BECTU backs new deal for tech trainees

Media and entertainment union BECTU (now part of Prospect) has played a key role in the development of the brand new Creative Venue Technician apprenticeship standard for the theatre and arts centre technicians of the future.

Since its launch in June 2015, the Trailblazer consortium has been steered by John Young, the then Head of Technical Services at the Ambassador Theatre Group (ATG) who now runs his own project management and training company.

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But the consortium reached far beyond the international big guns such as John’s former employer, which owns and operates almost 50 venues in the UK, USA and Australia, and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Group.

The Trailblazer extended its reach to leading arts organisations such as the National Theatre and the Royal Opera House, and also involved regional venues including Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre, the Albany arts centre in south London and the big three commercial equipment hire and purchase companies.

Representing BECTU on the consortium were Training Officer Kate Elliott and Sebastian Barnes, a member of the union’s training committee with 40-plus years experience in the business as a technician, trainer and assessor. Sebastian also chairs the training committee of the Association of British Theatre Technicians (ABTT).

BECTU was keen to help draw up the new standard to ensure that it was more fit for purpose than the frameworks it was designed to replace.

Sebastian said:

Having spent eight years as a freelance assessor for six different pathways in the creative sector, I had direct experience of these one-year models with continuous assessment throughout that didn’t really fit a lot of the industry.”

The old assessment process and the funding arrangements drove a need for progression in the first few months when someone completely new to the arts industry was still learning what everything was called, which created an unnatural level of stress for both the assessors and the learners themselves.”

In addition, while most venues need multiskilled technicians to be able to work confidently in lighting, staging and sound, the previous framework made it difficult for apprentices to demonstrate their all-round skills.

Sebastian explains:

At the beginning, in the first month, the employer and the training provider would need to choose either stage or electrics or sound for the candidate to produce their evidence in.”

This was a little frustrating because a lot of the job roles are multi-skilled, so candidates I was dealing with were saying, ‘I’m on the lighting pathway but I’m doing all this work in sound – is none of it valid as evidence?’ and I would have to say ‘no’.” 

The new two-year Level 3 apprenticeship has come up with a much better solution, Sebastian believes. Continuous assessment has been replaced by a two-part end-stage assessment, where apprentices can use the first observation part to showcase their skills in a particular discipline and then cover their other areas of expertise in the second part, which is a structured discussion with their assessor.

Sebastian explained:

The new standard allows each organisation and each apprentice to focus more on one area such as lighting or sound while retaining learning and evidence across the full breadth of skills that our industry now requires of a multiskilled technician.”

The new standard is now graded with three levels of success – pass, merit and distinction. With only a small minority of theatre organisations large enough to be paying the full Apprenticeship Levy, Kate Elliott made sure that smaller companies were able to feed their perspectives into the development of the new standard.

Sebastian said:

By ensuring we represented the breadth of the industry, we have helped develop a durable standard that should work not only for larger organisations but throughout the sector.”

This story first appeared in The Learning Rep Summer 2018 edition. Download a copy here.