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Volunteer yourself for exploitation? We talk to Lord Prescott

We let you in on our chat with Lord Prescott on the fine line between work experience and exploitation.

We recently saw a debate in the House of Lords about the issue of volunteer work in the live events sector. Some of the debate centred on Lord Prescott’s reported accusation of the government “exploiting cheap labour” when unpaid volunteers stewarding on the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee concert were dropped off by their bus drivers and left to sleep under London Bridge in less than desirable conditions.

 

Lord Prescott was so outraged by this incident that he wrote to the Home Secretary Theresa May calling for her to launch an investigation into what happened.

 

The Guardian reports that a private security company took on 30 people on jobseekers allowance and 50 people on apprenticeship wages through a government work scheme, which is designed to help the long-term unemployed get back into work.

 

Some logistical errors on their coach journeys into the city meant the stewards were left to their own devices out in the cold on London Bridge in the middle of the night and were forced to change into their security uniform by the side of the road, with no access to toilets.

 

We wrote a letter to Lord Prescott telling him about the work we are doing at Backstage Academy to equip the young and unemployed with the skills they need to get jobs in the live events industry – one of the only growth industries to champion in this uncertain climate.

 

The West Yorkshire region where we are based is in the top three areas in the country with the highest level of unemployment for 18-24 year olds. We are situated on an industrial estate in a former mining town near Wakefield, yet the amount of world-class talent that is nurtured at the LS-Live studio facility is phenomenal.

 

We have internationally acclaimed artists and productions come to use the facility to produce their concert shows, film shoots, music videos, TV commercials and structural builds. This requires a skilled workforce and with the growth of the sector, there are plenty of opportunities for young people to get involved and find jobs.

 

A few days after we sent the letter, we were pleased to receive a phone call at the office from Lord Prescott himself, who wished to hear our views on the exploitation of crew and volunteers in our industry ahead of his appearance in the House of Lords the following day.

 

We were very impressed with how briefed he was on the challenges of our industry. He understood the need for people to build up their CV before becoming employed in the sector; volunteering is necessary to make the industry work and for the unemployed and students to develop their portfolio.

 

Lord Prescott noted how good our industry is at employing young people and that live events is a growth industry in the UK with good opportunities for jobs. He said it was very critical for people on work experience placements to build up their skills and that there was a fine line between valuable work experience and exploitation. Exploiting individuals cuts across thousands of businesses that make a profession from hiring out crew.

 

He went on to say that if we don’t keep up a professional standard of practice for work experience placements there are rounds of events and companies who will scoop up free workers, use them for their labour, then go on to the next project.

 

As part of the Live Events Production Foundation Degree at Backstage Academy (which is validated by The University of Bolton), our students have just completed their first Industry Practice placement, of which there are two throughout the course. We are approached by countless event managers who offer work placements to the students. Our policy is to only provide volunteer labour when it’s part of the students’ agreed skills development programme or course, working only with events and partners that comply with best working practice, safety and diversity policies. Our strategy is to match their interests with the role as closely as possible and we also insist on feedback from the programme, with each student having to submit a daily diary.

 

We also ensure wherever possible that we do not impact on the hundreds of responsible, experienced and hard working companies that supply skilled labour into the events industry. We do this by working with and embracing crewing companies, so if a particular crew company is contracted on an event, we send the students directly to them. These crewing companies will also get to see first hand potential new trained employees.

 

If a student’s work experience placement is followed up by the offer of paid work, we try to accommodate that opportunity as much as possible, as long as it doesn’t jeopardise their studies.

 

We will continue to push for high standards of practice when it comes to work placements and volunteering. There is so much opportunity for young people to gain real experience on live events, we just have to look at ways of preventing the small handful of people who abuse the system.

 

We ended our conversation with Lord Prescott by inviting him up to Backstage Academy for a cup of tea and a look round the facilities. The kettle is always on.

 

FURTHER READING

 

http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2012/jun/06/unpaid-jubilee-stewards-prescott-exploitation

 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-18329526

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