Tim Whittaker, Production Apprentice with Forfey

 21 November 2018

Tim Whittaker is a Northern Ireland Creative Employment Programme Production Apprentice. He joined the team at Forfey and loved getting to work in a fast-paced environment.

"The best part of my job is at the end of an event when you see everything has come together"

This is my very first “real” job – though when I was younger I was a Belfast Telegraph delivery boy, which was brilliant for teaching you how to be organised and have great timekeeping skills! My job as a Production Apprentice at Forfey is through the Northern Ireland Creative Employment Programme (NI CEP) and it’s my first step on the career ladder.

Forfey provides sound and lighting support for a range of events including festivals, gigs and corporate events. As a production apprentice I do everything from organising the equipment, getting everything prepped and checked, to working on the actual events.

What was your favourite subject at school?

I studied geography, ICT and physics at A Level – I chose all of those subjects because I always want to know how and why things work.

Did you go on to further/higher education, if so what did you study and where?

I did the HNC in Creative Media Production at my local Further Education college. I absolutely loved it and it really helped me to understand how AV equipment and cameras work – two things that I’m using in my current role!

How did you get into your area of work?

I actually started getting experience at school and through church when I was about 14. I started doing the lighting and sound for all the school concerts, assemblies and when speakers would come to give a talk.

I started doing the lighting and sound for all the school concerts, assemblies and when speakers would come to give a talk.

I loved it and got such a buzz when things went well. I thought it would be an interesting thing to do for a job but the careers counsellors at school didn’t really know much about it, so I had to really search independently to figure out a way to do this. There’s no real career advice but I managed to find a path into it.

Is this what you always wanted to do?

I knew I always wanted to do something hands on. I was able to study but I didn’t really enjoy it – I wanted to do something that used skills rather than studying or sitting at a desk. This is a very creative job and it takes a creative mind to figure out solutions to make concerts and events look and sound great.

Were there any particular essential qualifications or experience needed?

I only needed GCSE Maths and English for this apprenticeship. The NI CEP programme, which is supported by the Arts Council of NI, also gives me the chance to achieve a Level 3 Technical Theatre Apprenticeship qualification. The qualification is delivered by Creative & Cultural Skills and Belfast Met College.

Most of the training is on the job and I’m able to watch the crew as they work

I get to do all my training in the workplace, which definitely works best for this industry. Most of the training is on the job and I’m able to watch the crew as they work – and I love trying to figure out all the different ways to solve a problem.

Are there alternative routes into the job?

I guess by doing an apprenticeship this is an alternative way into the job. Also, within this industry there are many freelancers so there are job opportunities there too.

What are the main personal skills your job requires?

It can be demanding physically so it’s good if you are fit and able to lift heavy objects. Because we work on tight time deadlines, it can be pressurised. Everything needs to be done quickly and efficiently but I thrive on that.

What does a typical day entail?

If I’m in the warehouse I will be busy organising the equipment that is either coming in after a job or being prepped to go out again. Summer is our busiest festival season and we are out and about from May to October.

Working on an event is amazing because I could be doing a huge number of tasks

Working on an event is amazing because I could be doing a huge number of tasks: building a sound system, running cable or lights or helping to build the stage. We stay and oversee the performances and make sure everything works as it should.

What are the best and most challenging aspects of the job?

The best part of my job is at the end of an event when you see everything has come together – it’s a huge sense of achievement and pride. The most challenging thing is probably the physical side so you need to make sure to stay in shape.

Why is what you do important?

If the sound or lights are not right it really affects a show. If you’ve been at a really great gig, then you know that the production side has been perfect. What we do doesn’t necessarily stand out to the audience – our job is to make the performers sound and look good.

What advice would you give anyone looking to follow a similar career path?

Come into it with an open mind and be willing to do whatever is needed to make a job work! Forfey prides itself on working closely with event organisers and to help in any way we can.

Come into it with an open mind and be willing to do whatever is needed to make a job work!

To that end, I’ve done jobs like hanging bunting in a tent, rolling tractor tyres around and laying Astroturf. If you can put your hand to any job, you will be much more desirable.

If you weren’t doing this what would you like to do?

I’m passionate about coffee so working in a speciality coffee shop would be fun! I like working in a fast-paced environment with lots of deadlines and buzz. It’s satisfying when you can finish off all your work at the end of the day.

What is the one piece of advice you would give to yourself on your first day?

Get enough sleep!

Describe your ideal day off.

I hate sitting around so even if we’ve been flat out at work, I’d still rather spend a day off doing something active like going out for a walk and seeing friends.

And finally, what’s the key to any successful job search?

I think the key is being flexible and looking for alternative routes into jobs that you want to do. There are lots of jobs in the creative sector but they aren’t always that well known and sometimes there’s no specific course that will help you land that job.

You’ll have to take the time to find out how you can get into that job, talking to people and trying to get experience.


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