Blazing a trail for the creative industries

 18 August 2014

Just when the creative industries were beginning to find their stride with apprenticeships, they are set to change. The Government’s new plans aim to improve the quality of apprenticeships with the introduction of grading, and an emphasis on a final assessment at the end of the apprenticeship.

The craft 'trailblazer' group has been developing a flexible apprenticeship framework
The craft 'trailblazer' group has been developing a flexible apprenticeship framework

In February 2014, BIS (Department for Business, Innovation & Skills) asked for groups of employers to come together to develop a new apprenticeship standard as part of a pilot project. I was not immediately hopeful that the creative industries would be at the front of the queue. 

Right from our first meeting it was clear that our trailblazer group didn’t quite fit the mould. 

Many of the creative apprenticeships on offer have only been around since 2007. Since then the sector has overcome significant challenges to begin to embrace this new alternative way of training its workforce. 

To ask employers to give their time and energy to adapt their fledgling frameworks was a tall order. But the craft sector stepped up. They have been developing a flexible apprenticeship framework which could be used by a variety of designer/makers as the basis for training an apprentice.

Just as they have reached the finishing line (the new Craft Apprenticeship framework was issued in March 2014 available to be taught in colleges from September 2014) the new reforms were announced. And so, showing an incredible amount of perseverance a group of craftspeople and employer organisations, led by Jason Holt (CEO of R Holts and Co.) and including the Crafts Council and Heritage Crafts Association put themselves forward as a ‘Trailblazer’ group, and were given a spot in the government’s pilot project.

Defining a craft apprentice

In contrast to the big engineering firms who had previously dominated the pilot, here sat an amazingly diverse collection of craft businesses

The first task for the group was to define a short apprenticeship standard, setting out what the apprentice must be able to do, know and understand by the end of their training. Right from our first meeting it was clear that our trailblazer group didn’t quite fit the mould. 

The new proposals encourage employers to develop one standard per ‘occupation’. We had chosen to interpret that occupation as ‘Craftsperson’, as the alternative approach would require hundreds of standards to be created for every craft specialism under the sun. 

In contrast to the big engineering firms who had previously dominated the pilot, here sat an amazingly diverse collection of craft businesses, including: a wood turner, a blacksmith, a potter, and a clock-maker. 

There were doubts about whether it would be possible to find a standard which would suit everyone. But here-in lies the challenge faced across many of the creative industries when it comes to apprenticeships: translating the unique and niche skills required individual creative businesses into the rigid, template framework document required to access public funding.

Identifying a common set of skills

Under some expert chairing our group began to describe their requirements, and to everyone’s relief some themes soon emerged. We were able to identify a common set of skills, knowledge and values which were essential to every craftsperson, building on the Standards, Qualifications and Apprenticeship work developed in the old system. It was also clear that the context in which a craftsperson worked could bring with it an additional set of requirements for example designing, selling and marketing, conserving, servicing and repairing or business management.

The Craft Apprenticeship is proving to be an excellent pathfinder for the creative sector. 

A draft standard went out for consultation in May and received a huge response from over 300 craftspeople, overwhelmingly supportive. With this vote of confidence the group submitted the Craft Apprenticeship standard for approval in June, still unsure whether we had done enough to satisfy the requirement for ‘a description of full competence for a specific occupation’.

In approving the Craft standard, BIS has acknowledged that though we did not quite meet the requirement regarding a ‘specific occupation’, they are keen to allow the group to test out its approach further, in order to enable multiple disciplines to access an apprenticeship. In this respect, although it has been very tricky at times, the Craft Apprenticeship is proving to be an excellent pathfinder for the creative sector. 

If we can find a model which meets the needs of such diverse industries, dominated by small and micro businesses, in which no two job roles look the same, then we will have achieved something the whole sector will benefit from.

The next challenge for craft

So the group now moves on to the next challenge – deciding how the new apprenticeship should be assessed. This means grappling with the slippery issues of independent assessment and grading. But at least we can head to our regular meetings knowing we are ‘blazing a trail’!

We now challenge the craft sector to take on an apprentice, and start to work how apprenticeships can work in practice, and benefit makers, craft businesses and start to address the sectors skills needs.

Do you work in craft? We want to know if you're interested in taking on a apprentice, and if so, what support you would need. Take part in our short survey.


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