What are you getting wrong with entry-level recruitment?

 20 July 2017

A job advert from a London Fringe Theatre Company looking for an office administrator for £15,000p.a. sparked outrage on Twitter this week. The advert was framed as a rant against ‘millennials’ who are no longer willing to be ‘realistic’ about jobs, hours and pay in the arts.

At Creative & Cultural Skills we spend most of our time trying to inject some professionalism into entry-level recruitment – in fact we are mid-way through a series of free events about apprenticeships. It is becoming more and more obvious that so many employers haven’t clocked that the world has changed since they got their first – probably unpaid – job in the arts.

So what’s changed and what does it mean?

1. National Minimum Wage

First of all the law has changed. Since 1999 there has been National Minimum Wage legislation requiring employers to pay this rate which is updated every October. NMW is currently £7.20 per hour for workers over 25 years (different rates apply for younger workers and apprentices).

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 NMW, that the company would collapse if they did, that the organization is too small, or that unpaid internships are a tradition in the sector. None of these arguments are valid reasons to break the law!

2. Living costs have risen

Times are harder than ever before and arts organisations can no longer afford to have staff who are not productive.

There are very few young people who can afford to work for no pay, not because they are being 'unrealistic', but with student debts, housing and transport costs (particularly in London where a monthly rent of £650 is deemed ‘reasonable’) only those young people who live with and are subsidized by their parents could entertain the idea of an unpaid job.

Campaigners pressing for a voluntary National Living Wage and the London Living Wage (currently £9.75 per hour) do so in acknowledgement that it is hardly possible to live on NMW.

3. It’s not productive

Our research at Creative & Cultural Skills demonstrates that ‘hiring’ people on low wages, or unpaid, isn’t productive.

It’s not unusual for these roles to be vaguely framed, with no job description and a ‘sink or swim’ approach to hiring. If you’re the right person for the job you’ll know what to do. Sometimes this comes good and the sector is full of people who ‘learned their craft on the job’, but it doesn’t make for a properly functioning sector.

Staff who are hired properly and trained on-the-job (because young people do not come from education ‘fully formed’ and ready for specific job roles) are much more highly regarded one year on than unpaid helpers. Times are harder than ever before and arts organisations can no longer afford to have staff who are not productive.

4. It’s unfair

Very few young people could entertain the idea of an unpaid job.

Our sector is predominantly white and middle-class. After decades of special diversity projects and schemes, it’s still the case that if you work in the arts you are likely to come from a privileged background and not to come from a BAME community. Similarly, people with disabilities and accessibility issues are greatly underrepresented in a creative sector that needs to reflect the makeup of our society and reach out to all.

This is largely because of unfair recruiting practices and the prevalence of unpaid and low paid jobs. Volunteering is legal and many arts and heritage organisations have impressive programmes, but volunteers should not be ‘hired’ for jobs requiring specific hours and commitments which are really regular jobs.

5. Apprenticeships

Apprenticeships are a new and exciting way to bring on new non-graduate talent alongside genuine graduate jobs and repay employers with a bigger pool of candidates who will be eager to learn on-the-job and in college.

Bigger creative organisations have been paying the Apprenticeship Levy since May this year and this is yet another reason why money will be tight. Unless companies wise up to hiring apprentices they’ll be losing income year on year without any return.

It is really important, if we as a sector are to be seen as serious, particularly with the skills challenges of Brexit, that we ensure that all our recruitment is legal, fair, and results in a productive workforce.

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