The news apprentices missing out on university

With degree course fees higher than they’ve ever been, many young people are dispensing with university and choosing the direct route into journalism. Dominic Ponsford finds out the appeal of becoming an apprentice.

With course fees for many journalism and other arts degrees set to be the maximum £9,000 a year from September – many school-leavers are thinking twice about a university education.

For those who know that they want to be a journalist at 18, is there a case for dispensing with university altogether and avoiding the huge debts involved?

Last year freelance education journalist Janet Murray recruited her first apprentice, enticing Rhian Jones (both pictured) away from the first year of a three-year media course at Lancaster University. She was offered £6.08 an hour to train on the job and jumped at the chance.

Some journalism training providers are now taking would-be journalists at 18 rather than post-graduate, as has been the case in the past.

Last year, 18-year-old Jasmin Martin obtained a job at Johnston Press’ subbing hub in Horsham straight after taking an NCTJ course in sub-editing at the Journalist Works in Brighton.

Meanwhile, Lewisham-based Creative Process is placing candidates at a variety of media companies under the national apprenticeship scheme.

For employers, they get a member of staff at a cost to them of just £5,000 a year.

The apprentices spend one day a week training, at the government’s expense, and four days a week working.

Creative Process does not offer journalism apprenticeships but it does offer new media trainees who can work on multimedia and web production in newsrooms.

Explaining how the scheme works, Creative Process’ Andrew Carmichael said: “The way we work is we recruit and train apprentices on behalf of employers. It is mainly in creative and digital areas, so we have apprentices in social media, online writing, digital work etc.

“They get 12 months employment and training in a specific job, where they work four days a week and train one day a week.

“A great advantage is they leave with a level three qualification, which is equivalent to two A levels – a level four qualification is coming out in September. They come away with a valuable qualification, useful experience as well as having built up contacts.

“Three-quarters of our apprentices are taken on by their employers at the end of the apprenticeships. They get over the problem of most graduates with no experience who then cannot get a job.

“More employers are now taking apprenticeships seriously – they complain that graduates haven’t got the skills needed and with apprenticeships they are trained in the skills they need.

“We have placed people with ITN, Thomson Reuters, EMI, TNM Media and even the Royal College of Nursing – it needs someone to communicate with its 800,000 members. There are 60,000 in London alone on the register who want to do an apprenticeship. We advertise the jobs and draw up a long-list. We have a two-hour session that is a little bit like The Apprentice show.

“We pick five or six who are suitable for the job and send their CVs to the employers.”

Here, Suswati Basu answers Press Gazette’s questions about her experience as a media apprentice at ITN.

What has your experience as an apprentice at ITN been like?

It has been very useful, as I am currently working as a digital producer for the new ITV News website. I have the same duties as everyone else on the team, which has enabled me to gain the same experiences and skills needed to undertake the job.

It is quite demanding work, as quality is essential for such a prestigious organisation, but I am glad to be a part of a pioneering project.

What kind of day-to-day tasks have you been doing?

As a media apprentice, I am mostly responsible for curating and creating content for the new website and digital platforms, on an editorial level.

My main daily tasks consist of writing short updates, news articles, cutting still and moving images for the website, and uploading content for ITV’s journalists.

Suswati Basu

What have you learnt from the experience?

I have learnt quite a lot from both the work as well as the training aspect of the apprenticeship. From the experience, I have learnt about the professional and ethical aspects of working in a large media organisation. I have also understood how to work under pressure, and honing my writing and editing skills.

The training part has helped me to understand elements of the work I am undertaking such as preparing and manipulating video and image assets, as well as learning how to use different software.

What is your week like? How much time is spent on the job and how much training?

We currently have a three week on-and-off time pattern, so we spend one day a week for three weeks training, while the other days we work full-time. I have a 38-44 hour a week work pattern, in which we work 9 hour shifts per day.

When we have the three weeks-off, we spend that time completing our modules for training.

With the rise in tuition fees, do you think this might be a better way into journalism than getting a degree?

I think that journalism experience is vital in getting into the media industry. At the moment, it is a catch-22 situation, in which you can only gain experience by having experience in the first place.

A degree is not enough to separate you from all of the other candidates wishing to get into journalism, especially as the job market has become very volatile. I think that an apprenticeship is probably a better way of getting into the industry, however, a degree is useful for long-term career development.

Would you recommend the experience to other aspiring journalists?

I would absolutely recommend other aspiring journalists to undertake an apprenticeship, because, without the knowledge and experience, it has become almost impossible to get into the media industry.

Starting to develop your career early is an essential part of getting onto the job market, and the apprenticeship allows young aspiring journalists to do this without landing a hefty debt from tuition fees.

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