Career spotlight: Ellen Johnson, Project Officer at Culture Bridge North East

14 July 2021

As part of our campaign to #BuildBackFairer, we’re shining a spotlight on some of the movers and shakers working in the creative and cultural sector and asking them to share their insight and advice for those at the start of their careers.

Image of Ellen Johnson

Image © Ellen Johnson

Ellen Johnson recently completed their Level 2 creative apprenticeship in Community Arts Administration with Culture Bridge North East and has since gone on to be employed as their Project Officer, where they plan and deliver the school and cultural events. Ellen features in our podcast episode exploring the impact of apprenticeships within the creative and cultural sectors.  

Tell us one thing about your job that we probably don’t know about?

Every day is different! My role is so broad that I have a variety of exciting jobs to do! Also, in pre-Covid times, I could take home the leftover food from functions –a huge positive!

What’s the biggest challenge facing your sector right now?

Learning how to be inclusive without tokenism. Although great strides have been taken, the cultural industry is still a place of privilege. Apprenticeships are a gateway into the sector, regardless of gender, race, sexual-orientation, disability, socio-economic background and all the other characteristics that are used by the privileged as justification for rejection. Apprenticeships are open to everyone but the stereotypes are still prevalent in the sector and the challenge is to not only refute them, but to push the power of apprenticeships into the public eye and into schools from early years onwards.

If you could give your 16-year-old self some career advice, what would it be?

Firstly, know your worth. There’s this public perception that getting ‘paid in exposure’ is a suitable enough means to sustain a young person. This is wrong and you know it. Your youth and perspective are invaluable to organisations recruiting the next generation, so don’t let them devalue your time or labour. Secondly, an apprenticeship isn’t a lesser qualification, it’s just different. You’ll experience people’s prejudice about apprenticeships and you’ll be made to believe you’re inferior. Don’t listen! The skills you’ll learn will benefit you for years to come, as well as what an apprenticeship will teach you about yourself. You’ll find you become a lot more self-aware than your peers! Also by the way, creative apprenticeships exist.

What’s been the most surprising moment of your career journey so far?

When organisations started asking me to do public speaking and I realised my experiences as a uni-drop out turned creative apprentice which, up until that point I had felt insecure about, were exactly the experiences people wanted to hear. I had never expected that would happen.

Who’s your professional hero?

Bette Davis! She wasn’t a creative apprentice but she was an amazing actor with a cutting sense of humour. She also didn’t let anyone underestimate or belittle her, and these are important attributes to live by as an apprentice.

Find out more about Culture Bridge North East on their website.