Federation Diversity Spotlight 5: Arit Eminue - Apprenticeships as Access to Industry
In the latest of our Diversity Spotlight series, we catch up with Arit Eminue - National Film and Television School alumni and founding director of one of the leading recruitment and independent providers of creative, business and media apprenticeships in the UK, DiVA. Arit tells us how her experience of graduating from the NFTS, which sprinkles its graduates with the kind of “fairy dust” that makes them super attractive to employers, inspired her to create a business that would have the same impact on peoples careers. We also get her thoughts on the future for diverse talent considering COVID and the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.
Fed: Tell us more about DiVA and how it came to be…
Arit: I was working in film and TV raising finance for a slate of projects and doing some work around Diversity and Inclusion. As part of the D&I piece, I raised some funding from ScreenSkills to deliver a work placement programme helping people from Black, Asian, Minority, Ethnic groups get into the film industry. The funding came to an end around the time ScreenSkils was launching the Creative and Digital Media (CDM) apprenticeship framework. A former colleague said, “why don’t you do apprenticeships because it’s similar to what you are already doing?” and so in 2011, we partnered with a college and started with six apprentices working in the film industry.
We were like apprentices too really for the first year, just learning on the job. The college handled the compliance stuff because I did not know anything about that, and it’s just as well as I probably wouldn’t have got started! My strengths lay in finding companies and matching them with talent and supporting both parties along the way.
After that first year, I hired tutors directly, and over the years we have expanded from just working in film to work in TV and do a lot of work in the music industry.
We work with companies of all sizes – mainly established brands that give our apprentices a great experience and an accelerator in the same way the NFTS did for me. All the major record labels like Universal, Warner Music, Sony Music are part of the DiVA family. Along with our TV employers - All3 Media, Warner Bros, Endemol, the BBC - so many of them - and have always had a high turnover of young people being kept on.
Fed: Since the very first beginnings of DiVA - how have you seen the world of apprenticeships change?
Arit: I grew up in a working-class community in the northeast where Youth Training Schemes (YTS) were popular - you earned money, and you got trained. The job roles were mainly in trades but doing a YTS was a recognised route to education and employment. So, in a sense, I was familiar with the apprenticeship model. In the middle part of 2010 is when I really started to look at apprenticeships as something we could deliver at DiVA and then from October to January, it was about getting employers to offer jobs.
When I initially started to talk to employers about apprenticeships, it was a hard slog - they were looked down on. Businesses thought it meant that the person – the apprentice - must have underperformed at school, that they were going to be lots of hassle, and that they’d just prefer to take on a graduate. We were one of the first to offer apprenticeships in film and television because it was all about internships back then and they were mainly unpaid. Now though, many employers have engaged in apprenticeships - you can do an apprenticeship whether you have a degree or not, they are available to anyone at any age or stage in their career. There are still a ton of issues and policy challenges that need to be addressed for sure, however, people’s perception of apprentices and what it means to be an apprentice has changed a lot. Universities are doing more degree apprenticeships because they recognise that they’re going to lose students otherwise.
Fed: How do you think the BLM movement has impacted how businesses approach access to things like apprenticeships, training and mentorship for diverse talent?
Arit: I think one positive that came out of the brutal murder of George Floyd and the casual everyday racism displayed by Amy Cooper is that now, society – our collective communities are listening. Employers are now questioning and collecting their data to look at what they can do to become more inclusive and representative internally as well as in external communications. The social unrest we experienced created space for meaningful discussions, and I’ve been incredibly busy delivering training sessions to employers in my network and their employees, facilitating open conversations about race, and how to develop inclusive recruitment and workplace practices.
In terms of the impact specifically on things like apprenticeships etc., we can’t really judge that right now because we’re in a climate of uncertainty where a lot of businesses, especially the small organisations in our sector, cannot see beyond the next six months and have frozen their recruitment. If we weren’t amid a global pandemic, I think there might well have been more of an uptake in companies looking to introduce new talent programmes that target specific groups. Businesses can’t be blamed for not doing that when they’re having to make redundancies. It will be interesting to see what the diversity mix will be in the Kickstart scheme though in that sense.
Fed: What advice would you give to any business owner looking to fill skills gaps within their business with more diverse talent?
Arit: Before you bring new talent into your business, you have to look at the environment they are coming into. Is it inclusive? Do your staff feel a sense of belonging? Have you asked your employees about the culture of the company because how you, as a leader, think the culture is might be quite different to how they see it? If the staff is made up of a homogeneous group of people, what will you be doing to support the talent who does not represent that same group? How much training do you need to provide existing staff on D&I? Look at your policies and processes that support decisions around promotions and bonuses and compare those against the people who have been promoted in the company to see if there are trends. Look at how you currently recruit, if you continue the same approach, you will continue to get the same result.
Think about your employer brand – which is speaking for you whether you like it or not. The images you post on your socials, who you get to represent your organisation at external events – all speak volumes to the talent you are looking to attract to your organisation. If I’m going to work for a company and I go online and don’t see people that look like me, do I really want to join that company? If I go on their socials and there’s nothing there to tell me I would feel included, would I really want to work there? A lot of the time, businesses shout about their wins and successes as they relate to their products and services but rarely show who the company culture or who they are as a team. It’s important to look at how you’re being perceived externally by those groups you’re hoping to attract.
In terms of the recruitment process, you should look at your job descriptions and selection process. Are they inclusive? Does your job description read like a wish list to Santa Clause? Keep it concise and only list the skills and experiences required to succeed in the role. And remember you’re writing the JD for a person, not for work. Use everyday language – some people put words in a JD they would never use in real life and fill it with acronyms that are industry or company-specific.
You also want to structure the interview process. Agree interview questions in advance, agree on a grading criterion that outlines what a poor, good and very good answer looks like so that everyone on the panel is singing from the same hymn sheet. All candidates should be given the same amount of time in the interview. It’s helpful to include an assessment/task-based exercise too to support those who struggle with interviews – helps you gain a more comprehensive insight into their capabilities. You also want to diversify the interview panel and include someone who is not connected to the department or job in question as they can often more objective.
What you’re trying to do is put in structures to stop your biases around people from different groups from leading your decisions.
If you’re using agencies to recruit, I’d ask them to provide you with their diversity stats and information about where they go to attract their talent. If you’re doing it for yourself, go to local community networks, business awards targeted to local communities, networking groups, local recruitment agencies and build relationships with them over a period of time.
Fed: How do you see the creative industries evolving to include more diverse talent pools moving forward?
Arit: I think the good thing about COVID is that it has made us more digitally aware, which means you can attract talent from anywhere. If it’s an office-based job, then there’s room for you to work with anybody because now people can work remotely. It allows flexibility, and I think that the hybrid way of working is going to be really good because people living with disabilities, for example, can apply for jobs that they may not ordinarily have been able to apply for. Technology means you now don’t have to be in an office for people to see that you’re doing your job.
It’s going to be interesting to see how productions will evolve because I think there will be some significant shifts in the industries. Again, it’s hard to gauge because we’re in this state of flux and still trying to figure out what the damage to the economy is going to be. What will happen to our cinemas in the long run, for example? There’s lots of uncertainty, but I also think that in the digital space, there will be lots of innovation. Adversity is the birthplace of creativity, so I think there will be lots of exciting things on the horizon that will change the way we think and change the way we work.
To find out more about DiVA and the programmes on offer, head to www.divaapprenticeships.com.