Clare Slater, What Next? Young Vic and the Gate Theatre talks about a project looking at entry-level recruitment in the arts and cultural sector.
I’ve been attending What Next? meetings at the Young Vic since March 2014. The Gate is a small company and so I’ve found it invaluable to part of a national conversation in a way that I couldn’t have achieved by myself. I find the more I put into What Next? the more that I, and the Gate, get out of it and I really appreciate how anyone and everyone is invited to take an active part in the conversations.
I find it really pleasing that it was at a What Next? meeting that the Gate was likened to a small tug boat, leading the way for larger institutions to follow. When it comes to trying something new, questioning our assumptions, and responding to changing policy, What Next? has taught me that we can all, regardless of our size, have a big impact.
What Next? for equality of entry-level recruitment?
Emma Rees from the London Theatre Consortium and I offered to ‘audit’ the entry-level recruitment processes of What Next? organisations across the country. We put the call out for arts companies to send us recent application packs for entry-level jobs, and Emma then asked her cohort of apprentices (all 16-24 years old, all non-graduates) to provide feedback. We wanted to know if these young people would apply, or if there was anything they might find off-putting about the application process…
Here I’ve outlined some actions that anyone who is recruiting can take, to ensure that the arts are an open, accessible industry, creating a diverse workforce today and for the future.
Observation 1: A significant number of entry-level jobs still ask for degree level education. Is that always necessary? It creates an immediate economic glass ceiling, and rules out people with apprenticeships or on-the-job experience.
What you can do: Don’t put in an academic filter if you don’t need it: 85% of our apprentices said they felt they could do the job role based on their current level of experience but would be barred from applying because they hadn’t been to university.
Observation 2: Many of the application packs were long and “came across as repetitive, complicated, intimidating and they undermined confidence.”
What you can do: Take out any off-putting jargon. Explain terms like ‘pro rata’ and ‘per annum’. And, as one apprentice usefully put it: “Communicate with me in terms you would like to be communicated with – I wouldn’t send a 10 page CV.”
Observation 3: 47% of apprentices said they had never heard of the company and that the application pack made assumptions about the knowledge of the potential applicant.
What you can do: Don’t expect potential employees at entry-level to be entirely familiar with your company – they may not have had the opportunity to experience your work yet, but could still be an amazing addition to your team. In inclusive terms, explain what your company does, why, and how this role is a part of it.
Observation 4: As one apprentice commented on an application pack: “It comes across like you want a finished article not a work in progress.”
What you can do: Next time you’re advertising an entry-level role, recruit for potential, not for a ready-made expert. If you can change that mind-set, and alter your recruitment questions and processes to accommodate this, then you’ll uncover a wealth of new workforce talent.
Of course this is all common sense, when you think about it, but when time and resources are tight it is sometimes hard to change our practices. Nonetheless, if we want to change the workforce in the arts then we need to change how we recruit it.