Now, more than ever, it is incredibly tough for young people to break into the creative industries, despite the fact that according to the FCO, as a percentage of GDP, the UK has the largest creative industries sector in the world. In a highly competitive industry, coupled with a challenging economic environment, getting hands-on experience is vital. But, for many young people, the difficulty is getting your 'foot in the door' in order to gain that experience in the first place.
I decided not to go down the academic route into university so for me, like many others, the opportunity to gain first-hand experience became smaller still. At the age of 18, I left school and went in search of a job - no easy feat with no experience and no degree. However, after practically pushing my CV through every letter box in the UK, I was offered a six month internship with a catering events management company, Blue Strawberry. I had never really thought about going into the catering industry, as I had always dreamed of working in the arts, However, the opportunity to gain experience in event management popped up and I jumped at the chance.
In the current economic climate, getting access to good quality experience relies on having strong networks through friends and family, opportunities through vocational training, and often a lot of persistence and hard graft. For young people, it may also mean thinking more laterally when considering work experience, such as looking for opportunities which enable you to gain vital skills, even if those skills are not necessarily in the industry or sector you had originally considered. The most important factor is having the opportunity to gain valuable experience which can be used to build your CV and portfolio as you progress through your career .While all of my classmates and peers were at university having a ball, I was out in the big bad world trying my hardest to keep my head above water. And I can tell you that on quite a few occasions I almost completely sank - but I was determined not to give up.
I was given the opportunity of a lifetime when I was offered an apprenticeship for a year with The Mayor of London as one of his Apprentice Outdoor Producers. The role was designed to support SHOWTIME, London's biggest ever outdoor arts festival, bringing arts and culture to every one of London's boroughs during the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. For this, I was given a one-year placement within the English National Ballet as the host organisation, under the mentorship of senior producer Dave Reeves, an incredibly accomplished Outdoor Festival Producer whom I was able to shadow and learn from throughout the year. This once in a lifetime opportunity not only enabled me to gain firsthand experience in event production specifically within the arts sector, but it also opened me up to a network of peers who were a vital learning resource to bounce ideas off. Perhaps most importantly, it also exposed me to a plethora of experienced professionals across the programme, an invaluable network of people that I can keep in touch with as I continue in my career.
It has been an incredible experience for me but the road to get here was no easy one. For young, bright and motivated individuals, should it really be this hard? I believe that the sector is losing lots of potential stars through the strong barriers to gaining structured, meaningful work experience. While I wholeheartedly believe that young people must be self-starters and driven to search out opportunities like I did, I also believe that the creative industries have a role to play here too. The motto for the Games this summer was inspire a generation and there is no doubt that Londoners and visitors alike could not have helped but be inspired by the Olympic fever that took over the city. But, as we fast approach the end of the Games, and for me, the end of my incredible journey at the English National Ballet, it does make me think that more could - and should - be done to inspire this generation, long after the last medal is presented.
We are fortunate to live in one of the most culturally rich cities in the world and I believe that arts and culture organisations, however large or small, should look to embrace emerging talent through structured apprenticeships and internships. With the combined passion of young people and a real help from the industry, young budding arts professionals will not only be offered a foot in the door, they will be able run through it, gain valuable experience, grow an already flourishing sector and inspire not only this generation, but many more generations to come...