Want To Pursue A Creative Career?..Uhm, The Brits Will Help You Decide

Finder of interesting things, Thomas Cott, tweeted a link to an article about creative apprenticeships in the UK. While unpaid non profit internships are not against the law in the U.S., they have been something of a hot topic in England.

According to the article Cott linked to, the creation of the National Skills Academy is not a reaction to the internship scandal, but given that many businesses in creative industries heavily depend on unpaid labor, it does provide a response to that problem. Essentially, it allows young people to gain the skills they lack in professional settings and provide organizations with some labor without running afoul the law.

I am not quite sure how this is arranged. Apprentices are entitled to a special apprenticeship minimum wage. Whether the company using their labor pays it directly or indirectly, or the training program does isn’t clear to me.

What interested me was some of the things the National Skills Academy was doing to provide training. Whereas getting a degree in the arts is increasingly seen as not marketable in the U.S. given rising tuition, the National Skills Academy has done their research and are working with creative industries to answer the demand. They have even built a training and rehearsal facility.

We’ve encouraged a shift in education away from courses of over-supply towards training that fulfils a clear demand from the industry. In the theatre and live music sectors, our members told us they needed new backstage staff more than anything else (and they weren’t at all worried about performers). But lots of colleges were offering over-subscribed performing arts courses first and foremost. We had a look at this, and our education members now deliver quality backstage courses approved by industry and popular with students.

Our members also felt the live events, music and theatre industries needed somewhere to train and rehearse. Together we made the case for a £13m investment to build an industry-spec new building for industry and students, The Backstage Centre.

The situation in the UK isn’t that much different than in the U.S. in terms of what is needed to do the job. One section of the site observes that even though 58% of those working in creativity industries have degrees, they ironically valued experience over education because there are gaps in the education people are receiving.

They also observe, as in the U.S., unpaid internships are not a viable option for people who don’t have the money to support themselves while they work. They strive to shift that dynamic.

But that’s not what we’re being told – a quarter of employers we asked said they were experiencing skills gaps and shortages in key areas. As a result, we’ve seen a rapid growth in unpaid internships – now much longer than the traditional three-month placement.

We’re concerned that there’s a disconnect here between employers and the education sector supplying them with staff. We’ve also seen that unpaid work is unsustainable for anyone without private support.

The overall picture shows under-employment, unemployment and unfair access.

Changing recruitment culture

Our membership network led the campaign to encourage a change in recruitment culture. In 2009, we created the first specialist apprenticeship frameworks, to supply employers with staff who have the specialist skills they want.

There are whole sections on associated websites devoted to helping young people make decisions about what creative careers they might want to pursue and what opportunities are out there. There are two sites devoted specifically to theatre work and another to music.

It is not just online resources, they have a series of in person sessions around the UK young people can attend. Some are targeted at students as young as 13. Many of them are fully booked.

So if you are like me, your first reaction is probably something along the lines of “Why don’t we have something like this in the U.S.?” I think even with all the talk about how the arts councils are continuing to be defunded in the U.K. and how cultural organizations may have to look to the U.S. model of garnering private support for their work, there exists an immense fundamental gap between how arts and culture are valued in the respective countries.

This program was only created five years ago and it already has 1,800 apprentices and the Backstage Centre built. Now admittedly, it remains to be seen whether there are jobs for all these people. My suspicion is that they expect/hope some of these people to end up creating their own companies and to help drive a shift to a creative economy.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

I am currently the Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.

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