Creative organisations in East London have joined forces to offer local young people the chance to develop employment skills in paid internships. Julia Hayes tells the story.

Photo of women in a row
STEP participants at a backstage centre

Francis Augusto

The Shared Training and Employment Programme (STEP) provides a new model of employment-based training where participants experience two creative internship roles across five leading cultural organisations (Bow Arts, NTS radio, Sadler’s Wells Theatre, Rosetta Arts and London College of Fashion).

This approach demonstrates the wealth of untapped young talent that exists across London

The programme was initiated by a founding group of employers – Bow Arts, Sadler’s Wells and London College of Fashion (LCF) – who worked with London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) and programme managers to formulate a model that met employer needs. Namely, to equip successful participants with the skills and experience to compete in the cultural sector and ensure cultural organisations in and around the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park benefit from the talents of local people.

STEP is currently supporting seven paid interns in seven creative roles. The young adults participating in the programme have grown up in and around east London and have experienced first-hand the rapid changes in the area and so are well placed to forge a creative career in their own community.

Development programme

STEP was launched in September last year when interns were embarking on the first of their two internships. The programme has been accompanied by a development programme with masterclasses covering a range of in-demand skills.

The pedagogy is based on learning from the broader creative industries including a session from Let’s Be Brief, a commercial creative agency that led the interns through an ideation workshop; guidance on applying for funding from Arts Council England; and an introduction to new ways of creating and distributing content from two independent publishers, gal-dem and OOMK.

As part of the programme they have also been encouraged to come together on a collaborative project designing and editing an online magazine.

The group of young adults have brought with them a range of skills, experiences and mindsets. Among them is Jordan Reilly from Tower Hamlets who has thrived in his first placement as a videographer at LCF. He’s been connected to A New Directions employment programme Create Jobs since joining an events and festivals production course in 2015. He is committed and enthusiastic, rapidly building his skills profile and making a valuable contribution to his host organisations.

Also on the programme is Olivia Mathurin-Essendoh, an aspiring illustrator developing her career in outreach and community projects. Her first internship with Rosetta Arts was the perfect setting for her to explore this path. Olivia was nominated for a Creative and Cultural Skills award as Intern of the Year, and she was shortlisted as a finalist.

Mayoral support

In recognition of our work, STEP is part of a larger mayoral priority around better working practices and addressing under-representation. Underpinning this is the Mayor’s Good Work Standard, which advocates paying the London Living Wage and creating a supportive and stable working environment.

Through STEP, we are trialling a template for creative employment that demonstrates the benefits of recruiting locally, paying the London Living Wage, and nurturing talent in a structured and consistent way. Currently, entry-level roles in the creative and cultural sector are characterised by short-term contracts and expectations to work in low or unpaid positions. It’s not difficult to understand why young people from lower socio-economic backgrounds find it hard to progress.

Working with partners

Through Create Jobs we’ve built reciprocal working relationships with partners who refer young people to our programmes. These employment and youth sector professionals help us get these opportunities seen by applicants beyond the ‘usual suspects’. This approach demonstrates the wealth of untapped young talent that exists across London. Our knowledge, gleaned from on-the-ground delivery makes the statistics published from Create London’s Panic! report so jarring, with only 2.7% of the museum, galleries and libraries workforce of Black, Asian and minority ethnic background.

Employers and interns involved in STEP are now being rewarded for their commitment to the programme and are developing both personally and organisationally. STEP is at the midway point, with interns transitioning from their first internship to their second host organisation. We are looking forward to seeing how they develop and progress.

Julia Hayes is Employment Manager for A New Direction’s Create Jobs programme.

See the STEP blog for more individual stories, progress and updates, as well as the many opportunities for employers to engage with our work.

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