From education to employment


Three young North East creatives who are living their dream thanks to a unique apprenticeship scheme, are encouraging others to do the same as the country celebrates National Apprenticeship Week.

Matthew Henderson, Alex Richardson and Dan Lee are all ‘Creative Apprentices’ who have found a way into the arts and culture industry through the scheme, which is run by Sage Gateshead in partnership with Gateshead College.         

On the job learning is a big part of the scheme and there are opportunities for apprenticeships in community arts, cultural and heritage venue operations, live events and promotions and technical theatre (lighting, sound and rigging).

Matthew was taken on as a Live Events and Promotions apprentice by Beamish Museum when he was 18.  He had undertaken work experience at the museum as part of his sixth form Business Studies course, followed by a short spell working as a museum demonstrator and becoming involved with organising special events. He knew that he wanted to work with people, events and tourism but that learning in the classroom wasn’t the route he wanted to take.  Matthew was thrilled to be offered the apprenticeship opportunity at Beamish. 

For Matthew, the combination of practical experience and building skills and confidence at a museum he loved, alongside classroom learning and portfolio building, was perfect for him. 

“Sage Gateshead and Gateshead College were so supportive of my learning that most challenges weren’t an issue,” he said.

“I’ve gained so much through the apprenticeship – at the end of the two years I was involved in developing my new role at Beamish, bringing together skills I’d learnt on the apprenticeship with the needs of the organisation. The role involves researching and developing new exhibits and improving the visitor experience through new ideas and events. So I’m still here and it’s like a dream come true.”

Since it was launched in 2008 apprentices have been employed by Sage Gateshead, Centre for Life, Beamish, Dance City, Northern Stage, The Customs House, Live Theatre, Museum of Hartlepool and Hartlepool Maritime Experience, Seven Stories, Bowes Museum, Arts Centre Washington and Tyne & Wear Museums.

Steve Jinksi, Head of Youth Participation at Sage Gateshead, said: “Creative Apprenticeships are an alternative route into working in the creative industries and a great way for employers to train up a young and diverse workforce with the right skills for the future.

“They can also be a viable route to university, giving young people the skills and confidence they need to step in to higher learning.”

Alex started her apprenticeship at Bede’s World in South Shields when she was 22. Prior to that she had been unemployed since leaving school. She knew she had a creative nature but had no idea how to get a job in the creative sector until her mum spotted an advert for an apprenticeship. 

Alex said: “I’ve had the chance to do some pretty incredible things. I was kept on for a second year to complete the advanced level apprenticeship.

“Now I’m in the second year of a part-time History degree course. I feel confident enough to apply for jobs in the creative and cultural industries because I have interesting experience to put on my CV that will make me stand out. 

“Creative apprenticeships are essential. Not only do they give young people experience and the chance to improve themselves, but employers can get so much back from apprentices. We want to learn and are willing to give our all – we bring fresh ideas and employers can also learn from us.”

Ivan Jepson, director of business development at Gateshead College, said: “The North East arts and culture scene is booming and we’re delighted to be helping creative organisations to build a talented workforce for the future through apprenticeships. This form of training is a great way for organisations to grow and plug skills gaps while giving young people a chance to forge a rewarding career in an exciting, dynamic sector.

“We deliver apprenticeships with more than 400 SMEs, large firms and public sector organisations around the region and the training enables them to become more productive, efficient and competitive. In doing so, this plays an important role in boosting the fortunes of the regional economy.”  

Dan was employed by the Events Team at South Tyneside Council when he was 21.  Before that he was doing part-time bar work and was hoping for a career that required creative thinking. He has now completed the Level 2 and advanced apprenticeship.

“At the end of my two years I had gained a lot of transferable skills, knowledge of a real working environment, as well as making lots of new friends and building networks,” he said.

The main challenge for Dan was having real responsibilities for the first time but with clear guidance from his employer and support from Sage Gateshead and Gateshead College he began to thrive. He is now studying Education with Special Needs and Inclusion at university. He still works with the Events Team during the holidays.

He said: “Employers who take on apprentices will get an employee who is not only passionate about what they are doing but driven to learn.

“There are so many young people out there who have a unique way of thinking that can benefit the industry – they just need to be given a hand”.

If you’re interested in becoming a Creative Apprentice click here.

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