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An ArtsProfessional feature in partnership with Creative and Cultural Skills

Apprenticeship reforms have offered new opportunities for organisations who want to take on a trainee, writes Madeleine Lund. But how realistic are apprenticeships for our most disadvantaged and underserved young people?

What are the obstacles and opportunities for creative apprentices?

At Creative & Cultural Skills we are on a mission to change and support the sector we work to serve. We want to create a just and better skilled cultural sector by focussing on education and skills, and social transformation of access. 

These goals come together when we talk about apprenticeships, which both address skills gaps in the sector and open employment opportunities to a greater section of society. Entry routes into the cultural sector should be available for all those with talent, regardless of background or prior educational attainment. We have always worked hard with employers to help them think about changing traditional and potentially closed recruitment practices: moving away from unpaid internships to paid internships, and from offering casual employment or zero hours contracts to permanently embedding apprenticeships.

An unliveable wage

We know that if we offer work that is unpaid, we will only ever be reaching out to a particular demographic. If we continue to do that our quest for diversity will never be achieved and we will keep missing out on talented people.

Not only do unpaid internships contravene National Minimum Wage regulations in most cases, they are also unethical and incredibly short-sighted. Some creative organisations seem to think that this rule doesn’t apply to them. It’s not unusual to hear arts managers say that they can’t afford to pay National Minimum Wage, that their organisation is too small, the company would collapse if they did, or that unpaid internships are a tradition in the sector. None of these arguments are valid reasons to break the law.

But what about low paid jobs? The lowest National Minimum Wage for Apprentices is currently set at £3.70 per hour. This can be paid to an apprentice who is 16-18 years old, or an apprentice who is 19 or older and in the first year of their apprenticeship. This might be okay for apprentices who live at home and have family support, but probably not for those who need to pay their own rent. If you live locally, don’t have extortionate travel costs and aren’t supporting any dependents then maybe you are able to accept a lower wage. But for a parent who needs to pay for childcare, living on the National Minimum Wage seems impossible. 

By the numbers

It starts to look as if the same people who can afford to do a low-paid apprenticeship are those who can afford to do an unpaid internship. So what about everyone else? 

Data provided by the former Department for Business, Innovation & Skills and The Children’s Commissioner showed that in 2015:

•    Around 3% of all 16 to 18 year olds in care were apprentices, compared to 10% of young people the same age who aren’t in care
•    Only 3% of care leavers aged 19 to 21 (who were not at university) were in apprenticeships, compared to 24% of the same age bracket not in care
•    Young people leaving care are some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in our society and are under-represented in apprenticeships and within creative occupations

Inevitably, one of the barriers to apprenticeships for young care leavers is financial. Not only do they not have families to support them if the job is low paid, but their financial needs are also more likely to equate with those of older people than their peers.

New opportunities

One significant and welcome change to come from apprenticeship reforms in 2017 is that if you are an employer with less than 50 employees – which is the case for many in our sector – and you recruit a young care leaver aged 16 to 24, you will be eligible for £1,000 towards employment costs. Additionally, the care leaver will be eligible for a £1,000 bursary and the training provider will be eligible for £1,000 towards training costs. This is great news and a huge incentive.

Another significant change the apprenticeship reform brings is apprenticeships can now be offered on a part-time basis and delivered over a longer period of time. This could work well for our sector, as often one of the challenges for our employers in taking on apprentices is that their working patterns or budgets mean they struggle to employ an apprentice full time, even when they recognise the value of training someone new.

However, there are outstanding, unanswered implications of this change for care leavers. If you don’t have family support and you are not living at home, how possible is it to only work 15 paid hours per week rather than 30, even with a £1,000 bursary? Apprenticeships should be for everyone regardless of background or academic achievement. Until the National Minimum Wage for Apprentices is increased to a wage that people can genuinely live on, this will continue not to be the case.

Madeleine Lund is Partnership Manager, Yorkshire and Humber for Creative & Cultural Skills.
Tw @CCSkills

This article, sponsored and contributed by Creative & Cultural Skills, is part of a series promoting apprenticeships and challenging entrenched social inequalities, to create a more diverse workforce.

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Photo of Madeleine Lund