I recently sat in a "creative industries" conference with government ministers and organisers alike talking a lot about apprenticeships and internships.
Put an end to unpaid internships! It’s your duty to take on apprentices! Let business and individuals take on the task of educating the next generation!
Now, if you're the BBC or ITV, or any of the big players, yes, of course, do your duty and buy into apprenticeships and pay your interns. But for a small businesses like mine this is all but impossible.
I have a lot to offer an intern, but can't afford to pay one. Therefore I don't have one. I have a lot to offer an apprentice, but being saddled with full employer responsibilities, and then paying for them to be in a classroom just doesn't make sense - and the paltry £2k a year of government help just really isn’t enough to make it worth while. Therefore I don't have one.
So here I am, a small business owner in the creative industries, with lots to offer someone prepared to work for me voluntarily, being made to feel like an evil overlord with a cunning plan of exploitation and abuse who is taking the proverbial p*ss.
I started out in the pro audio industry by working for free. I had formal training behind me, but that really just meant I was Competent. To be successful as a freelancer you also need Confidence and Connections and these eluded me.
It was only when I started offering to work for free that both the latter came my way and led to a successful career. It amazes me that people will spend thousands on a formal education that often lacks in real world experience, but won't give up a little bit of time to get the experience that will make them employable. It seems a no-brainer to me.
In the live events industry, you really need real world experience to give you confidence and connections. Sitting at home, watching Cash In The Attic whilst sending out dozens of CVs to people who never requested them, is no way to gain confidence. Getting out to a local venue and offering your help is. Bargain Hunt, as entertaining as it is, is another unlikely candidate for making connections - getting out to a local PA company and offering your help is. Bemoaning your fate to your mates in the pub is no way to improve your competence - getting out to your local theatre and offering your help is.
The people you meet whilst volunteering are the beginnings of your network - and all freelancers need a network or they soon change careers.
I do not think this amounts to exploitation, I just think people need to take responsibility for their own self-improvement. If you want someone to pay you for a days work, best be sure you are actually capable of doing that work – so get out there and prove your worth. And at the same time maintain your competence, build your confidence and make those all-important connections. You won't be working for free for long.
And here's hoping the government come up with a way to support small businesses soon, so that we can afford to pay an apprentice.