Apprenticeships at Thinktank

Project aims:

We were keen to create entry-level jobs in a sector that has traditionally been more geared up for highly-educated graduates. We wanted to start growing a workforce that was reflective of the local community in Birmingham and the West Midlands, as well as encouraging non-academic young people into a career in science communication.

Summary of activity:

First we created a job role that would fit the needs of the business and also fit within the apprenticeship framework. We decided to offer a dual role which was spread between 2 different teams – the first one more concerned with science communication and engaging visitors with the exhibits; the second more commercial focussed with an emphasis on good customer care. We worked closely with Creative Alliance, a local training provider and also secured grant funding from the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA). We then went through a recruitment process which involved group and individual interviews to give candidates a flavour of the role here at Thinktank. Members from the relevant teams were involved in the process and had input on the final decision.
Once the apprentices were in place, the teams were tasked with their internal training and development. Working closely with the external training provider meant that the necessary units were completed for their Level 2 & 3 certificates.
A range of internal staff at Thinktank were involved in the design of the apprenticeship; recruitment; induction; training and day-to-day line management of the apprentices. We have recruited 2 young people through the programme so far, who are able to ‘earn while they learn’.

Evaluation approach:

Regular meetings and appraisals are held with the apprentices to check they’re on track with their studies and happy in their roles. The marking of their portfolios is carried out by an external verifier, and so far our first apprentice has achieved her Level 2 Apprenticeship and hopes to soon get confirmation of her Advanced Apprenticeship.

What went well:

Giving the apprentices a dual role. Not only does it give the young people chance to learn a wider range of skills, but also gives them exposure to a larger number of existing staff in a variety of roles. Thinktank benefited, since the 2 teams we chose had traditionally been quite separate, yet sharing team members brought them closer together.

Involving team members. With lots of staff keen to see the apprentices develop, learn and gain their qualification, there was a lot of positive support from all team members.

Creating entry level jobs. With the science centre world often attractive to science graduates, it was great to be able to train up local young people to be the public faces of Thinktank, and for them to help engage the teenage audience that is often so hard to do in museums.

What was learned:

We learnt that there are a lot of motivated young people out there looking for an interesting opportunity and the chance to earn money! We had over 100 applicants in the second year, which was phenomenal. We hope to continue supporting our current and ex-apprentices, but with a new qualification it is hard to know where to sign-post them next. It would be great to be able to work towards putting together a Level 4 qualification, so there is a clear progression route. However, the range of skills the young people learn in Level 2 & 3 alone can help to springboard them onto the next challenge, so it’s working closely with them to assist in opening up other opportunities.

The Apprenticeships have so far proved really popular and worthwhile. The staff have benefited by being able to mentor and train a young person; the visitors have benefited by seeing motivated young people working hard and experiencing great customer service; the organisation has benefited by being able to ‘grow our own’ staff from real entry-level jobs and the apprentices have benefited by being able to earn while they learn. We hope to continue the scheme annually.

Top tips and advice for others

Create a meaningful job description. You have to consider the needs of the business as well as creating an interesting job role.

Buy-in of staff. Don’t let one person create the scheme and then tell others how it will hopefully work. Better to set up a small project team so as to understand the potential impact from all perspectives from the outset.

Use local experts and research thoroughly. Spend time speaking with different colleges and employers who are doing something similar already. All apprenticeships vary slightly, as to colleges and training providers. The trick is to find one that will work best for you and your apprentice.

Innovative selection methods. By holding a combination of group exercises, face-to-face interviews and on-the-job trials, it hopefully gave the prospective candidates a real feel for the role and the organisation, and for us to see them thrown in to the working environment.

Meet an apprentice. Teenagers are often negatively portrayed in the media, so it is a good idea to meet some apprentices in other organisations first. Realise that managing them will be a bit different to managing a more skilled and experienced member of staff, so ensure there’s support for the line-managers too.

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