Could arts organisations be doing more to help young people at the start of their careers? Sam Jackman and Mary Olszewska feed back on a scheme aiming to do just that in Plymouth.

Photo of Jo Correa
Jo Correa (second from right), who successfully completed the ‘Get Into’ programme, has secured employment with Theatre Royal Plymouth.

At Plymouth Museum and Art Gallery we have just finished trialling a new partnership with the Prince’s Trust which involved running a bespoke module for their national ‘Get into’ scheme. This aims to get young people into work or training by providing a taster of what it’s like to work in a particular sector.

As a Major Partner Museum (MPM) along with the Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery, we are in receipt of funding from Arts Council England and have taken up the mantle of exploring how to improve early career development in the arts and cultural sectors. We wanted to understand how we can engage young people at the early stages of their careers, especially those who showed enthusiasm and energy for working in the sector but were prevented from accessing it either though a lack of awareness of the opportunities or as a result of barriers in the recruitment process. Lack of awareness does not just extend to young people, it can also apply to agencies and organisations there to support those young people to find work.

Sam Jackman was employed by the MPM partnership as the lead for early career development and drew on her previous experience of the education and arts sectors. She was based at the Museum in order to forge relationships with staff and cultural partners in the city, and was able to establish a dialogue with the Prince’s Trust to create the bespoke ‘Get Into Customer Service (Arts, Culture and Heritage)’ Programme.

Jason Stone, Programme Executive from the Prince’s Trust recalls, “initially there was a lack of awareness around career opportunities and entry routes for young people into the arts and heritage sector, but once I had spoken with Plymouth Museum I realised that the demand for staff across visitor services, catering and retail was a really good fit for the Prince’s Trust Get into programme”.

The 16 participants for this module came from a diverse range of backgrounds, including those from the LGBT community, young people with disabilities and health conditions (including mental health conditions) and minority ethnic groups. Some of them had specific health conditions which required support to gain work experience, whilst others had a range of educational qualifications, which in some instances precluded them from getting a first step on the career ladder.

We worked with cultural partners across the city including Plymouth Culture, Theatre Royal Plymouth, and the Real Ideas Organisation to provide placements. The project therefore enabled partners to support diversity and promote inclusion in their own organisation, whilst encouraging the young people and the Prince’s Trust to engage broadly with the cultural landscape of the city.

It was interesting to read about the recommended changes to recruitment procedures reported in ‘Character Matters: Attitudes, behaviours and skills in the UK Museum Workforce’, recently commissioned by the Arts Council England, Museums Galleries Scotland, Museums Association, and Association of Independent Museums. It highlighted “the increasing importance of particular ‘personal qualities’ in terms of their effect on employability, organisational performance, and entrepreneurialism” noting that “...employers in the sector do not typically emphasise these qualities during recruitment, preferring formal qualifications instead.”

This project recognised that formal interviews and application forms do not always enable young people to demonstrate their suitability for a position, and are not always very inclusive as methods of application. As part of the ‘Get into’ programme the young people attended an informal ‘Get Hired’ event at the Prince’s Trust, in which they had informal interviews with prospective cultural employers. This has now resulted in four young people getting paid employment, and all participants will continue to be supported for a further six months. 

We were able to tap into national support too, in the form of the British Museum’s Learning Museum programme. The trainee initiative aims to nurture the next generation of museum workforce and improve sustainability of the sector. We have therefore used this as a way of providing one of the enthusiastic young people with a year-long placement within the museum, together with a training bursary.

We have already been approached by other cultural employers asking us to run another programme, and by other cultural organisations wanting us to share best practice for working in partnership with national charities such as the Prince’s Trust.

Mary Olszewska is Partnership Officer for Reach South West, the Major Partner Museum consortium which includes Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery (RAMM) and Plymouth Museum and Art Gallery.

Sam Jackman is Leadership Co-ordinator for Early Career Development for Reach South West.

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