Joe shines a light on being a Cultural Learning and Participation Officer apprentice

Joe Howard (20) lives in Skelmersdale, a small town between Liverpool and Manchester.  Joe has recently started work at the Artz Centre as an apprentice Cultural Learning and Participation Officer which, he says, seems like a lot of complicated words crammed together. It actually means his job is about creating opportunities for people to get involved in events or activities which will benefit the community he’s working in. Joe’s training is supported by the National College Creative Industries and its apprenticeship training partner, Access Creative College.

Contributing to something much bigger

Joe says he didn’t really look for an apprenticeship: “When I left school I thought I had a really clear idea of what I wanted to do as a career, but in hindsight, I’d only just begun to understand what I was passionate about. So instead of diving straight into one career for the rest of my life I was keen to try a lot of different things and get a better understanding of myself. That led me to starting a degree at university, however what I realised quite quickly is that a degree of that nature didn’t take learning out of the classroom and into the real world. Instead, I wanted to study and train on a course that was rooted in practical application and experiential learning. That was what drew me to my apprenticeship, I could train under experienced professionals, and then apply that training in my own work. Plus, I can see the real-world benefit that my work as an apprentice does. I don’t feel like I’m just working to complete a module or assignment, I feel like I’m contributing to something much bigger.”

Joe had known about the Artz Centre for quite a few years, having been a student in their performing arts classes when he was younger, and performing in shows like Beauty and the Beast, Seusscial, Legally Blonde and The Lion King there. As Joe got older, he became more interested in the backstage and behind the scenes work they do. He became a volunteer technician, doing lighting design and photography, and soon he also became a ‘Peer Mentor’, volunteering his time to help teach younger students.

You have to offer as much as you gain

Joe says: “With the company growing very quickly, I was always keen to get my hands dirty and help out wherever I could because I always felt like I was gaining something from it as well, whether it be some training in a technical skill, an opportunity to develop my personal skills ( I can manage my time much better because of the Artz Centre) or I was gaining a real sense of accomplishment from a project I was helping on.”

Knowing how rewarding it was to work with the Artz Centre, Joe was keen to find out more when he heard that the Artz Centre were planning to recruit their first apprentice. He says: “I had a lot of discussions with the company director about what the role may be and how it would work, and I guess it all paid off! Because every day I come in to work, I leave feeling really proud of the contributions I’m making to the local community and excited to come in the next day.

I suppose some advice I would give to anyone considering what company they’d like to be an apprentice for, is to consider ‘do I feel like I could really succeed because of this organisation?’ Does it feel like you’re going to gain just as much as you’re going to give? Because it has to be a balance. You have to offer as much as you gain.”

Keen to amplify on this, Joe explained his role further with an example of a recent project for which he had taken responsibility: “Over the last few weeks I have been working on a project to engage some of the local community, specifically toddlers and their parents. I worked with a drama teacher who was a specialist in working with babies and toddlers, to arrange a weekly session where she would come and deliver a workshop to this age. I publicised the event using our company’s social media channels and captured interest in the session. I had to work strategically; considering if we were going to create a promotional piece, what would the best ‘angle’ be to promote the event. I often had to consider how to make sure the most people possible would, and could, participate.

“I co-ordinated details of the event which, at first glance, might not seem important at all, but through training I’ve learned are very important. Like how and when to gain consent for photographs or what the potential risks are that you have to assess when working in a venue with this specific age group.

“I was able to enhance the project further when my line manager suggested I look at ways to link the session to the (recently created) library in the venue. In the end, the drama specialist delivered a session based around one of the children’s books from our library, and I arranged for all of the parents and children who’d attended the session to have time in the library, to pick a children’s book to take on loan should they wish to. Overall, we were linking learning through drama to learning through literature and creating an opportunity for parents to be a part of their child’s overall learning experience.”

On a day-to-day basis, Joe works on several different projects like this at once, all at very different stages, and one of the things he likes most about working at the Artz Centre is that there is a very clear understanding from everyone in the organisation, that everything they do must be done with quality in mind.  Joe emphasises: “If we are producing a musical then it has to be the best it possibly can be, if we are designing a leaflet to promote an event it has to be the best it possibly can be, if we are delivering a workshop to a local school then it (you guessed it) has to be the best it possibly can be!”

He continues: “This ethos really helps me feel proud of my work, knowing that everything I’ve done has been done to a high standard. I think there is a bit of a stigma around apprentices, that the expectation of the quality of their work should be lower than the rest of the staff because they’re in training. I absolutely disagree with that idea! The only way that I think any apprentice can rise to the standards they need to in order to succeed not just in their training but in their career, is to be constantly pushed to try and do better.”

We are using the creative arts to make a real and positive impact

Speaking of his ambitions once he has completed his apprenticeship, Joe is clear that as he grows in his role, his ambitions are shifting. He says: “I saw being an apprentice as a stepping-stone to becoming a Community Theatre Director. The skillset that I am learning lends itself to the skills I will need in order to do that job. What I’ve realised though, is that I wasn’t thinking big enough. I was just considering what impact my career ambitions would have on me. I’ve come to realise (through the work of my apprenticeship) that I should be looking at what impact my eventual career could have on the community around me. I know I want to keep working locally in my hometown; Skelmersdale. But Skelmersdale does contain areas of high social deprivation, and there are a lot of government projects being run locally trying to transform people’s lives for the better. Although I don’t work for a government project, I can see how the Artz Centre has transformed so many people’s lives for the better, even mine! We are using the creative arts to make a real and positive impact on children, young people, adults and the elderly. Why would I ever want to stop creating that positive impact? So, although I still want to be a Community Theatre Director, I want to follow that career as a way to change people’s lives and inspire them to live happily and healthily, with ambition and drive!”

To find out how your organisation could benefit from an apprentice Cultural Learning and Participation Officer, or how the National College Creative Industries can support you to grow your talent through apprenticeships, email

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