in business attire. The full-time course involves between 16 and 20 hours of class time, with more time needed outside class to complete assignments.


Saaghy, who is a keen NRL fan, says that working for NRL clubs was a highlight of the course. ''I worked on a project auditing junior league facilities with the NRL. It was a great opportunity to deal with the lifeblood of the sport through the volunteers and really eye-opening to have that broad exposure,'' he says.


Football NSW's media manager, Mark Stavroulakis, says he hears from a lot of people looking for jobs in an industry that inspires plenty of passion. ''Occasionally, I will give school leavers a bit of a go in an unpaid internship so they can get a feel for it, but when I am employing someone, I look for experience and a good understanding of the actual work,'' says Stavroulakis.


Applicants who have completed a course in sports management are going to be ready to start work straight away. ''It gets your foot in the door when you do go to a company to look for something, especially in media. It's definitely a green light for anyone like myself wanting to employ someone.''


Stavroulakis says he doesn't really distinguish between private college and university qualifications. The passion of the person who is applying for the job is far more important. ''Having some industry experience, being a volunteer, having experience in other codes, means they bring something different to the table. Expertise in a range of other sports means that they can push the limits a bit further. It's always good to be versatile.''


Saaghy says being part of a smaller college group made it easier to befriend fellow students who would be part of his future professional network. ''Another advantage of the ICMS course is the calibre of the teachers. A lot of them are still actively working in the industry and they have been really helpful in making connections,'' he says.


One of Saaghy's teachers is three-times Norwegian sailing Olympian Jannicke Stalstrom, who is the head of the Sport Department at the college and teaches marketing. Stalstrom, who has also lectured at Buskerud University in Norway, coached Olympic sailing teams and run Singapore's sailing program, says ICMS has developed a professional culture that rubs off on the students. ''The students are all very interested and willing to put their hands up to volunteer for sports management opportunities. We run events here at the college, so they get the chance to do their own event management, and they are so keen that they are already there in the classroom before the class starts,'' she says.


Saaghy says the three-year course has given him confidence about his future career direction. ''I've started my career with a lot of practical experience, rather than just theory,'' he says.

Click here to read the original article featured in Sydney Morning Herald on 5 May 2014.