Jump to content

University vs Apprenticeship


George.UK
 Share

Recommended Posts

Hello!

 

This is my first post, hopefully everything is fine.

 

I am currently looking at further education options after my technical theatre college course, my particular strength is lighting.

After doing some initial research, I have found strengths and weaknesses for both uni courses and apprenticeships.

 

Did you take a university course, apprenticeship, or took a different route. Would you recommend the choice you made?

 

Any advice would be greatly appreciated,

George

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I see you're in Bristol - if you decide to go with apprenticeships, have a look over the Severn Bridge at the Wales-wide technical apprenticeship scheme which is run by Wales Millennium Centre. It's been running for a few years now, and is very successful.
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Your next years are in the end up to you, but look for some reasonable progression from student to paid employee. It's unlikely that you will have enough skill after college/uni to become a recognised and valued self employed specialist -but if you pick a new technology there is just a hope.
Link to comment
Share on other sites

If you do a real apprenticeship in a common trade you'll get paid while you learn and be very employable when the apprenticeship is finished due to the real-life experience. If that trade is useful in the event industry (all general trades) then you'll also find work in that area when you choose to do it.

 

If you go to university you will get a bit of paper, a huge debt and find it hard to get work due to lack of experience.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

If you go to a good university you'll also come out with some good contacts in the industry which with some effort on your part might lead to a job. The cost/debt does need to be considered though.

 

At this particular moment it's going to be very hard to find apprenticeships as lots of businesses are on the edge of closing down. That's not to say going to uni is the best route but it could come down to doing a (possibly not that useful) course for 3 years or stacking shelves at Tesco for 3 years.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hi George, welcome to the Blue Room. You may want to don a tin hat (or at least keep one handy) for this discussion; for whatever reason it always gets heated.

 

Both university and apprenticeships have value. Both are valid routes of entry to the industry, both will teach you things. They are very different styles of learning, and you'd do well to reflect which suits you best.

Do think carefully about the longevity of your career choice - will you always want to work in lighting or might you want to branch out later in life (say after meeting someone and settling down, perhaps gaining parental responsibilities, and wanting to be home of an evening occassionally)? An apprenticeship in theatre is rather focussed on just that. A university course might have a broader application, some go quite deep into engineering (mine did), some go quite deep into art, others have useful modules in business. Or you could do as Clive suggests and work to gain a trade that would be useful in theatre - electrician or carpenter for example - while still doing casual/freelance theatre work on the side.

 

I chose university, as I enjoy studying and wanted the opportunity of moving out and starting fresh in a new town that comes with university (and isn't otherwise easy to achieve as an 18yr old). I chose a BSc engineering biased course (Sound, Light, and Live Event Technology at Derby), which covered a lot of engineering principles that both enrich my work in theatre and events, and give me employment opportunities outside of, or tangental to, the industry if/when I get bored of shoving flightcases around a stage. Do think carefully about whether you want to pursue an arts/design oriented course, or a tech oriented course.

 

I now (usually) work in venues that have apprentices and I see a mixed bag. Some are run well, with genuine learning opportunities and the chance to really get your teeth into something and drive yourself fowards. Some are less well run and basically amount to cheap labour, saving on the casual crew bill. If you want to go down the apprentice route - do your research on the provider!

 

Re money - yes you'll get paid as an apprentice. Not a lot, but more than nothing. Yes, as a uni student you will accrue fees 'debt' - a perusal of the student loan agreement will make clear that it is unlike any other debt you'll ever have, and essentially will amount to a monthly tax on having been to university. It won't appear on a credit check and if you do PAYE work it's deducted before it gets to you. You never see the money for the university fees either, so you don't have to worry about transferring it or looking after it.

 

Re employability - most theatre courses have good employability, and most universities publish their employability statistics. I'm not aware of hoards of tech theatre graduates failing to find employment in the industry, though I am aware of many who reach the end of a 3 year course and then find a much better paid job and do that with a bit of casual/freelance/amateur on the side.

 

 

(Full disclosure - I am a university graduate, and currently work for a university. I have also taught GCSE and BTEC. I also (usually) work in the real live industry outside of the education bubble.)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think the first thing I'd say is that if you are choosing this line of work you are choosing one where employment can be patchy, often fixed term, and there are large tracts of the country where opportunities are limited to non-existent. So if you do chose this sector do so with the realisation that even in the best of times it can be very uncertain.

 

Now to your question. My experience of training is so long ago now that it is irrelevant but I do have contacts with a couple of the London Drama Schools and I would say that the technical courses they offer are interesting and very much seen as valuable by the students. And yet and yet there is part of me that keeps asking if you need three years to learn the skills you'll need to go into a typical arts venue where the realities - as so often discussed here - are one night tours, local groups, fixed rigs and limited resources. The reality is all the hours God made making bricks without straw with 20 lanterns.

 

That being said I agree with J Pearce about the college/uni experience. If I look back to my college years it was the things that had nowt to do with the training that I was really after and savour in the memory. I went from a small rural Gloucestershire town to Urban Lancashire and it did me the world of good in all sorts of ways. Difference was it was on a full grant.

 

What I would say is that there is no need at all to go straight on. These days my advice to all 18 year olds would be the same - take the gap year now. Find a job - any job will do (I am talking about normal times) and give yourself time to think for yourself.Then apply for what you decide on the basis of known results. There is no rush. There really isn't.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Caveats before you read on - I was an apprentice, but not in a theatre or events field. I'm an Electronic and Electrical Engineer working in the aviation industry, who happens to also make a bit of money on the side from theatre, but has spent an awful lot of time in them working alongside full time crew. I've also had a number of young people who I've taught and given opportunities to help over the years -all of whom have gone on to train professionally and enter careers in theatre.

 

I have always flown the apprenticeships flag, and will continue to do so. I would however say that the biggest decision you need to make is about the employer you work with, not the college or course (they're still important though). Sadly recent incentives for companies to employ apprentices seem to have increased the number of apprenticeships out there which have no real end goal. No place in the company for you to graduate in to a full time role. No real will to train somebody to be the best they can be. It's a cheap pair of hands for a few years and then once they've qualified and deserve a better salary and longer term position it's goodbye. Suddenly that apprentice is now competing with the graduates who are finishing uni. The only difference is no debt but also a lesser (on paper) qualification. Next step depends on if their subsequent employer values the practical work experience over the degree. I would, but others may not.

 

The value of an apprenticeship is in the people you work with and the employer you grow up with. If you can find an employer who are wanting you to fill a vacancy once you're done then that's perfect. The employees you work with will become your colleagues and they will want to ensure you're moulded in to the person they need you to be - in qualifications and in personality. They will show you useful tricks and hints. They will guide you through mistakes and hopefully help you not to make them again.

 

The advice I and a number of friends working professionally in theatre have given a few people in your position - do an apprenticeship, but don't do it in theatre. Become an electrician, or an engineer. Gain skills that are 100% useful in theatre but are also in demand in the rest of the world. If theatre work dries up for a while, take on some house rewires or join an agency doing electrical work. Now put yourself in the shoes of a theatre employer looking at a list of applicants. An electrician with specialisms in site power, or industrial electrical installation, or HV, or something else that makes them different - that's an attractive person to have on your team. In my year group at college, nobody failed the course. Everyone walked away with apprenticeships. That doesn't mean we were all good, it meant the college wanted us all to pass. Employers know that. A sea of applicants from technical theatre apprenticeships who may have been excellent or may have just turned up, versus a qualified electrician or engineer who shows they can cut it in a workplace and has very handy skills. That's the call they'll have to make.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I don't think I have any advice relevant to theatre / events, but day job as an Electronic and Electrical Engineer working in the Electricty industry (ish) has highlighted to me that the most valuable people to employ are the ones who know how to keep learning. They are the ones who can be given the job of finding out about whatever new (or old) thing is becoming important, and helping the rest of the team to get up to speed. They say the only constant in the world is change!

 

You can achieve this via both University and Apprenticeship routes, and I have worked with people who have done both (individually, and some who got a grant to do both in succession! How times change!). As Cedd says, there are incentives for students to pass at the end - it doesn't mean that they have all got the mindset to be employable team members. Getting the best out of either route means putting some effort in (personally) to what you do besides the things you are required to do for the course - this is certainly the case for a University course which is likely to give you a lot of freedom (including the freedom to have a good time but fail at the end, which is not a good outcome). The other point often made is that your degree or apprenticeship should not be about supplying knowledge for your whole career (it won't), but it should get you into your first proper job (Cedd's point again), and not put too many employers off later on. Some of the skills you learn in the process will last a lifetime (and others round hear know that much better than me).

 

In many ways I got the best of both worlds, because I worked (for my current employer) for a year before my degree (via the Year In Industry placement scheme), and in the summer breaks during my course. During term time I did a lot with student-run amateur groups, which might not have been that technically relevant to my course, but taught me a lot about the realities of dealing with groups of people (fallings out happen), users (who rarely really want what they say, and even more rarely like the result) and real-time events (things go wrong, some of them are fixable). I suspect it's a lot harder to achieve this now (even pre-pandemic) because of the financial pressure on students to work during term time (and rarely at something which offers much development opportunity).

 

From a selfish, industrial perspective (following up Cedd's instruction to "Become an electrician, or an engineer. Gain skills that are 100% useful in theatre but are also in demand in the rest of the world"): Whatever sort of technical skills you acquire, make sure you understand the principals of cyber security, and how they apply to what you do - because they do apply, you just might not know it yet. Bu this is just a special case of having a relevant skill to stand out from the crowd, because it's a sort of change I'm seeing (and seeing people struggle with) every day at the moment.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Do an apprenticeship, but don't do it in theatre. Become an electrician, or an engineer. Gain skills that are 100% useful in theatre but are also in demand in the rest of the world. If theatre work dries up for a while, take on some house rewires or join an agency doing electrical work. Now put yourself in the shoes of a theatre employer looking at a list of applicants. An electrician with specialisms in site power, or industrial electrical installation, or HV, or something else that makes them different - that's an attractive person to have on your team. In my year group at college, nobody failed the course. Everyone walked away with apprenticeships. That doesn't mean we were all good, it meant the college wanted us all to pass. Employers know that. A sea of applicants from technical theatre apprenticeships who may have been excellent or may have just turned up, versus a qualified electrician or engineer who shows they can cut it in a workplace and has very handy skills. That's the call they'll have to make.

 

This is very good advice.

 

Also make sure you build up as much theatrical/event experience as you can. This might well be with amateur or charity groups as well as work placements or part-time jobs.

 

One of the attributes I value most is troubleshooting / improvisation skills, and the ability to keep a cool head under pressure. It's hard to provide on-the-job training for that, you don't want to cast people adrift in situations where they'll risk the company's reputation or endanger anyone. I've found that people who have been active in amdram, or churches, or have been playing in bands, are much more adept and confident than other people with degrees who have done most of their work in a far more controlled environment. It's hard to learn to troubleshoot if you don't encounter any real trouble!

 

So don't be afraid to get in trenches, muck in with whatever you can. Go and mix obnoxious bands in toilet venues with half-broken gear, you'll be much better for it.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Do an apprenticeship, but don't do it in theatre. Become an electrician, or an engineer. Gain skills that are 100% useful in theatre but are also in demand in the rest of the world. If theatre work dries up for a while, take on some house rewires or join an agency doing electrical work. Now put yourself in the shoes of a theatre employer looking at a list of applicants. An electrician with specialisms in site power, or industrial electrical installation, or HV, or something else that makes them different - that's an attractive person to have on your team. In my year group at college, nobody failed the course. Everyone walked away with apprenticeships. That doesn't mean we were all good, it meant the college wanted us all to pass. Employers know that. A sea of applicants from technical theatre apprenticeships who may have been excellent or may have just turned up, versus a qualified electrician or engineer who shows they can cut it in a workplace and has very handy skills. That's the call they'll have to make.

 

This is very good advice.

 

Also make sure you build up as much theatrical/event experience as you can. This might well be with amateur or charity groups as well as work placements or part-time jobs.

 

One of the attributes I value most is troubleshooting / improvisation skills, and the ability to keep a cool head under pressure. It's hard to provide on-the-job training for that, you don't want to cast people adrift in situations where they'll risk the company's reputation or endanger anyone. I've found that people who have been active in amdram, or churches, or have been playing in bands, are much more adept and confident than other people with degrees who have done most of their work in a far more controlled environment. It's hard to learn to troubleshoot if you don't encounter any real trouble!

 

So don't be afraid to get in trenches, muck in with whatever you can. Go and mix obnoxious bands in toilet venues with half-broken gear, you'll be much better for it.

The last paragraph is sooo important. In theatres there is almost no limit to the sort of thing you may be expected to do when the brown stuff attacks the wind machine. Make youself useful with whatever you possibly can and you'll get noticed but don't become a nuisance or know it all. It's a fine line so beware. Make do and mend is important.

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

So don't be afraid to get in trenches, muck in with whatever you can. Go and mix obnoxious bands in toilet venues with half-broken gear, you'll be much better for it.

 

This us top advice. Between 16 and 21 (1970 -1975) I never turned down a chance to do anything from a school fete PA with begged and borrowed kit through to am dram in some of the most dreadful halls you'll ever find with resources so limited as to be these days unbelievable. There was a lesson in all of it. But the biggest lesson and the biggest skill, quality, call it what you like, I developed then was simple - complete reliability. College or apprenticeship this is what people want. You'd be surprised how many people simply aren't even ifs only habitual lateness or stretching breaks or lack of the right tools or ringing in as the rehearsal starts with 'a family crisis' while in the background you hear the merry tones of the golf club bar. Or the very worst sin over-promising and under-delivering. If you want to say no say it. But if you say yes do it. Over the years both in organisations and freelance I think that's what kept me working.

Edited by Junior8
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Other trades/skills are definitely useful, sometimes in ways that can't be anticipated.

 

We gained a barrowload of brownie points at one festival because of this. Midway through the headline act, there was a phone call to the production office: "Water pressure in <nearby village> is dropping - is that because of the festival?" (Spoiler alert - it was)

 

Turned out that a water supply to the campsite had been tapped from the mains feed to the village, which was fed by a tank on higher ground. The pipe to the campsite ran through a forest, which by now was pitch dark. Somewhere in that stretch was a break in the pipe, and water would be gushing out. The "plumber" who had rigged it up had only been there on one of the build days and couldn't be contacted. Nobody had a key to cut off the feed.

 

One of the guys on our team was a time-served heating engineer. He had a handful of tools on him and knew a trick to restrict the flow enough that he could put a cap on the pipe. The torrent slowed to a drip.

 

If the village had lost its water supply, the festival would have been in serious trouble with the water board, and the local council. Relations with the village were already delicate. It might have been enough to trigger a licence refusal for the following year, or much more onerous conditions like bringing in water tankers instead.

 

There's a definite advantage to being a jack of all trades, as long as you're a master of one or two as well.

 

I've had a surprising amount of job applicants who can't wire a 13amp plug. And I don't mean "made a mess of it under interview pressure", I mean "thought that brown was the earth".

Edited by Stuart91
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Couldn't agree more with Junior8. When I was doing regular shows I had a small list of operators I could totally rely on & a rather larger one of wouldn't-touch-with-a-bargepole, not necessarily because they were no good, but because they weren't reliable .If you commit to a show you stick to that commitment (unless you want to end up on somebody's blacklist). Whether it was a paid or amateur gig I used to tell my crew (only half-joking) that the only excuse for not being there, on time, was death - for anything short of being dead you made the effort. Edited by sandall
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Another vote in favour of junior8 - I've been involved with (non-professional) shows where I've had a call at 20 minutes to curtain up from the stage manager asking if I can fill in at short notice because someone has called in to cancel at the last minute. The same person who had done so more than once before - they quickly fell out of favour.

 

Likewise someone who didn't even turn up for a dress rehearsal once because he'd been in the theatre almost every evening for the last four days and wanted an evening off. Sorry, mate, that's what happens when you put yourself forward to light a show, you take responsibility for it, not just not turn up on a whim. Just because it's volunteer run doesn't mean people aren't relying on you, and that's how reputations can be built and equally broken.

Edited by alistermorton
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

 Share

×
×
  • Create New...