From education to employment

Apprenticeships – how FE is working with creative industries to develop their employees

Around the country many Further Education Colleges are busy explaining to employers how Apprenticeships are designed to meet the needs of business, and how recruiting an Apprentice gives a company an opportunity to breathe fresh life into their organisation.

Whereas in sectors such as Construction the culture of Apprenticeships is a long standing one, the task is harder when approaching the Creative Industries, which is a sector where the notion of taking on an Apprentice is having to grow from pretty much a standing start. 

Unpaid work experience tends to dominate in these industries discriminating against those who cannot afford to work for free or who do not have the time to volunteer due to their personal circumstance. The impact is significant as demonstrated by research from Creative & Cultural Skills that indicates demographically the creative  sector is 95% white and 65% male.

Further education colleges now deliver education and training to more students than any other institutions in the post-compulsory sector, and as such Further Education has rightly been playing an active role in forming partnerships with the cultural sector to challenge this complacency and create better chances for young people by providing Apprenticeships in general, and at a growing number of centres, Creative Apprenticeships.

The Creative Apprenticeship is a new route into the creative industries, based on ability and potential rather than academic record, social background or contacts. It is a mix of on-the-job and off-the-job training where people have the opportunity to acquire skills and knowledge and attain qualifications designed and approved by the industry while doing so.

Only a couple of years ago there were no employer-led apprenticeship programmes for the creative industries. Now Creative Apprenticeships are providing for the first time high quality, paid, work- based qualifications at Level 2 and Level 3 in technical and specialist skills areas where employers have identified current and future needs helping meet the growth in live music, events and festivals.

Stratford-upon-Avon College have been successfully delivering Apprenticeships for a number of years across a number of vocational areas. Working in partnership with the Birmingham Hippodrome the college has developed a strong relationship with this key regional employer that has resulted in Creative apprentices being offered permanent roles within the sector. One Creative Apprentice ‘graduate’ is now working at the Birmingham Hippodrome whilst  another is set to join Symphony Hall as their Assistant Front Of House Manager.

Further up the map, a partnership between Gateshead College and the Gateshead Newcastle Arts Forum (GNAF) which is made up of some of the area’s leading creative companies including the SageGateshead, the Theatre Royal, Northern Stage and Dance City have also been offering this first officially recognised apprenticeship framework for the creative and cultural industries. The Gateshead College website highlights a number of positive case studies of young people learning lots of new skills, experiencing the variety that the job provides, and simply enjoying the experience. As with a number of young people Gateshead apprentices seem to feel that learning while you earn is a better option than incurring debt while attending a university course.

The National Skills Academy for Creative & Cultural (NSA), who include a number of FE colleges and employers working in partnership to deliver Apprenticeships, also highlights positive experiences on its website. From Liverpool to London the Creative Apprenticeship is shown as a valued means of ensuring work experience and training for young people, offering a qualification which is achieved whilst working ‘on the job’. NSA Apprentices are quality assured by a network of FE Founder Colleges working with the industry, and being colleges with strong developing links with employers this all makes FE Colleges ripe for offering students to the right place at the right time.

The Creative Apprenticeship was originally developed by the NSA’s ‘parent’ company Creative & Cultural Skills (the skills council for the creative and cultural sectors) in conjunction with employers, to ensure that both businesses and the apprentice benefit. In terms of qualifications all apprentices complete a Certificate in Creative & Cultural Practice, which gives learners the basic knowledge to work in the sector.

The Museums and Libraries Association were  quick to seize the opportunity of delivering pathways of particular relevance to the museums and heritage sector, and committed to contribute to the employment costs of 50 Creative Apprentices in the museums sector over the next two years to help get the scheme off the ground. They are achieving  this by working in partnership with a number of FE Colleges including NSA Founder’s City College Plymouth and City of Wolverhampton College amongst others.

The Apprenticeship is becoming  a valued partnership programme for the creative industries and FE Colleges which is  great news for the National Skills Academy who launched the Apprenticeship Training Service in March of this year to recruit and employ Apprentices directly (1125 over 3 years) and place them with host employers, and to work with Further Education Colleges  and its employer network to provide training opportunities and mentoring.

Martin Penny, Principal at Stratford-upon-Avon College and a member of the NSA Board, commented, “Apprentices gain nationally recognised qualifications, learn industry-relevant skills and get hands-on experience in the workplace, whilst earning at the same time! Many local businesses and FE Colleges have and will continue to benefit from the Apprenticeships scheme especially during these difficult economic times.”

If you would like further information on the Creative Apprenticeship, please contact [email protected] or visit

Robert West is education and curriculum manager for the National Skills Academy for Creative and Cultural Skills, a freelance writer and arts consultant, and FE tutor

Related Articles