Leaders have failed: Apprenticeship is a must and it is our responsibility (our dear youth) to do right by you.

It is time for Leaders in every corner of the economy to UP THEIR GAME.

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I have already written an article about mentors and what mentorship means to a young person. I don’t think enough is discussed how difficult and intimidating the transition is from being a student for over a decade to being thrust into the working world. This is one of the most difficult lines we cross as human beings, and we rarely discuss the ramifications it has on the rest of our lives. Mentorship has a cousin by the name of apprenticeship. We have often heard this term and I think it is crucial that we discuss exactly what it means and what it should be.

In the arts, apprenticeship usually consists of great artists giving their time to mentor a young person. Unfortunately, it is usually on our own time and the student is not given the actual time needed or is adequately compensated for this time. It’s almost like we view it as “They are lucky to be in the room” or we are all fighting for that $1500 grant from the Arts Council that we will need to stretch over 6 weeks. As many of us look around at the huge administrations in arts organizations making good salaries (some AD’s and CEOs make over 6 digits), young artists fight for a grant that keeps them starving. But you need to earn your stripes! Actually, I would argue that 3–4 years in theatre school and sometimes a terminal degree (and maybe even some professional experience to boot!) is more than enough to earn your stripes. We need to start calling out this bull**** (Please excuse my Canadian-Irish brashness!). I actually do say this most generously because I believe leaders are where they are because they are extraordinary at listening. They are usually straight-shooters who want to surround themselves with the best information, and they appreciate honesty. So there it is.

These “job security” artists/administrators that I speak of were given the mantle many years ago by the leaders before them. The generation running theatres and arts organizations today are part of a generation that has been able to build up wealth faster than any other. They had low tuition, low housing costs, lower inflation, better job security, and higher wages that stretched further than the young have today. I am sorry, but you and I have the responsibility to do a hell of a lot better. Apprenticeships need to be well paid and we must give the time as leaders to nurture and prepare the leaders of tomorrow. This extends to any other industry or business that is not the arts. It could be argued that other industries have even more responsibility because they are for-profit businesses, often netting millions and billions for themselves and shareholders (hello insurance companies and banks). Come on dudes, let’s raise our game!

My passion for economics and looking at what a dollar could buy in the past confirm that the leaders of today were in a much better position. As I listen to my colleagues around me talk about heading to their cottage or finding tenants for their rental home, my student theatre artists stress about never affording a home. The older generations were in a much better position. We have all heard this before and hundreds of articles have been written about it here on Medium. It is now time to take action.

The issue with Canada (where I am mainly based) is that we have ample grants for apprenticeship opportunities that rarely turn into long-term paid jobs. Where are those true bridge apprenticeship positions that nurture talent and embrace it long-term? The U.K seems to do a better job of creating actual long-term positions for budding artists in apprenticeship positions. I have seen this myself first-hand after living in Ireland for several years. I was even up for an Associate Director position (as a foreigner) at one of their most famous theatres! It felt to me like a true passing of the mantle and recognition (shall I even say excitement) for the next generation of theatre artists. They even have magazines that celebrate “here are the next generation of theatre artists”. Brilliant.

Leaders must make it a priority to offer jobs for the next generation. Not assistant positions, workshops, grants, auditing positions, or limited-term apprenticeships. They must make it part of their mandate to hire young directors, young actors, and young designers and have them as actual staff. It must be instilled that this is how you create a sustainable, healthy, exciting industry and career in the theatre. The side note is that many of these apprenticeships are watching and doing very little. Apprenticeship is not watched from the corner. I know this first hand as I have been one of the luckiest benefactors of many of these apprenticeships and programs back home. A majority of my paid apprenticeships were doing absolutely nothing. Yes, yes, we all know how much you can learn from watching. I have learned bucket loads, of course. But this is mainly because I forced myself to take full advantage of a situation that was not ideal in the first place. Apprenticeships must be active and practical learning. Period.

We, as leaders who have benefited from the good times of the past, must make this commitment today. The fact that our young people are facing the direst circumstances in a hundred years because of Covid makes this plea even more crucial. It may cause us some short-term financial pain and movement of resources, but in the long-term, our industries will thrive. More importantly, our children and grandchildren will thrive. And, we will all be legends! I have always wanted to be a legend. Let the game begin…

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Lee Samuel Wilson

Lee holds Canadian, British & Irish citizenship. He is an actor, director, dramaturg, professor, and artistic director.