The student team at ACES Aspire have been hearing a lot about the new apprenticeship schemes and really wanted to gain insight into the real experiences of an apprentice, so we were delighted to speak to an apprentice from one of the UK’s most iconic organisations- Tate Britain! Time to find out what it is really like to be an apprentice…
About Me (Kamil!)
My name is Kamil Williams, I’m 19 years old and currently in an apprenticeship at Tate Britain, working in the library and archive department. I love listening to music, playing guitar and spending time with the people I love.
About the Apprenticeship
Well as I mentioned, it’s at the Tate Britain art gallery and it’s based in the collection and care division which includes the Library and Archive department where I’ve spent most of my time, but I’ve also had the chance to spend time with the Art handling department, learning how to safely transport and handle the artworks and even the photography department. I’m always amazed at how many people just hear “Tate” and think I’m Picasso’s long lost son who’s gonna take the art world by storm. Far from it! The majority of what I do is working with a team called ‘reader services’ who are basically the physical arm of the library. We deal with the handling and preparation of library and archive material for the public and help to set up displays etc. Much of the collection is fragile so it does take some training to be able to handle things so that they can survive for as long as possible.
How did I get into the Apprenticeship?
I discovered the position quite out of the blue, to be honest. Some people just know that library work is their one true vocation and dedicate themselves to it. I wouldn’t say I am one of those people. I had just left college and wasn’t sure what I wanted to do and knew I liked to read and write, and love going to libraries and just being in that environment. They are generally quite comfortable places to be, and I’ve always found that you get to meet a lot of interesting people, at least in my local libraries. So I googled library work and the Tate apprenticeship was one of the first things that came up. I could tell straightaway that it would be a great position to get so I went for it and here I am. I wasn’t too stressed about it all until I later found out that there were about 120 applicants that applied! That kinda threw me, and when I heard that, I was quite proud of myself for being successful out of a pool of so many.
Best Aspect of the Apprenticeship?
This is a very easy question to answer. As most people at Tate will tell you, it’s all about the people. Without a doubt, I’ve met some incredible people here, some of them will be lifelong friends, some of them are more like family but almost all of them have made my time at Tate an absolute pleasure. I’ve heard some real horror stories of people at work from family and friends so I was expecting the worst (but hoping for the best) when I came in and I really couldn’t have asked for more. I never could have guessed how much of a difference it makes to work with people who are genuinely interested in what you’re doing and genuinely have your best interests at heart and I’ve received so much support from the people around me at Tate it’s unbelievable. Every job has its ups and downs and when the downs get quite low down it’s the relationships you have built with people that help you through. And as a result some of the best times I’ve had were when the job was at its hardest.
Life At Tate:
I think apprenticeships are fantastic for people who just need a place to start. There’s a very real and very funny running joke about the job market today that it’s like the chicken and the egg: you can’t get a job because they want experienced candidates and you can’t get experience because no one will give you a job! Apprenticeships can be a great way to break that loop because they are for people with less experience and with my apprenticeship for example, part of the criteria for applying was that you couldn’t be a graduate and you had to be in a certain age bracket (possibly 18-24?) and while I still had some experience from volunteering in a charity shop, which definitely helped me out in the interview, it at least gives you more of a chance as a young person who’s new to the world of work.
Secondly getting paid while you learn/work is another advantage, especially considering how much debt university will leave you with. The potential to actually start building some savings, while getting real work experience that could even put you in a better position than the average graduate is not to be sniffed at. And the final advantage I’ll say is about that experience. This time not experience that you can put on your CV which is essentially experience that makes you look good, employment wise, but genuine working experience for yourself. The reality is that school doesn’t prepare you for work at all. And uni even less so, I know people that have had six hours a week of lectures! The sheer grind of working a full 36 hour week is something you need to just feel to be able to deal with it. The apprenticeship was a chance for me to just get my head out of the clouds and now I can say “Hey, I can handle a full day,s work, day in/ day out until whatever comes next”. That lesson has been invaluable to me.
With regards to disadvantages, I suppose it depends on the apprenticeship but in my case I’d say that there is not a clear position that you can move into at the end. I suppose it is understandable, and “guaranteed jobs” are pretty much unicorns in 2017. But it is a shame for people who spend a year or more training to do something that they then get no chance to actually do. Call me old fashioned but I think apprenticeships should always be thought of as a long-term commitment that works for both the employer and the apprentice.
Advice to Aspiring Apprentices
Well I’m certainly no guru, but as someone who has had a really good experience with my apprenticeship I would advise anyone thinking about one to just keep an open mind. There are so many jobs out there that you will have never heard of, or even considered. As many people will tell you school careers advice (as well intentioned as it is) is an absolute joke, and the best way to know what will suit you is to go and try different things. So I’d say keep your fishing net wide open as you search and really dig into whatever resources you have, whether it be family connections, the internet, the phone-book, job centre whatever. You never know what could happen.