Not Okay

[The York Museum Trust have been in touch, click here to jump to the update.]

The York Museum Trust is offering an apprenticeship in digital learning. This has made a lot of people quite angry. Including me.

Now, I’m not against apprenticeships, they can be very worthwhile opportunities. However, the problem with this particular apprenticeship, it’s that it’s not one. It’s a job. A full-time job, at 37 hours a week for 12 months, for £2.73/ hour.

The job application, because let’s call it what it is – they call it a job on the form after all, can be found here (heads up, that link will download a Word file).

Now, to be eligible to apply for an apprenticeship in the UK you must be 16 or over, legally entitled to work here, and you cannot be in full-time education (and well, how could you be, if you’re expected to work 37 hours a week).

Apprenticeships are meant to combine practical training with study. You get to work alongside experienced staff, gain job-specific skills, earn a wage (more on that in a minute), and study towards a related qualification (see more information on those here).

Apprenticeships in the UK have a minimum wage, which is £2.73/ hour. It sounds terrible and it is, but considering the typical minimum wage for those 16 to 18 is only £3.79/ hour this is a whole different problem. This £2.73/ hour is payable to individuals between the ages of 16 and 18 and those aged 19 or over, during their first year. And well, since this job is only for a year, you’ll never have to worry about your salary rocketing up to £5.13 – £6.50/ hour.

Which is what you should be paid for this post – the minimum wage. Because as I said before, this isn’t an apprenticeship – it’s a job. It would be pretty hard to argue against this with the job description in its current form. In this role you will have core responsibilities that lead to specific results for the Museum Trust and there are quite a few of these, including but not limited to: producing high quality online materials and resources for schools, developing and delivering interactive displays, and assisting in the creation of digital media.

In order to apply for this job you must (MUST) have experience of: using Microsoft Office, producing web content, using and editing digital media, written and oral communication skills, team working, working to deadlines, and of course you must have an interest in museums and heritage.

Now, an awful lot of those essential criteria sound to me like high value skills and subject specific knowledge. Oh and it would be desirable if you had programming skills. Seriously, how can anyone attempt to say that this isn’t a skilled job?

Nowhere on the job description does it go into any detail on the type of training you will receive, the skills you can expect to gain by completing this apprenticeship, or the level of qualification you can work towards. BECAUSE IT’S CLEARLY NOT AN APPRENTICESHIP. You are however told all about the other terms and conditions: medicals, probation, annual leave, period of notice, etc. It makes you wonder if they’ve just missed a whole damn page off the document.

So either the Museum Trust is oblivious to the legal definition of an apprenticeship or they’re aware of it, but ignoring it. Because it’s obvious to almost everyone who has looked at this advert, that this is a skilled job. A job that you must apply for, with a CV and covering letter answering two questions, which would demonstrate a certain level of pre-existing knowledge of digital resources in a heritage environment. A job for that only pays £101.01/ week. That’s £5252.52/ year.

A year, after which, there is no indication of whether there may be a permanent job within the Museum Trust if you have done well within this ‘apprenticeship’. I’d say likely not, since the job description says this is a ‘temporary’ post. 12 months, just enough time to produce those high quality digital resources and be out the door.

The heritage industry has a problem. Job adverts like this one, which are clearly for a job, but pay at the rate of something that is not a job, well they are a HUGE part of this problem. However, I don’t want you to think that York Museum Trust is alone in this, because they’re not. There are countless organisations and institutions out there that are relying on volunteers and under-paid ‘apprentices’ to complete skilled work.

And people will continue to apply for them – school leavers, unemployed graduates, redundant museum professionals – because they’re desperate to be a part of the heritage industry. They think, if they just get more experience then they’ll be able to get a job. Except they won’t, because there aren’t any jobs, only apprenticeships and volunteer positions.*

Look, I know the funding has been slashed and museums are still expected to deliver to the public. But, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, “If you can justify the work needing to be done, then you can justify having to pay the people doing it – find some damn money or the work doesn’t get done.”

This apprenticeship advert needs to be pulled – and if it goes back up, then it better be as a paid job.

[Update 1: I made the York Museum Trust aware of this post via Twitter. You can see their response below.]

[Update 2: The job advert has been reposted with significant changes. This ammended advert is much more deliberate about the fact that this post is actually an apprenticeship and provides a lot more details to the applicant on the government scheme. This situation however has sparked a lot of discussion within the heritage community. At this point you can probably expect a follow-up post on the idea that offering £2.73/ hour for any position, even one that includes training and results in a qualification, for working 37 hours/ week for 12 months is the ideal solution to our industry’s problems.]

<snark> I am so glad I spent part of my morning on this, when a correctly written job advert could have made everything clear from the beginning. </snark>

*As I said at the beginning, I am not against apprenticeships or volunteering outright. This is said in the context of individuals being used by an industry to complete skilled work for little or nothing. Check out the subject #freearchaeology, if you’re interested in this issue.

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6 responses to “Not Okay

  1. Great discussion on this issue, and I’m glad they updated the posting. Sadly, I think apprenticeships/internships are becoming the adjunct of the non-academic job market. The more we accept these positions as a discipline, the more we are telling industry that it is alright to have them, that it is ok to pay the lowest price for the hard earned skills we have developed. This example is just part of a major problem we are facing in the Western world as skill level increases but jobs remain scarce. Will gladly share your post.

  2. In the US, they would probably call this an “internship” and it might not be paid at all. Sadly many people see internships/apprenticeships as a necessary rite of passage toward getting a “real” job – and they’re right, in the sense that employers are more likely to hire someone who has spent their first year out of college at a prestigious (but unpaid) internship than someone who worked in the service industry because he/she couldn’t afford not to get paid. The effect of these internships is to reinscribe social inequalities, because only those people with families who can support them while they work for nothing can secure well-paying jobs later on. But what can people of my generation do, when we all need jobs, and many of us have thousands of dollars in student loans?

    Frankly I think it would benefit all of us if internships/apprenticeships were to be outlawed. No one, whether students or recent college graduates, should have to work for below minimum wage. Until there is some sort of legislation in place you won’t stop people from accepting these positions, because they often have no choice; and you certainly won’t stop employers from offering these positions, because why pay someone a living wage when you can get an equally skilled person to do it for a fraction of that?

  3. Pingback: Weekend Links, 14/12/14: “Worlds which appear”·

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