Robert West is education and curriculum manager for the National Skills Academy for Creative and Cultural Skills

As the National Skills Academy get ready to announce the 500th Creative Apprentice - are business in the creative and cultural industries finally buying the idea of Apprenticeships?

More and more FE colleges are now becoming aware of the fact that apprenticeships can help businesses across all sectors, including the creative and cultural. Colleges are seeing the attraction of a switch from providing full time academic style courses, towards more apprenticeship style, where students might spend one or two days at college and the rest of the week with a local employer, whilst organisations such as the National Skills Academy for Creative & Cultural have set themselves up in a matchmaking role through their Apprenticeship Training Service, and have over 230 employers willing to consider forming partnerships with colleges.

The creative and cultural sector has its own particular issues in terms of demand for apprentices. Whereas for industries such as construction and hairdressing apprenticeships are run of the mill - it's a genuine culture shift that's going on in the creative sector. Types of apprenticeships are now available in technical theatre, community arts and education, administration, finance, marketing, costume and wardrobe, front of house, live events...the list goes on! However the fact is when the National Skills Academy started in 2008 there were zero apprenticeships because from the education establishment perspective there was no perceived need.

That appears to be changing. Skills Academy Founder College Stratford-upon-Avon has been recently celebrating National Apprenticeship Week 2011, and has discovered that their latest enrolment is the 500th Creative Apprentice in the UK!

The Creative Apprenticeship consists of a vocational qualification at Level 2 or 3 and a theory based qualification at Level 2 or 3 offering an alternative route into the creative industries. They offer young people the opportunity to acquire skills and knowledge and attain qualifications whilst doing both on-the-job and off-the-job training with the on-the-job component allowing people to break the vicious circle of 'no experience equals no job'.

Over recent years Stratford-upon-Avon College, through the National Skills Academy for Creative & Cultural, has developed a strong relationship with Birmingham Hippodrome and both organisations are working together to deliver education and training to young people who have recently embarked on a career in the creative and cultural sector. The 500th Creative Apprentice at Birmingham Hippodrome is therefore a significant signpost that the creative and cultural sector is finally warming up to the idea of taking on apprentices.

The Birmingham Hippodrome have greatly expanded their scheme since launching apprenticeships 18 months ago and currently have 5 apprentices at the theatre. FE Colleges around the country are now having discussions with local employers in the creative and cultural sector, and are finding not only theatres but museums, arts venues, and community arts organisations interested in taking on a creative apprentice or offering a creative apprenticeship to their existing staff.

Pauline Tambling, Managing Director, National Skills Academy for Creative & Cultural says: "We're so pleased that Apprenticeships in the creative and cultural industries are taking off – it is wonderful to see the great results and positive responses from employers. I'm thrilled that Birmingham Hippodrome working in partnership with Stratford upon Avon College has had such a positive experience of hiring an apprentice and look forward to hearing how they progress in what I hope will be a varied and exciting career in the industry".

Luke Stubbins, the 500th Creative Apprentice, certainly feels that is an option for him: "I would definitely recommend becoming an apprentice. It's a very good way to find out about an industry that you may be interested in. Once you've done an apprenticeship you will know if that industry is the one for you."

Different entry routes into the sector are an important progression for the creative and cultural industries. The Creative Apprenticeships is the first industry approved and government funded apprenticeship framework for the creative and cultural industries, and now there are 500 of them maybe we are finally starting to see an interesting new route really beginning to open up - supported by FE colleges.

To find out more about apprenticeships within the Creative and cultural sector contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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

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