Creative & Cultural Skills: offering paid apprenticeships in the sector is the way forward

By Robert West, programme director at Creative & Cultural Skills

When it comes to training early career professionals on the job Creative & Cultural Skills firmly believe that paying them is conducive to developing their skills and knowledge

The museum and heritage sectors are facing significant challenges regarding the training of its workforce and our Historic Environment and Cultural Heritage Skills Survey published in November 2013 highlighted a number of areas of concerns that organisations are beginning to take on.

The majority of people pursuing a career in the museum and heritage sector are highly qualified and competition for jobs is fierce as employers look for practical experience as well as academic attributes in their potential employees. Volunteers play a vital part in the sector; many museum and heritage organisations simply could not function without the resource of individuals willing to work for little or no pay. As funding is cut, museums are becoming more and more dependent on volunteers to keep services running.

But if an organisation is requiring enough to satisfy the legal definition of a ‘worker’, then volunteers are entitled to be paid so employers look for volunteering experience as evidence of a candidate’s commitment to a career in the sector. The problem with this is clear: many people simply cannot afford to work for free.

Creative & Cultural Skills believes that apprenticeships and paid internships are the way forward. The recent Creative Employment Programme produced a number of Case Studies that have shown a different way in. One was Alex Whelan, who has recently become  Employability Officer at the University of Sunderland having worked in 2015 as project officer on Culture Track which helped people aged 16-25 who are out of education, employment and training to find a supported volunteering placement with us across our museums and galleries.

Whelan started his journey the year before as a Cultural Development intern at The Customs House, an Arts Centre in South Shields. He talked to Creative & Cultural Skills about what a heritage career involves, and why doing a paid internship was such a crucial step in helping him into the cultural sector.  “Through the internship I was able to work with a group of creative young people who had a passion to make things happen,” he says. “The best thing about it was being trusted by The Customs House to work on the project. It taught me things that university couldn’t, like how to write a funding bid and how to organise a trip to The National Media Museum for 45 young people.”

The Creative & Cultural Skills Apprentice of the Year Award recognises those who have shown exceptional ambition, talent, application and commitment to learning and making a significant difference in their place of work. The 2015 award was given jointly to Elijah Bligh-Briggs and Hannah Steele, who were both apprentices at the London Transport Museum, their training provided by Victoria and Albert Museum and Kensington and Chelsea College.

Rachel Craddock, now young persons’ programmer at the National Gallery, who nominated Elijah and Hannah when at London Transport Museum said: “The past year working with Hannah and Eli has been an invigorating and inspiring experience. For the Museum the benefits of the Apprenticeship programme have been that of 2-way learning, and exchange of skills, experience and understanding between young people and staff that builds a motivated and innovative workplace.”

For the cultural industries, it is not a case of needing to re-skill or up-skill, but rather about ensuring that individuals emerge from the education system with appropriate skills, ensuring that supply meets the demands of the sector. You can read the full case study on Alex here. And information on this year’s Creative and Cultural Skills Awards here.

Creative & Cultural Skills have highlighted that whilst there is little difficulty recruiting entry-level posts, there are problems recruiting to jobs at middle-management level. The key to resolving these skills issues is ensuring that the right set of vocational qualifications, apprenticeships and CPD opportunities are in place.

Professional development schemes like The Professional Accreditation of ConservatorRestorers, administered by Icon and the Associateship and Fellowship programmes of the MA provide good frameworks for people to plan for their own development. V&A Training and Development sets the standard nationally in the development of junior curators, technical and other staff in the museum field. Line managers and experienced staff are trained as assessors as part of continuous professional development and to maintain high quality standards of practice.

Creative & Cultural Skills and Kensington & Chelsea College are partners on this key contribution whereby the V&A provides qualifications to external museum staff and provide external assessment, and  can also provide on-line assessment for people in other Culture and Arts organisations in the UK and internationally.

This work is part of Creative & Cultural Skills’ wider response to the issues surrounding employment and training culture, as highlighted by our research. This also includes our Skills Academy network for Museums and Heritage to engage with to help form the right partnerships with education such as in the partnership between the V&A and Skills Academy network leadership college Kensington & Chelsea.

The Skills Academy is a network of committed partners from across the sector and education who work together to improve the provision of skills and training. Skills Academy members to-date have created new apprenticeship opportunities for young people, hosted careers events and created sector-specific resources, and are initiating new approaches to CPD and training to get employers the skills they need.