Apprenticeships are a journey worth taking

 12 March 2018

Rainer Pagel, Head of Training at Production Services Ireland shared his thoughts about the Creative Employment Programme in Northern Ireland and urges decision makers to make sure that progress is allowed to continue.

PSI were the 2016 Northern Ireland Creative Industries Skills Award winners
PSI were the 2016 Northern Ireland Creative Industries Skills Award winners

In the run-up to our 2018 National Conference, we are running a series of think-pieces by sector leaders about key issues affecting our creative industries and the future of the workforce. 

After years of planning, discussion and negotiation, Northern Ireland has been able to offer young people a real chance of starting careers in the creative and cultural sectors.

Driven by the Northern Ireland Creative & Cultural Skills team and supported by the Arts Council for Northern Ireland, the NI Creative Employment Programme (CEP) kick-started the scheme.

It gave a sizeable cohort of young people the long-awaited opportunity to achieve a Level 3 qualification in technical theatre and related disciplines, and allowed even very small organisations and businesses in the sector to employ apprentices.

Co-workers and colleagues had to get used to the fact that apprentices were learners, who needed guidance, skills sharing and lenience

A new way of working 

As with any new program there was a lot of learning to be had along the proverbial steep learning curve for employers, the Creative & Cultural Skills team and the colleges. In their recruitment interviews employers had to learn to assess candidates’ potential and aptitude rather than their experience and time served.

Co-workers and colleagues had to get used to the fact that apprentices were learners, who needed guidance, skills sharing and lenience. The college had to learn to cope with the flexibility on which the scheme was based, and the Creative & Cultural Skills team had the task of keeping it all together.

Two and a half years on, we, as employers, are convinced of the value of these apprenticeships. The first cohort of technicians who are trained in skills that are relevant to the work we do is ready to start their careers in earnest. 

We have set a milestone on the way to proper skills development and professionalisation of the creative sector in Northern Ireland.

We have set a milestone on the way to proper skills development and professionalisation of the creative sector in Northern Ireland.

Looking to the future 

We haven’t reached our destination yet, though. To continue the road metaphor, there will surely be further detours, potholes and speed restrictions on the way.

When driving from Dublin to Derry/Londonderry, the Westlink through Belfast joining the M1 and M2 presents the motorist with quite a surprise: a set of traffic lights on the motorway! That is where we stand at present: waiting for the green light to continue our journey. We do, however, need a bit more than just green light - fuel is needed as well.

Recent cuts to the arts in NI have been brutal; vital financial support for a sector characterised by small and very small organisations is dwindling and further cuts have been announced for the years to come.

Without financial support through grant aid and schemes like the CEP, apprenticeships remain a long-term pipe dream for many small theatre, entertainment and music groups.

Like the traffic lights on the motorway, one can only hope that the relevant planners and decision makers find the means to remove the obstacles and allow us to “motor on”, and to continue to professionalise the creative sector in Northern Ireland.

 

Rainer Pagel, Head of Training, Production Services Ireland


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