Why new apprenticeships reveal an old-fashioned view of the workplace
The Government’s decision to champion apprentices is welcome. But for an initiative rooted in the world of work, it is currently curiously disconnected from the reality of the 21st century workplace. The huge expansion in UK film, television, visual effects and animation, conservatively valued at around £14.4 billion to the British economy, means there is strong demand for new recruits who emerge from education or training able to hit the ground running on the sets of blockbuster movies and prime-time TV drama.
But there has been a decline in the number of apprenticeship starts in the year since the Government introduced its dedicated apprenticeship levy, which takes 0.5 per cent of staff costs from employers with an annual wage bill of £3 million or more. A well-meaning policy - which has all the potential to promote a more diverse workforce, better reflecting the society in which we live - will continue to founder unless there is greater flexibility.
For instance, the new apprenticeships must last 12 months. But this old-fashioned notion of an apprenticeship is impractical in modern employment where working project by project is commonplace. Even the biggest productions in film or the most expensive television dramas would struggle to offer a placement for as long as a year which is why we are arguing for an option for apprentice-sharing. The requirement for 20 per cent off-the-job training is also impossible to meet on productions with tight shooting schedules.
The Government wants apprenticeship standards to be developed where there is evidence of high demand. But there is no need to train hundreds of candidates for many of the skills shortages in screen. Some skills shortages are acute in impact but small in size, requiring perhaps a dozen new recruits a year.
Our colleagues in Creative and Cultural Skills, covering skills in the performing and visual arts and craft and design, face many of the same dilemmas. We are working together to develop ways to resolve them which is why we are delighted to lead the panel discussion on skills, recruitment and apprenticeships at its National Conference.
The risk if we do not make these initiatives fit for purpose is that a laudable ambition to promote good vocational and technical education will be thwarted. That cannot be allowed to happen. Some of the most brilliant talents now working in film, television, animation and VFX – as in other parts of the creative economy - were not conventionally academic. And if British film, television and other creative sectors are to identify and reflect the voices and experiences of the entire country, routes should be made available to all young people seeking a way in.
The apprenticeship levy is one of a raft of initiatives in education, skills and training with ramifications for the screen industries. The marginalisation of creative subjects in schools, thanks to the EBacc and focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths), risks limiting the choices of young people, even though we know that the creative sector is growing and its jobs are less likely than many to be replaced by robots. New analysis by the innovation foundation Nesta with the Creative Industries Federation shows that the number of creative jobs in the UK is set to grow faster than STEM by 2024 – when children starting secondary school now will leave.
The creation of T-levels, a vocational counterpart to A-levels, is welcome for valuing applied skills and setting standards for them. But finding the required work placements will be a challenge when the majority of creative businesses have fewer than 10 staff.
The box office success of the latest superhero adventure, Black Panther, the first from Marvel Studios to have a black director and predominantly black cast, proves, if proof were needed, that there is no commercial downside to the moral justice of greater inclusion. But the ambition behind apprenticeships and T-levels will not be fulfilled unless the practicalities reflect how businesses and organisations operate.
Seetha Kumar, CEO of Creative Skillset will lead a discussion on skills at the National Conference of Creative & Cultural Skills at The Lowry, Salford, on 17 April.