Andrew Harrison, director of the Event Supplier and Services Association, on making an apprenticeship work for everyone.
For some time now, ESSA and its members have been trying to draw the industry’s attention to a growing issue with skills and young people entering the event industry.
Our board and members regularly visit schools and colleges and, as an association, we support Lincoln University’s Design for Exhibitions and Museums course, with student memberships, conference passes, online resources and much more.
18 months ago, we began to plan an apprenticeship course here at ESSA. Initially, we needed to establish what an apprentice could do for us and whether it was the right choice. Then, on to building a relationship with our local educational institution to understand where their students were coming from and what they might be looking for.
Finally, we needed to design an apprenticeship course that would interest and excite young people, rather than promising them “various duties”, which is code for making tea and photocopying. When you interview an apprentice there’s not much to discuss when it comes to previous experience or relevant skill set. However we learnt a lot more about the candidates’ personality and outlook, and this enabled us to award the apprenticeship to the candidate we thought would be the best personality fit – confident that they were motivated and ready to learn.
Perhaps the biggest surprise for me, during this process, was how much we learnt about ourselves as an organisation. Only by looking carefully and methodically at how we work, could we devise a stimulating and genuinely useful apprenticeship course that would dovetail with our activities.
Schools and colleges have very limited resources, so when you offer an apprenticeship you take on the responsibility for furthering your apprentice’s education. Apprentices must not be exploited as menial factotums or cheap labour. It will destroy an apprentice’s enthusiasm and ambition and reflect poorly upon you as an employer. It also fails to address the issue we’re dealing with here.
Apprentices need to be paid properly and given real things to do that build their confidence, skills, and knowledge. Our new apprentice, Nicola, has really hit the ground running. Perhaps the most difficult transition for her, by her own admission, is to a business working day. As part of this column, I asked her to write something, in her own words, about why she chose this path, and to describe her initial experiences.
I think you’ll agree that apprentices with her insight and maturity are exactly what this industry needs.
“I felt like university wasn’t for me as I didn’t want to get into debt for a degree that I might not use, so I felt like an apprenticeship was my best option.
When I was applying for apprenticeships, I was looking for one that could make use of my Level 3 Journalism studies. However the ESSA application really interested me with its variety of roles and opportunities, and I was really pleased to be awarded the place.
I have to admit there have been some tricky changes. First of all, I have struggled with the routine of working 8:45 to 17:15 each day, as I have never had to do this before. It’s also been a big change for me working in such a small team, as my only job before this was working in a high street retail store with a large workforce. To be a successful apprentice, I believe that you need to:
• Be keen to learn new skills
• Have a mature and respectful mind-set
• Show an ability to work on your own
• Accept that there is often hard work to be done, but that it leads to real achievement
It’s important for apprenticeship providers to understand that most of us have never worked in an office and straightforward tasks like making calls or writing business emails may be daunting. Something as simple as copying apprentices into emails can really help!”