Viewpoint: Blue Raincoat's Robin Millar on the importance of music biz apprenticeships

Viewpoint: Blue Raincoat's Robin Millar on the importance of music biz apprenticeships

Ten years ago, under the stewardship of EMI CEO Eric Nicoli, myself and 11 fellow music execs formed a council to identify skills needed for the music industry. We canvassed far and wide and found, to our surprise, that the majority of companies said, ‘We don’t have a skills gap. We’re fine’.

What followed was a catastrophic downturn in revenues, the shedding of oversized offices with overpaid staff and the start of a cold rethink. Ten years on, after pioneering work by Fergal Sharkey, Peter Leathem, Alison Wenham, Paul Latham and others, the Music Managers Forum, UK Music, Creative & Cultural Skills and

The BRIT School have all started good apprenticeship initiatives. Nevertheless, almost all of these are low level, and pretty much solely focused on business administration or technology. They keep entry-level labour costs down but, on their own, they can’t provide the total solution to our skills needs.

Identification of the right sort of training standards must come from asking employers themselves, not just from schools and colleges or from Government or trade associations.

The conversations I’ve had with businesses in our industry more recently have tended to circulate around issues related to constantly having to appoint overqualified people, or people with lots of degrees or certificates who aren’t necessarily best qualified to perform certain roles.

Instead, I sense there is a real appetite for training and building up a cohort of people who are properly competent and specialise in some of the support roles, as well as to extend competence in some higher order roles.

I know from my own experience that the apprenticeship system is particularly well-suited to finding a solution to this issue.

The Sainsbury report, a look at how employers should lead the training revolution, delivered its findings to government three years ago. Since April 2017, all large employers have had to pay a levy to the taxman.

They can use all of this levy towards training new apprentices. Smaller, non-levy payers can still claim 90% of the training costs back. It’s a deliberate carrot. The Institute For Apprenticeships (IFA) was set up specifically to help employers lead the way and negotiate this new world. I joined as one of eight founding directors.

The key words are diversity, quality and flexibility at all levels. Each sector starts their own Trailblazer groups – employers who meet up, compare notes as to what new skills need developing and what they will cost and get the various standards they need approved by the IFA.

Apprenticeships can and should operate at all levels, from school leavers to degree level training. Someone who has been working for you for 10 years can move on up with a level 4, 5 or 6 apprenticeship and add huge value to your business.

Since the IFA started pulling the new standards employers really need through the new system a year ago, 252 apprenticeship standards have been approved for delivery; 276 are currently being developed and, of this total, 42 are following the ‘creative’ route, with 13 approved for delivery and 29 in development.

Those approved for delivery include relatively niche standards like organ builder and bespoke saddler but also much larger roles like broadcast production assistant and creative venue technician. We don’t worry ourselves too much about whether a standard is going to have a high volume – and neither should you.

Instead, we’re just concerned with creating high quality standards to fill genuine occupational gaps. There are standards in areas as diverse as solicitor, police constable, teacher, registered nurse and so on. Many of these contain degrees.

There are definitely gaps in the music industry, and plenty of opportunities for interested parties to come forward and work with the IFA on these. It doesn’t matter whether you are in tech, artist management, selling music, publishing, creative writing, running a label, club or online resource – get together with other businesses who do what you do.

Talk about what skills would really make a difference, then contact the IFA and tell them what skills you want to get the training costs paid for. The IFA will demystify the process and support you through it – and if not you can come after me!

I was an apprentice in a recording studio 40 years ago and that system is still the way we bring through brilliant engineers, producers and creators. We are a great industry.

I joined the IFA because I know there are great people out there from all parts of our society who may not want to or be able to go to university, but who can shape your business into something amazing.

Story By: Robin Millar, Blue Raincoat, Chrysalis/IFA

Viewpoint: Blue Raincoat’s Robin Millar on the importance of music biz apprenticeships

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