Skip to main content

Back to all posts

National Apprenticeship Week 2024


Props apprentice at workbench, holding fabric down

This National Apprenticeship Week, we hear from Kath Geraghty about apprenticeships at the National Theatre and the impact they could have across the creative sector.

Kath Geraghty – Head of Workforce Development at the National Theatre and Chair of the Creative and Design Route Panel at IfATE (Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education).

The theme of this year’s National Apprenticeships Week is “Skills for Life”; a fantastic theme, which has been a core part of our work with apprentices at the National Theatre [NT] for over a decade.

Since 2012, the NT has been training apprentices. Over this period, we have recruited 50 entry-level apprentices in 17 different departments, upskilled 17 employees, and recruited four apprentices as part of the government’s pilot Portable Flexi-Job Apprenticeships scheme – this is in conjunction with the Royal Opera House, Ambassador Theatre Group and White Light.

91% of those entry-level apprentices who completed their training with us in the last decade have gone directly into paid professional work in the area they were trained in, eight former apprentices are working at the NT, whilst others are working as freelancers and in different venues across the sector. But it’s not just about theatre, skills learnt here at the NT are being applied in the film and television industry, the Royal Navy and even within a tattoo parlour in Peckham.

Apprentice at a computer in an office.
Workforce Development Apprentice, 2023, photo by Cameron Slater

It’s these holistic skills that appealed to our current apprentice Maria Hucker [24] who is currently training as a Scenic Metalwork Apprentice: “I wanted hands on experience from real people rather than having to sit in a classroom all the time.”

Looking forward, we plan to start engaging with the government’s new T Level qualifications. Aiming to support post-GCSE students in the study of a practical subject with the ambition to get students ready to enter the workforce, each T Level is the equivalent of 3 A-Levels and will include an industry placement.

As the local community is an important part of our organisation, we are talking to local schools about hosting students within business administration roles, as well as planning to deliver practical placements in our backstage areas in partnership with Mulberry UTC to align with the launch of the Media, Broadcast and Production T Level in September. We have also been trailblazing more new apprenticeship standards for the sector to open career routes across a range of different backstage areas, with new standards for Costume Technician, Scenic Automatic, Scenic Art and Wigs, Hair, Make up & Prosthetics Technician near completion.

Two Apprentices wearing all safety clothing, in workshop.
Scenic Metal Apprentices, 2023, Photo by Cameron Slater

This commitment goes against an existing narrative that apprenticeships do not work for the creative sector. This was articulated in the recent APPG for Creative Diversity report and has gained a lot of traction. I worry that it is this thinking that led to the finding by The Society of London Theatre (SOLT) & UK Theatre’s 2017 Workforce Review that only 37% of theatre employers offer apprenticeships.

However, that same report by the APPG also stated that ‘a well-designed apprenticeship system could be transformative for the creative sector.’ Whilst acknowledging that there are challenges in delivering meaningful apprenticeships, including challenges of time and capacity which will vary from organisation to organisation, I believe we should focus our energy on working together as a sector, alongside the government, to ensure that apprenticeships can have real impact on our creative workforce, and the wider economy.

Investing in skills and education for young people, from all backgrounds, will support and sustain the pipeline of talent into the industry, whilst widening routes into the industry.

Apprentice welding in the workshop, wearing a welding mask, sparks are flying from the metal.
Scenic Metalwork Apprentice, 2023, Photo by Cameron Slater.

Hear what our apprentices have to say…

‘I decided to do an apprenticeship because I wanted hands on experience from real people, rather than having to sit in a classroom all the time. Being an apprentice at the National Theatre has been an amazing experience, everyone is always so lovely and willing to help, the team I work with are always so willing to pass on their knowledge and experience and give you a hand when needed, it’s really the best place to learn.’

Maria Hucker, Scenic Metalwork Apprentice, from Essex

‘It’s the best thing I have ever done. I love every minute in that workshop. Everyone is kind, patient and supportive. They’re all very eager and happy to pass on their knowledge. They are also very understanding and willing to learn about me being neurodivergent. I am filled with gratitude. I’d love to inspire others to follow their joy, no matter who they are or where they’re at in their life.’

Claudia Frei, Scenic Carpentry Apprentice, from Switzerland

‘I had intended to study for a master’s degree in order to get the necessary qualification, but it wasn’t financially feasible for me. Studying for an apprenticeship with the National Theatre is great because it means I can learn about the archive industry in an accredited archive with experienced and knowledgeable colleagues and earn at the same time.’

Nadia Davies, Apprentice Archive Assistant, from Kent 

‘The experience I gained from my apprenticeship is invaluable. Learning in a fast moving and busy working theatre was key to my progress. Despite the pace, everyone still had the time to guide me through the learning process and I felt like part of the team. I was lucky to have two years at the National Theatre and that length of time gave me the confidence to be able to start a career when I left. It very much impacted my future in a positive way!’

Carpentry Apprentice, 2018

‘The apprenticeship was fantastic. It was my first experience in a working environment. I developed extremely quickly into a young professional who was able to hold responsibility and manage my own time. I then carried on working within the industry for three years before moving into different sectors. I often look back and believe my time at the National Theatre was extremely relevant in getting me to where I am now.’

Sound and Video Apprentice, 2014

Apprenticeships at the National Theatre are supported by Bank of America, Eggardon Trust, and The Radcliffe Trust.

Creative Careers enabled by TikTok.