Blog: Why I decided to become a Creative Apprentice - By Ellen Johnson

04 March 2019

Blog: Why I decided to become a Creative Apprentice

By Ellen Johnson

Recently, I was asked the question ‘Why did you decide to do an apprenticeship?’ Seeing as it’s National Apprentice Week, I’ve been thinking about this question a lot. I’ve been asked in interviews, emails, meetings as well as not-so rhetorical social media posts that happen to find themselves on my feed. My answer is… I never wanted to be an apprentice. Or more accurately, I never knew I wanted to be an apprentice. This may come as a shock. Were you expecting the run of the mill ‘to develop my skill set’ response? I thought you might have been, but stick with me.

When you’re studying for your A-Levels, which I did, and this is entirely my personal experience and viewpoint, it’s prescribed that university is the next, logical step. “You won’t get a decent job if you don’t have a degree” is a sentence that haunts the classroom and corridors of further education. It’s become so second nature, it’s almost worryingly unconscious, and when faced with this decision, how can you walk away from the security blanket of a universally respected qualification? I couldn’t, so off I went.

I lasted 7 months into my 4 year undergraduate degree. I completely detached myself from my course, isolated myself from the world and spent most days reluctant to come out of my room. It also didn’t help that my halls of residence shared a remarkable resemblance to a prison block. My mum told me to “just come home” and I knew that would be the end of my life as a degree student. I don’t regret going to uni. There I met my closest friends and experienced independence for the first time, but I was never fully convinced I was supposed to be there.

Fast track a year spent being a uni drop out and regurgitating the same: ‘I’m taking some time to review my options’ one-liner. I was working a hospitality job I hated and feeling so far away from my passions and aspirations, until I saw: “We're looking for a new Creative Apprentice to join the team! Could it be you?”

Now, my prior knowledge of apprenticeships was limited to say the least. At 18 years old (when it naturally becomes the time to decide on your entire life’s employment path) I was never introduced to the idea of an apprenticeship as a legitimate gateway into pursuing my passions. Apprenticeships to me existed for plumbers, hairdressers and to be condemned in news articles about not comparing to the substance of degrees. I’ve always loved the arts. I love creating it, consuming it and advocating the value of it in society. So when I saw that there was such a thing as a ‘creative apprentice’ working with an arts and culture organisation that promotes equal opportunities of young people to explore the arts, my mind was blown. How did I not know about this! I had spent enough time on Google typing existential statements into the search engine and waiting for life epiphanies to load in their millions. It seemed bewildering that after all this time, a course so right for me was so far away from what I was told my options could be. I sent in my meticulously drafted application essay and *spoiler* I got the job.

I can honestly say, without shuddering at the cliché that since starting my creative apprenticeship, I haven’t looked back. It has completely transformed the belief I have in my ambitions, my skills and my personal convictions.   

Firstly, it’s massively helped my mental health and my confidence. I feel happier, grounded and no longer ashamed of dropping out of uni. I didn’t abandon my path, I just changed it.

When you’re in your twenties like me, it’s hard not to be disenfranchised when everywhere you turn you see articles and reports on how young people are struggling to find decent employment. Now more than ever, we feel lost at sea in amongst a lack of mental health support and under-paid, dissatisfying jobs. We need to show that there are options out there to help young people. Apprenticeships teach you what it’s like to work in your chosen sector. They’re a rare practice where learning, support and responsibility are in equal measure. Young people are too often disheartened by the inaccessibility of their ambitions. Apprenticeships open the door into that world and show you how to make a contribution, whilst continuously fostering what makes you an individual.

It’s not the easiest time being a Northern young woman. I’m unfortunately not the only one to face issues of gender stereotype and socio-economic discrimination on a regular basis. The self-assurance I’ve gained during my apprenticeship so far is invaluable. My office is a safe space full of inspiring women who work tirelessly for young people, teachers and the local community. I’ve worked jobs that undervalued what I could bring to my role because I ‘wasn’t strong enough’. I ‘might break a nail’ and I ‘couldn’t handle the stress’. Culture Bridge North East and Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums supports young women, older women and minority women. And every woman will be celebrated this year in the Festival of Women 2019.

An apprenticeship is so much more than we’re lead to believe it is. It doesn’t matter if you’re 100% sure of your career plan, or completely unsure of where you’re supposed to be. You will sacrifice nothing and gain everything by starting the right course for you. I love my job and couldn’t be prouder to say that I’m a creative apprentice for Culture Bridge North East.