Buck Apprenticeships with Chante Edwards

Caity Beaudoin

November 5, 2021

Can you tell us about BUCK and your role?

Absolutely. So BUCK is a design and animation company. We have departments ranging from every part of the pipeline when it comes to post-production. So we start with design all the way to our post-production department, animation, CG animation, and creative technology which deals with a lot of our immersive design projects. And additionally, what I always like to highlight in this industry: our operations talent.  

One thing I love about BUCK is a very flat structure, so it’s very collaborative. You need the whole team, not only the person doing the artwork for the client. It takes talent and operations to be sure that we deliver the highest quality project we can.

With my role on the team, I’m the global head of talent. Typically, like most post production companies, there is a resource team that handles the day-to-day operations of new projects that come in. But at BUCK we recognize that the front end of talent is important as well, meaning the onboarding experience. That allows us to really show the amazing culture and collaborative environment that BUCK is.

The onboarding experience includes setting up interviews, scanning candidates, answering any questions regarding the culture here at BUCK, as well as the development trajectory. For a lot of people, especially junior talent, that’s important. Am I going to grow here? And where is the support? The front end of talent is here to advocate for BUCK, but also to be here for the candidate – to be sure that they have a clear understanding, feel comfortable on their first day, and have a good overview of what the experience is going to look like. Our hope is that their career starts here and is here for years to come. So retention is important, and retention starts at onboarding.

What does the day-to-day look like at BUCK?

What can somebody expect walking in the door? What's the vibe?

The vibe is love. It is literally love. You walk in and everyone here is so welcoming. As soon as your first day, your first meeting or the first Chat group that you're a part of, everyone is welcoming you. We try to set up 15 minute “coffees” so you get to meet different people. Especially virtually, we had to pivot because the synergy is different than your first day in an office, where you get to sit with people at lunch randomly, you get to know people organically. The talent team is really trying to make the virtual experience more intentional. I had the privilege of starting before COVID, so I have a clear visual and feeling of what it was like to start in the office and also how it translated to new folks that got onboarded during the pandemic.

It's a party of welcome to the club, welcome to the team. And again, the way BUCK works, it's a very flat collaborative structure. So we want people to feel vulnerable enough to be able to showcase their talents, so they can grow and so the leadership can hone in on that and help that person.

Having that love in that field just makes things more comfortable, makes you want to work hard. And at the end of the project, everyone is celebrating and all that good stuff. So, yeah, circle back to love.

What inspired the apprenticeship program?

Our apprenticeship historically was considered an internship. What we realized pretty quickly was that our internship was more like an apprenticeship, meaning that it's a six month program and you’re integrated into the projects as if you’re a staff member. We feel like real life experience on the projects, just going into the deep end – with of course the support of a mentor – is important for someone to actually get hands-on experience. So it’s not like this special project that just the apprentices work on, because then it kind of defeats the purpose. We want folks to leave the apprenticeship program either getting an offer to become staff with us, or being able to take the experience and go somewhere else. Every company is different, but the pipeline is pretty standardized in some capacity.

So anyway it started with the internship program, then we rebranded and announced an apprenticeship. We are now working on an internship for folks that are in high school or college, or folks that may not be able to afford college. We want to give them the opportunity to be in this apprenticeship as well. We want to give that equity out in the world because everybody has their own path. We also don't have a cap on how many apprentices we have. It depends on how many mentors are available because that's the whole point of the apprenticeship program. We want you to walk in feeling like,  “Okay I’m integrated into the team. I'm going through the same pipeline.” The expectations for the apprentices aren't as high as a lead, but you’re still in the mix and you hear the conversations and you’re learning how to manage. 

I have no limit on how many people we bring to that program, but the only stipulation is that we have to have enough mentors available on staff in order to bring someone on. So if we don't have anyone with availability for six months to mentor an apprentice, then typically we’ll push that date further out. It has to feel like real world experience. You have a job, this is the job description. This is what a designer does here and we're going to integrate you. We have to be sure there’s mentorship there and we're not putting folks in uncomfortable spaces where they are afraid to learn or afraid to be vulnerable. The folks that work at BUCK, everyone loves to teach, loves to mentor folks. It comes from a place of wanting that person to succeed.

One other fact about our apprenticeship program that I'm really, really proud of is that we have a very high rate of apprentices that immediately join our staff afterwards. As far as our talent strategy and recruitment strategy, first and foremost is mentorship and growing junior talent. A lot of companies may want that perfect, buttoned up, exact skill set to be plug and play on a project. Yes, that's needed – it's a business and things move fast. We have high expectations as a company because of the caliber creative that we have. But what's more important here at BUCK is that we’re growing folks. A lot of people have started here as an apprentice, intern, or a junior artist and are now creative directors, leading projects. That is something that's working, so when I came on board, I just wanted to add some support on the front end of talent for the onboarding experience.

How do you go through applicants and decide who will be a good fit?

A successful apprentice to me is someone who is looking to learn something outside of their norm, not restricted in their own skill set. I’d compare it to a generalist – a generalist may be great at a lot of things, but can self-assess and say, this is where my strong suit is.

When it comes to recruitment, in some companies it's more like your recruitment team. You interview, you talk to three people, and then we decide we're going to hire you. At BUCK I haven't been in an interview yet where I had questions in front of me. The first conversation is literally getting to know someone. You want to be able to work with somebody that's enjoying it. You might work with this person 40 hours plus a week. We want to get that vibe that you want to be here. 

Recruitment is the beginning and end for us. The stakeholders are the hiring managers and leads, so at the end of the day, we like to give them the autonomy to make that assessment. And when I say hiring managers, these are the leads of the department that are owning the job description for specific roles. We usually try to keep the process from being long-winded – no more than maybe one to three interviews. And then, you know, virtually that's a whole different experience. In the office, we’ll walk you around, you'll be seeing people eating, lunch, working, building something, working on projects. It's a different energy. 

We literally go through every application. Unfortunately, there are times we do have to let people know that maybe they're not quite ready to jump in based on their experience. What we don't want to do is put high expectations and say, “Hey, it's a six month program. You're working on projects. You'll have a mentor.” There are times where we have to be honest. Maybe we open our internship program, which is a little more low risk for the candidate and for us, and we would talk to them about that. And sometimes we find exceptions. For example, we found this amazing cell animator, but he was still in school. He was so eager to start with us. And we were like, “Look, you didn't graduate yet. It's a six month commitment. It's a job. We're not just going to jump because you're an amazing artist. We want to be sure we take care of you.” So in this case the hiring manager said we can do a three month mentorship where you'll meet with this lead cell animator. We set it up twice a week for an hour for three months, and they could use that time as they please.

It’s almost like a prerequisite to the conversations that we're having with leadership along with our Chief Talent Officer Jan Jensen. We're having a lot of conversations about how much talent there is out there. And if they don't necessarily fit into the apprentice category, where it makes sense we still want to mentor these people. That's why we're in conversations for 2022 to open up an official mentorship and internship program. So all that is to say that if we don't necessarily think someone should qualify right in this moment for a position, we recognize that there is a group of younger talent all the way from high school and even people that are self-taught. There is that hole there that we would love to find a way to mentor and see if we could mentor them into a possible job here at BUCK or even elsewhere. So we're developing that and hopefully, once the world opens back up, we'll be able to and run with that.

What is BUCK’s philosophy on diversity or non-traditional career paths?

Absolutely. I went through that journey as a young black girl growing up in west Philly. I knew nothing about this niche industry. All I knew is that I liked Missy Elliott, her videos, and I needed to understand how she created that. So visual effects, animation design, and all that stuff was going through my brain.

But I went to a historically black college and in that school, I realized that a lot of opportunities that folks who did not look like me were getting, I wasn't necessarily getting in my community just because the exposure isn't there. We didn't have the alumni that worked in this niche industry.

So when I got to BUCK and saw our Diversity Equity Inclusion committee, immediately I realized that with talent and DEI initiatives, there is a gray area there to me. Me being head of talent, instinctively I need to be looking through a DEI lens. 

One of the things that I like to talk about is that it's a marathon and not a sprint. Systemically and historically, if it took a hundred years for us to get to a point where we are being very intentional in hiring and paying attention. A lot of big companies are integrating it in their process, but we're not going to have this solved tomorrow. So when people say we're not diverse enough, that's been years that that's been happening. So we have to think of the long-term goal and then the short term goal. The short-term goal for looking through the DEI lens for talent is literally to reach out like, finding these groups that have been around forever. The social climate has allowed that to kind of open up the eyes of the tech and design industry. So now that everyone has their eyes open, the short-term goal is to reach out to those places, put our jobs on those boards and kind of make the candidate pool more full.

We're not saying never. Oh, we're never hiring no white male. No, no, no. All we're saying is, if it's a pool of 50 people, we want to add to that pool, that pool of candidates needs to be diverse. Guess what? You still may end up not picking the person of color, but at the end of the day, we're making steps to be sure we're including them in that pool.

So that's the more tangible, direct ways that we can recruit, like reaching out. Or at conferences just getting out there. Right now, we're talking to all the HBCs because typically that's not where we recruit. The long-term goal is to reach out to schools, because we want to know where they’re getting their students. If we're recruiting from a typical design school and their makeup is not diverse, we're not going to get diverse candidates. And that's the pattern that has been happening. So the long-term goal is to have these conversations, see how we can partner with the schools to upgrade their art programs, support them in that sense. And again, that's a long-term goal. That's not something that's going to turn over tomorrow and all of a sudden. Five years from now maybe we can look back and there's probably 10 schools that we partnered with. We lit a light bulb. Maybe your art program needs to be expanded to more of a digital platform because that's where this is a real job. 

The initial short-term goal is reaching out, being very present. We did a panel two weeks ago, and that kind of stuff is the most valuable and it's free, and that's advice and mentorship. There's no price tag on that, and it’s usually the most fulfilling thing for folks. It's not the performative optics things. It's the conversation. How you can partner with somebody to help push them through this industry? But yeah, buck is so, so in the partners are amazing because they're, we don't have restrictions on it.

What advice would you give somebody who might be out there with a non-traditional background?

My initial thought, and I may want to rethink it because we're working in a virtual world, but my initial thought is networking. The way that I even bumped into this industry is I was literally having lunch and overheard somebody. And I was like, I'm not going to be antisocial, I’m going to make a friend. And they told me about a receptionist job at an animation studio. I kind of knew nothing specific. I knew about visual effects and you know, production, but never the niche industry that we're in. So initially I would tell folks to absolutely just get out there. That's half the battle, just getting in the room, in the space. And then guess what? Just being a nice person is half the battle. You know what? I'm going to go get your coffee. Let's sit and have lunch. I want to pick your brain. People are more likely to give you the insight, or pass the Baton to you for the next person, or link you up with someone who happens to have a job opening, even if it's entry level. So I always tell folks who don't know about this industry to just go on the internet, meet people. I know it's hard and really different during the COVID times, but go out and network, meet people, and just be nice. 

You can also do your research and go and look up the companies. I'm the queen of credits! That's the type of work – looking at the credits on movies, maybe LinkedIn, somebody you know. I've gotten a mentee just like that. She reached out randomly on LinkedIn, and I had so many LinkedIn messages, but I saw that and thought, ‘Oh, I want to help. I want to help her out.’ There's no formula. Get out there. Look at credits on movies, look people up. It sounds a little weird, but definitely get out there and get to know the players that are already out there, even if they're junior folks. That one conversation can literally change everything and take you from here to here. Just be humble in that, and be willing in this industry to work really, really hard because it is a competitive industry. The expectations are really high for the clients, which makes it high expectations for us, but it is very fulfilling. It's a creative space. So just get out there, be brave and don't be, oh my goodness. I sound like I'm preaching now, but do not be afraid to fail. You know how many times I failed? How many times I did not get it right? And then eventually you get it right. Because it's just the unknown. Dust yourself off and try again, try and do that especially in the beginning of your career. As you get more into your career, it's going to train you. It's going to allow you to be able to pivot and pick yourself up and keep it moving.

Are you accepting applications for apprentices on an ongoing basis?

Our website is, and our Instagram is @buck_design. We have an amazing communications team, so when we are able to showcase work or highlight artists, we use the social platforms to do that. I like to remind people to look up “BUCK design” just so we're not confused with anything else that's out there. 

If you go to the jobs page on our website, you’ll see the apprenticeship posting never goes down. We will always be accepting apprentices, it's just that we need to be sure we have a mentor available. We, the hiring managers, go there weekly, so someone will be looking at your application. And of course everyone can't get into the apprenticeship program, but we do our best to try and give at the bare minimum feedback. I recommend apprentices reach out to us in that moment, and don't be afraid to be like, “Hey, you know what? I understand that maybe the timing isn't right. Maybe not right now. But can I have 5-10 minutes of your time to give me some feedback?” That to me shows that you care and that you're eager. And I will remember you because, again, self-assessment is important to me. So when I see people that are like that, I know where it's coming from, it's coming from an eager place where they just want to do well and get constructive criticism, not being afraid to fail, and just kind of push it through. Those folks will always succeed.

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