To improve the diversity of the workforce, arts organisations need to employ more young people from low-income backgrounds. Kate Danielson shares tips for adjusting recruitment practices to do just that.
For the last eight years, the Weston Jerwood Creative Bursary Programme has been helping arts employers fund meaningful, entry-level placements for low-income graduates, whose talents are nurtured and who are paid a salary approved by the Living Wage Foundation.
We will never produce the very best art possible by perpetuating processes which favour those who can afford to work for free.
The need is absolutely clear. The recently updated Panic! report shows that just 18.2% of the music, performing and visual arts workforce is working-class. But none of this is simply about doing the ‘right’ thing. We are also encouraging host organisations to change recruitment habits because it makes business sense. We will never produce the very best art possible by perpetuating processes which favour those who can afford to work for free.
There are few quick wins. However, since 2010, our three editions have introduced 124 new professionals from low-income backgrounds into 110 arts organisations nationally. Our funding covers 75% of the salaries and a wraparound training programme. Alumni are now taking up senior positions in the sector, showing that if we get it right at entry level, the next generation can be the powerful advocates and leaders needed to embed future diversity.
60% of employers in our second edition extended the contracts with the young people on placements or made them permanent. 98% of them are considering ways in which they can target future job opportunities towards low-income graduates, and the programme’s insistence on paying a living wage is encouraging hosts to increase the salaries of existing staff to ensure fairness across the board.
We are attracting the right people. 73% of the current cohort of 40 have never done internships and as a video produced by Chris Lloyd in his application to Sherman Theatre in Cardiff shows they are bringing energy, talent and passion into the sector.
Our model requires strict eligibility criteria. Candidates must have been on a full maintenance grant throughout university (denoting household income under £25,000 per annum). While this is not something that employers could replicate independently, or would want to, our 110 host organisations have learnt some very practical and low-cost methods to widen their recruitment practices.
Case study: Literature Wales
Bronwen Price, Head of Development at Literature Wales, a host in the programme, says: “The training day opened our eyes to how our current recruitment practice was less accessible to applicants from outside the traditional arts sector demographic. We tore up our standard job advert template and started from scratch, following the tips and guidelines to attract applicants who might have previously thought us a closed shop.
“Only two of us, rather than a panel, conducted the interviews, which took place in a coffee shop. We provided questions in advance and offered a tour of the office beforehand. The interview gauged potential rather than existing experience and knowledge. This has been a huge learning curve for us.
“HR has taken on board the transferred learning points and we are applying many of these to our recruitment processes, particularly for entry-level vacancies. We are currently recruiting for a development manager and have used many of the tips in the advert for this more senior post.”
Della Hill was recruited as Development and Communications Officer: “The advert stated that the organisation wasn’t too fussed about employment experience, but rather on the skills acquired in other aspects of life. They simply stated they were looking for a curious person with lots of drive, energy and dedication. I did have relevant experience, but I also felt that I had a lot more to offer than the skillset on my CV.
“I am determined to break down the barriers that exist when people come from a low-income background. Normally, this would be something that wouldn’t be mentioned in the process, but this organisation was actually asking me to speak about it. I’m a mixed-race individual and I feel this has made a huge impact on my life experiences. I grew up in a small town and I feel that I have always been a little different to the crowd that surrounded me. I have used the arts to express myself from a young age. With this in mind, I felt my background would be important for the role, and this had never been relevant before.”
Our hosts report making fundamental shifts in recruitment approaches, removing the focus on work experience and existing knowledge of the sector (which without having done unpaid work, the candidate may not have). They have also tried to demystify their organisations and find new places to advertise.
Unnecessary jargon was removed from communications, and jobs packs included letters from CEOs directly inviting those with less experience to apply. They included younger and more diverse staff on their interview panels and provided unconscious bias training. Designing follow-up processes for unsuccessful interviewees also marked a huge change for our hosts. They made the experience encouraging and found ways of retaining the relationship via mentoring and support.
Arts Council England’s Culture Change Toolkit provides some great ideas in these areas. We will produce our own ideas kit at the end of this edition of the programme (spring 2019) to share what our hosts have learnt about making practical changes to recruitment practices. This should ensure that all employers reach a wider demographic and are accessible to those without existing experience and networks.