Hello! I’ll start off by quickly introducing myself – my name is James, I am 21 years old and my interests mainly consist of anything to do with crime drama/docuseries’, running, and scrolling through TikTok for hours on end. Last year, I completed an apprenticeship at ITV and I am now a freelance Assistant Digital Producer in the TV industry, and have been freelancing for just over a year now.
I knew early on that I didn’t want to go to uni and didn’t change my mind when it came to making the decision at sixth form back in 2018. There were a few factors that played into this, these being the financial element, the career path I wanted to take, but more so my confidence at the time (or lack of) as the thought of being away from home filled me with dread. However, despite being confident in my decision, it was an unnerving feeling seeing all my friends and peers around me fill in UCAS applications, get offers from unis and start to map out what their future was going to look like, whilst I had absolutely no idea what anything past A-level results day would hold for me.
The one thing I did know though was that I wanted to work in the TV industry. I have always been fascinated by film and television, and this only grew more and more as I studied Media Studies at GCSE and A-Level, creating trailers and show openings for my coursework, and also co-producing my school’s annual charity Christmas music video two years in a row. I knew I needed a job that would allow me to channel my creativity, but also allow me to learn and get my foot on the ladder in the industry. It became pretty evident that an apprenticeship would be the way to do this, and so I began searching.
I looked at apprenticeships with the main channels, applying for positions at both BBC and Channel 4 during sixth form, but I was rejected from both of them after being hopeful that maybe I stood a chance. The thing I struggled with was that apprenticeships (especially creative ones) weren’t really advertised to us in sixth form, neither internally or externally, as university seemed to be the preferred path the school wanted us to take, and the one apprenticeship related trip we got to attend had no schemes within the TV industry, so it felt as if I was doing it alone. However, with the support of my parents and my determination to get into the industry, I kept looking and applying.
Around the time I finished my A-level exams, ITV opened up the applications for their apprenticeship schemes, and so I spent the next couple of weeks getting my application together and perfecting it as I knew this would be my last chance for at least another 6 months before any opened again. Despite applying for similar schemes with the other channels, one quote that stood out to me in ITV’s description of the company was “We’re all about pushing the boundaries and being innovative”. I really resonated with this as the work I had produced in sixth form reflected these ideals, and I realised that maybe I didn’t showcase this as much as I could have in my previous applications, so made sure to highlight it in this one.
I originally applied for a position in franchising for Global Entertainment Kids as my job at the time was in a toy shop so felt it would be suited for me and that I would maybe stand more of a chance. However, just three days before the deadline, I came across the position of an Online Editorial apprentice for the Drama and Entertainment genres. To translate, this is basically the department that deals with the production and creation of social media content for the TV shows. Contrary to popular belief, this is a lot more than ‘posting a tweet’, as online is a production in itself and involves working closely with the production team, talent and sometimes brands, and then being on top of trends to create engaging content that will resonate with the shows demographic.
Having been an avid social media user myself who was fascinated by how shows and brands used innovative methods to gain traction online, I started an application for this role as well. The applications included about 4 or 5 essay style questions that are related to the role (e.g you are creating a content plan for your favourite TV show, what would you create?) and I knew from these that I would be suited to this role as I could have written for hours and it gave me so much creative freedom. We were told that if we didn’t hear back by the end of June, we should assume we hadn’t got it, but then on the 1st August, I received the email to tell me I had been shortlisted for the role in Online Editorial.
The whole process was quite daunting, and I took solace in the fact that regardless of the outcome, I had been shortlisted for the role. I was invited to an assessment day along with nine other candidates who were all vying for the same position as me. We were asked to prepare a presentation about what we could bring to the role, why we applied and what we wanted to learn. There were assessment days happening for four different roles on this day and out of the approximately 40 people there, I was the last one to present to the managers of my department. By this point, my nerves had somewhat subsided and I just wanted to get it done, and so I went in and did my presentation that I had spent so long on. The countless evenings and nights I had drafted, re-drafted, practiced it in my living room to my Mum and then tweaked it again came in handy, and I felt like it reflected just how badly I wanted this role. Following this was a timed test to see how we would cope under pressure as well as our ability to time manage and prioritise tasks, and then we finished off the day with a group task. A major obstacle I was facing at the time was confidence, and therefore I would sometimes find it hard to speak up. However, I knew that in the group task, it would be important to show the ideas I had and my methodical approach to tasks that I had spoken about in the presentation, and so I put my fears about what people would think of me to the back of my head and just got my ideas out there. I left the assessment day feeling happy and hopeful, and then received a phone call a few days later telling me I had advanced to the final interview stage.
I will be 100% honest and say that I struggled with this part of the process the most, not only because of my lack of interview experience at the time, but also because the questions asked were comprehensive and included some things I had never even thought about before. I was also given an impromptu task at the start of the interview and having never used a Macbook or Premiere Pro before and then having to edit the task on it, I didn’t even come close to finishing it and had nothing to show at the end of the allocated time. However, I feel in some ways this was a blessing in disguise, as it somewhat calmed me for the rest of the interview as I was convinced I had completely blown my chance, so I just wanted to make the best impression I could. I left the interview feeling disheartened and angry with myself, as I felt that none of what I could do had translated into the task, and it was even harder knowing I was so close and had potentially ruined it at the last hurdle.
However, after what felt like a lifetime but was actually a few days later, I received the call that completely changed my life – I had gotten the apprenticeship. (fun side note: I accidentally didn’t hang up the phone at the end of the call so the entry-level careers manager heard me scream to my Mum that I’d got it whilst jumping around the living room…) To this day, it is still my proudest achievement, especially because I was just 1 of 32 who got onto the apprenticeship scheme out of the 4,700 candidates who applied.
The apprenticeship itself was the best year of my life – I started off with more admin related tasks such as stats and creating/ presenting a weekly trends report to my team, so that they could see what was performing well online. From this, I then began to attend shoots as a runner, helping to source props, set up kit and assist the talent and team. I got to work on shows such as The Voice UK, The Voice Kids, Dancing on Ice, Lorraine and Emmerdale in my first few months, which gave me a great look into how different productions run and how the content differs from show to show.
The highlight of my apprenticeship then came in May 2019, when just three weeks before the show started, I was asked to step up to an Assistant Digital Producer position on Love Island which meant I would be working abroad for two months. This was a massive deal for me, as I was only six months into my apprenticeship and still had so much to learn, but I knew I couldn’t let an opportunity like this go, and so I spent this time before we flew out learning how to use Photoshop, Premiere Pro and After Effects, and prepared to fly and go abroad for the first time! The ironic thing about this experience is that as I mentioned earlier on, one of my apprehensions about going to uni was being away from home, and now I was heading to a completely other country! This was and will always be one of the best experiences I have ever had, both in terms of development in work and in myself as well. I will be forever grateful for the experience, as I came back a lot more confident, knowledgeable and prepared for what it would be like to be an Assistant Digital Producer when my apprenticeship ended. It was hard work, but it solidified for me that this is the industry I am meant to be in.
From there, I spent the remainder of my apprenticeship working towards my final exams as well as on Dancing on Ice, which I then went on to become an Assistant Digital Producer after I finished my apprenticeship. I achieved full marks in all three of my exams and gained a qualification in Junior Content Production, and now I work freelance within the industry. Unfortunately, Covid meant that most of last year didn’t work out how I had imagined, but I was incredibly lucky to work on Little Mix The Search and also at Channel 4 across a range of different shows as an Assistant Digital Producer.
I am currently working on the new season of Dancing on Ice, and whilst I’m not sure what the future holds, I plan to keep strengthening my skill set and make the most of every opportunity I get. Being freelance is scary enough as is, and this is only exacerbated by the current circumstances, but equally is so much fun being able to work at so many amazing companies on a range of shows. The industry mainly consists of freelance work, which is a daunting concept and makes it very different from other industries, but as I just mentioned, it definitely comes with its perks as well.
Taking an apprenticeship is the best decision I’ve ever made, and it goes to show how uni isn’t the only option for all career paths. My advice for anyone considering applying for one would be to go for it. If you don’t feel like uni is for you or will benefit you in the long run, that’s completely okay. A lot of people feel as if they’re missing out on the social element, which at the time I was nervous I would be too, but that shouldn’t be a deciding factor as there are plenty of others who won’t be going, and you can still have nights out whilst doing something you will both enjoy and that will benefit you in the day too.
My other piece of advice would be to not let an apprenticeship description overwhelm you or convince you that you’re not able to do the role. Ultimately, you are there to learn, and there are skills that you are only going to acquire by actually experiencing things on the job.
I hope this was an insightful look into what it’s like applying for an apprenticeship and what can come from it, and to anyone reading who is still not sure about uni, take this as evidence that there are other paths available and they can lead you to just as wonderful things.