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Your questions answered

Becoming a craft apprentice?

What is a craft apprentice?

An entry level individual who engages in on-the-job training to become a specialist in a craft form.

What is a craft apprenticeship?

A job/period of training where you learn specialist craft skills directly from a master of that trade, physically practicing these skills as you learn.

These skills could be in a wide range of crafts, from the traditional (e.g. thatching roofs) to the contemporary (e.g. jewellery design).

Examples of craft forms are:
Book binding
Conceptual art
Conservation (saving/restoring a piece from damage)
Culinary art
Farriery (shoeing of horses and similar animals)
Horology (making clocks and watches)
Leather working
Metal work
Millinery (hat design)
Rural crafts (skills used in the agricultural countryside, such as hedge laying and thatching)
Stone working
Toys and Instruments

A craft apprenticeship isn't just a job, it's a career.

Think of a craft apprenticeship like going to college or university. You are committing yourself over a period of years to learn specialist skills from a master craftsperson. You are investing in your future.

Be prepared for the challenge. It might be a demanding experience. You will be tested to make sure you are the best. “I’ve been on some disheartening jobs where you stand there in the cold and wet at 6:45am, asking myself why on earth would anyone want to do this, working for half the money that my friends get stacking shelves. However I know that I am setting out my foundations for a great future”.
(Curtis Chipperfield, historic building apprentice)

Why should I become a craft apprentice?

1. It’s a good alternative to going to University.

You are learning a trade for life. Working directly alongside a master craftsperson on a daily basis will allow you to constantly develop your skills.
Learning your trade within a functioning business will also expose you to how a company is run, you might learn extra skills (alongside the specialist skills needed for your craft) which could be incredibly useful in the future.

2. You are being paid to learn.

An apprenticeship is like going back to school/university, you are learning from a teacher/master of that trade. However, as opposed to going to school/university, your employer is paying you at least the national minimum apprenticeship wage whilst you learn.

3. Job availability – there is a demand for craft skills.

93% of the craftspeople QEST has sponsored since 1990 are still in employment, which proves that there are many employment opportunities for craftspeople.
Some of QEST’s craftspeople have achieved national acclaim, awards and high profile commissions; working for brands such as Chanel and the Victoria & Albert Museum.
Some examples being:

  • Wayne Meeten (double Grand Prize Winning Designer Goldsmith- Silversmith)
  • Jacqueline Cullen (featured in Vogue)
  • Zoe Harding (worked with Swarovski and Vivienne Westwood)
  • Jack Row (exhibited at Garrard & Co)
  • Kerry Lemon (collaborated with Harrods)
  • Camilla Skovgaard (wholesales accounts in 33 countries, among which are Saks Fifth Avenue US, Harvey Nichols London, Symphony Dubai, Joyce Hong Kong and Net-a-Porter.com)
  • Julain Stair (exhibited at the Victoria & Albert Museum, American Museum of Art & Design and Hong Kong Museum of Art)
  • Melissa White (won “Best Printed Fabric” at the Homes & Gardens Fabric Awards 2014)

This demonstrates you can build a very busy and exciting career for yourself by acquiring specialist craft skills.

4. Employment that is both creative and physical.

A craft apprenticeship allows you to be creative. Many craftspeople say there is great satisfaction and fulfilment that comes from making something yourself, from start to finish; making a living by selling a product that you have invested your time, effort and creative abilities in.

Why should I commit to a potentially three year-long apprenticeship?

There are many skills needed to create an excellent piece of craft; that is why craft apprenticeships typically last between 3-5 years, giving you enough time to learn these skills.

For example, if you wanted to be a shoe designer, here is an example of some of the skills you would need to make a pair of shoes:

  1. Make a “last” (a mould of the customers foot to shape the shoe around)
  2. Cut a shoe pattern for the many parts of the shoe e.g. the insole, the outsole, and the heel
  3. Flatten the edges of the shoe pieces to give a comfortable fit
  4. Sew the different parts of the shoe together
  5. Select the heel for the shoe – A stiletto? A flat shoe?
  6. Prepare the sole etc.

You would be supported in every step of your apprenticeship, until you reached a level where your employer and you were happy for you to work more independently, with help as and when you required it.

How do I find a craft apprenticeship?

All available apprenticeship jobs are listed under the “live apprenticeships” tab.

If you wish to apply to a job you must be enrolled with one of our charity partners (listed on the “charity partners” tab). They will provide you with the password needed to apply for the job.

The benefit of being enrolled with a charity partner is that:

  1. Through their employability courses they will teach you the skills companies are looking for e.g. confidence, resilience and professional behaviour. These courses last between 6 weeks and 2 years.
  2. You will be given a careers advisor who will help you find and apply to the job you want. They will help you write your CV and give you interview practice.
  3. You will be given ongoing support throughout your apprenticeship. Someone to talk to when things go right, as well as wrong. An extra form of support to help you succeed.

Who are the Charity Partners that will give me access to these craft apprenticeships?

The list of charities can be found under the “charity partners” tab.
Find the charity partner that is nearest to you geographically and contact them directly to discuss your application and their support.

How do I become a charity partner to help young people gain access to craft apprentice opportunities?

To gain access to these job opportunities your charity must:

  • Train and assess your young people in life skills needed to succeed in the work place e.g. communication, professionalism, initiative, planning, self-awareness and resilience.
  • Closely vet each young person for each job opportunity. Each young person must apply to a job where they feel they can add value. Selecting a job they are genuinely interested in.
  • Have skills advisors to help each young person apply for the job e.g. CV writing skills and interview practice.
  • Provide support for both the apprentice and the company throughout the entirety of the apprenticeship (if the company feels it is appropriate).

If you meet the above criteria and are interested in accessing these craft job opportunities please contact info@qest.org.uk

Hiring a craft apprentice?

Why should I employ an apprentice?

  • You are investing in succession. Apprenticeships provide you with the skilled workers you need to ensure the longevity of your company, combatting the worry of having a workforce nearing retirement age.
  • Teaching an apprentice enables senior skilled people to pass on their own knowledge, ensuring that the wealth of their experience is not lost.
  • Apprentices are trained your way; in line with your ethos, safeguarding the traditions and uniqueness of your company.
  • Apprentices increase productivity. Apprentices are eager, motivated, flexible and loyal to the company investing in them.
  • Remember, an apprentice is with you because they want to be, they have made an active choice to learn on the job, committing themselves to that specific career.
  • Due to regular and close contact with the master craftsperson, apprenticeships deliver a comprehensive education which instils the values of excellence and quality. “One of the most rewarding aspects of starting Mourne Textiles again for me is the fact that I have been learning skills that you can’t find in text books and that need to be learnt by direct contact with a master craftsman. As someone pointed out when I was showing them all the processes involved in weaving a length of cloth – ‘It’s all about the little things’ – I liked this way of looking at it.” Mario Sierra, Mourne Textiles.
  • Craft apprentices are closely monitored and supported, ensuring that any challenges can be quickly resolved. By making an apprentice feel like he/she is an integral part to the company, you will ensure that retention rates remain high.

Testimonials of companies who have employed craft apprentices:

Luxury made-to-measure footwear, John Lobb Ltd.

Photography by Tom BunningFor the past century and a half the Lobb family have crafted some of the world’s finest footwear.
John Lobb Ltd. was a pilot company in QEST’s Apprenticeship Scheme, taking on two apprentices with the help of QEST funding.

“Quite simply companies have no choice but to invest in apprentices. You are preserving your company for the next generation.” You are investing in succession.
Learning a skilled craft takes many years. Apprentices learn by seeing and by doing. They inevitably make mistakes, and learn from them.

QEST John Lobb Apprentice, Parham Alizadeh started off as a complete novice. Within a year the company was already seeing a return on their investment as Parham was making mock-ups for customers. Parham hugely benefited from the first-hand nature of the apprenticeship, enabling him to hone his skills quickly and become an invaluable member of the team.

Bespoke Tailors, Anderson & Sheppard

craft-61John Hitchcock, retired Director of Anderson & Sheppard, is an enthusiastic advocate for apprentices, maybe because he once was one.

John started off as a complete beginner in the workshop at the age of 16. He painstakingly dedicated himself to his trade, and in 1983 was rewarded by his appointment as company Director.

Anderson & Sheppard purposefully choose to employ apprentices without any previous training to ensure the legacy of their bespoke “Anderson & Sheppard way”.

It is this investment in a steady stream of apprentices, coupled with their unfaltering loyalty, which has helped sustain the original elegance and the unique style of the company.

How do I find a skilled-trade apprentice to employ?

  1. Register and create a company profile on this website.
  2. Post the skilled-trade job opportunity you wish to fill.
  3. This job will appear on the “Live Apprentices” board until the closing date of the application.
  4. Your company profile will remain on the website in case you wish to post further job opportunities at a later date.
  5. Your company and job opportunity will be approved by the QEST team before it goes live.
  6. Potential apprentice applicants will apply to your job, applicants who demonstrate the appropriate skills and experience you have outlined.
  7. They will be supported throughout the application process to ensure the individual meets your requirements.
  8. Your company will receive the apprentice candidate’s application.
  9. You would then conduct your usual job assessment process.
  10. Registering to this website does not commit you to employing an apprentice; employment is completely at your discretion.

Who are the young people who will be applying for these apprenticeships?

QEST has partnered with a select few charities across the UK to create a pool of suitable apprenticeship candidates, individuals who are 16-25 year olds, some of whom may come from disadvantaged backgrounds, but who are keen, reliable and committed long-term.

These apprentices:

  • Have been trained and assessed in life skills needed to succeed in the work place e.g. communication, professionalism, initiative, planning, self-awareness and resilience.
  • Are closely vetted for each job opportunity. Each young person will apply to a job where they feel they can add value. Selecting a job they are genuinely interested in.

Each charity will provide support for both the apprentice and the company throughout the entirety of the apprenticeship (if you feel it appropriate).

All of the above features aim to reduce the risks of employment “drop-out rates” as far as possible. Proven by one of QEST’s charity partners, City Gateway, which has an impressive 95% retention rate for the apprentices they place.

These charity partners are listed under the “charity partners” tab.

How to keep retention rates high?

  1. Paying your apprentice the minimum living wage as opposed to the minimum apprenticeship wage is a helpful factor for retention rates. This is because:
    • Some apprentices cannot afford accommodation and food on the apprenticeship wage, particularly in London and the South East – thus minimising the pool of applicants that can apply for your job.
    • It can be very disheartening for an apprentice to see that their peers are being paid significantly more for a menial job; often it is hard for them to consistently remember the long term picture of their career.
    • Being paid the minimum living wage enables an apprentice to live properly. You are treating them like a valued employee, making them feel respected which in turn will make them invest more time and effort into your company.

    Research has also proven that very slight salary increases throughout the apprenticeship can help keep an apprentice engaged, increasing retention rates. A slight salary increase every 6 months gives the apprentice a benchmark to work towards, an incentive to work hard.

  2. Create a clear support structure around the apprentice:
    • A line manager to assess their work performance
    • A mentor to help on a personal level, such as career progression
    • A charity partner to provide external, objective advice for your company and the apprentice (see the list of partners in the “charity partners” tab for more detail).

    With this support system put in place, and getting the whole company behind the apprenticeship, you are working together for the good of the apprentice, giving him/her every chance of success.

  3. Upskill your workforce (your line managers and mentors) if necessary, so that they are equipped with the skills to manage an apprentice.
  4. The interview process: get to really know your potential apprentice.
    • A suggested format for the interview would be a 3 hour long process, comprising of 2 group activities and 1 written activity.
    • Use the interview to ask the applicant to do various activities that enable you to assess the emotional behaviours the job demands e.g. ask them to sell your brand (good sales skills?) ask them to speak to a fake customer (good customer relations?) practice making a piece of jewellery (good hand-eye co-ordination?).
    • Having a 3 hour long interview process allows you to see the candidate’s true personality, not their “interview face”. This will enable you to assess their character, seeing if they will work well with your current workforce.
    • Ask for feedback after the interview, an informal call 1 week later, to help you improve your interview process for the next time.
  5. Sell your company to the apprentice, make them want to work for you
    • Give a presentation on your company, highlighting the exciting opportunities that come from working with you.

    The apprenticeship should be a mutual fit. It is just as much the apprentice’s decision to work for you as it is your decision to employ them.

  6. A positive mind-set. With the whole company behind the apprenticeship from the start, with the support and belief system put in place, the apprenticeship if far more likely to succeed.

Pay and conditions for apprentices

It is suggested that:

  • Apprentices work for at least 30 paid hours a week.
  • Your company pays for training or studying for a relevant qualification that your apprentice undertakes whilst working for you.
  • You offer apprentices the same conditions as other employees working at similar grades or in similar roles; such as paid holidays, sick pay, any benefits you offer (e.g. childcare voucher schemes), any support you offer (e.g. coaching or mentoring)

Make an apprenticeship agreement

It is suggested that you sign an apprenticeship agreement with your apprentice. This is essentially a contract of employment.

Research has proven that this increases the success rates of an apprenticeship partnership as both groups are fully aware of what the apprenticeship involves and are both committing to a successful working relationship.

The apprenticeship agreement gives details of what you agree to do for the apprentice. This includes:

  • How long the apprenticeship is for
  • The training you will provide
  • Their working conditions and environment
  • The qualifications they are working towards (if appropriate)

You can write your own apprentice agreement or download the government’s apprenticeship agreement template.

Securing a funded apprenticeship grant

Securing a QEST apprenticeship grant

QEST offers a grant of up to £18,000 to help a company employ a craft-skill based apprentice at a living wage for three years.

Apprenticeship applications open in the summer, with decisions made in the autumn.

To be awarded the grant the company must:

  • Specialise in a craft-based skill, such as ceramics, conservation, jewellery, leather, metals, musical instruments, paper production, rural crafts, stone, textiles and wood. A full list of the craft skills funded are available on QEST’s website.
  • Demonstrate a case for need. Proving that without QEST’s financial assistance your company would be unable to employ an apprentice.
  • Outline a training plan, noting any milestones or accreditations to be achieved. Evidencing that the young person is truly gaining valuable skills and training from the apprenticeship.
  • Demonstrate commitment from both the company and the apprentice to work together long-term.

Click here for further details

Interested in supporting QEST?

Supporting QEST

The support of our funders makes a vital difference to our work, enabling us to ensure we can develop and thrive. We are unable to fund talented and aspiring craftspeople without charitable grants and donations. We would welcome the opportunity to talk to you further about how you can support QEST.

Please contact: info@qest.org.uk

Our supporters

QEST is grateful for the support with our apprenticeship programme from the below:

Allchurches Trust Limited
Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation
Clothworkers Company
David Blackburn
Glen Dimplex
John Lyon’s Charity
Made in Britain
PF Charitable Trust
The Alborada Trust
The Blagrave Trust
The Cambridge Satchel Company
The Drapers’ Company
The Gosling Foundation
The Hedley Foundation
The Heritage Crafts Association
The Hobson Charity
The John Apthorp Charty
The Masons Company
The Pilgrim Trust
The Prince of Wales’s Charitable Foundation
The Radcliffe Trust
The Robertson Trust
The Worshipful Company of Broderers
The Worshipful Company of Cooks
The Worshipful Company of Pewterers
Tom Bunning

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Contact Details

1 Buckingham Place, London SW1E 6HR +44 (0)207 798 1536 Facebook Instagram Twitter Vimeo
Registered Charity No. 1152032 © QEST2016