Media apprenticeships – your job options

Young media apprentices working in broadcasting
It’s possible to start a career in the media without a degree. Apprenticeships are available in broadcasting and journalism, and you can sometimes find work in other areas too.

There have always been opportunities for people to get into the media without having a degree. You’ll find very few media organisations that have an official ‘graduates only’ hiring policy. Partly that’s because – in theory – no one wants to pass by the next David Attenborough or Victoria Derbyshire just because they don’t have a degree.

In practice quite a lot of entry-level jobs require a degree. But that’s not always the case. There are apprenticeships and similar opportunities in broadcast production, and some in TV and radio journalism and in local newspaper journalism. It’s also possible to get into other areas without a degree if you are determined and don’t mind a bit of hard work and initiative to build the skills you need.

Be aware that those apprenticeships that do exist tend to be at a lower level than in some other industries. Most are at ‘advanced’ level, which is equivalent to A levels. If you’re hoping for an employer to put you through a high-level qualification such as an HND or degree, you’re better off considering careers such as business, IT or engineering.

How to get into broadcasting without a degree

Various broadcasting companies offer apprenticeships or other similar jobs that don’t require a degree. Broadcast running, junior production roles and technical broadcasting roles has previously been available through post-18, non-degree routes with large UK broadcasters such as Sky, Channel Four and the BBC, and the studios that serve them. Some content agencies (which help clients with marketing) have apprenticeships in video editing.

In some cases, apprentice posts are primarily for ‘non creative media’ roles, such as business administration, customer services and digital marketing. In others, apprentices learn how to write and create continuity presentations (the links between programming) and run errands for studio producers. Other broadcast organisations have ‘trainee production’ posts. These are also for people who want to be employed as runners or in other non-journalist production roles. Trainee producers are basically apprentices by another name.

Typically, broadcasting companies set few minimum academic qualifications for their apprenticeships and trainee roles. But you will need to demonstrate a willingness and ability to think widely and in detail, and to learn lots of new things quickly. In practice it helps if you have some experience in a role where you had to organise things or offer technical support within professional or amateur television, radio or video production. Any experience in helping put together creative events such as theatre, comedy or music festivals is useful too.

How to become a journalist without a degree

Journalism is mostly a graduate occupation but there are a few schemes available that allow you to train as a journalist without going to university. These are with some local newspaper groups and the largest UK TV and radio broadcasters. They aren’t all officially apprenticeships but the idea is the same with each: you are employed, receive on-the-job-training and also gain a recognised qualification, usually with National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ). The term ‘apprentice journalist’ is growing in use but ‘trainee journalist’ is the more common description. Employers may ask for a minimum number of GCSEs, A levels or BTECs (or equivalent). Some broadcast organisations are less specific in terms of academic requirements for trainee journalists but stress relevant work experience and commitment to the profession.

Getting into other media careers without a degree

It is possible to get into other areas of the media without a degree, though you probably won’t find an apprenticeship or similar scheme. Instead, you may need to build your skills and experience off your own back before looking for paid work, or get a job that’s not quite in your chosen area and work your way up and across.

  • Photography (in a media context) is historically one area where having a degree isn’t necessary. If you turn up at the picture desk of a newspaper with lots of striking, new pictures of royals, no-one is going to ask about your qualifications. And there are photojournalists who have A levels and BTECs in photography and who don’t have degrees in photojournalism. But some media organisations and media photographic agencies do prefer to hire those with photographic degrees. When you see an apprentice photographer job advertised it tends not to be in the media.
  • The vast majority of magazine and website editors have degrees, and tend to hire new staff members who have also been to university. It is not impossible to leave school without going on to further study, find work as an online writer on a specialist site and then work your way up to editor if your knowledge and writing are superb. For example, if you are an excellent video games player you might be able to write brilliant reviews of games.
  • Book editing tends to be a graduate profession. Realistically, your chances of getting in without having been to university are slim.
  • Junior copywriting jobs often ask for graduates. However, it’s possible to get into marketing without a degree, so you may be able to start your career in a non-writing role and look out for any opportunities to write copy once you are in the workplace.
  • If you want a career as a designer (in a media context), a degree in an art and design-related subject, such as graphic or multimedia design, is particularly useful. However, it’s sometimes possible to get an entry-level job without a degree if you have lots of relevant work experience and have taught yourself relevant skills in your own time. For example, if you want a career in web design you might teach yourself to use Photoshop, HTML, CSS and Drupal.

When is a media apprenticeship not a media apprenticeship?

The number of ‘media apprenticeships’ that are not quite what they seem is growing.

There are lots of marketing vacancies tagged as ‘media apprenticeships’ on jobs sites. They will often have ‘social media’ in the job title. Whereas they are fine in their own rights, these jobs are not ‘media jobs’ and will not prepare you for a role in the media, either in a production or editorial role. But it’s different if the apprenticeship includes ‘editorial’ or ‘content’ in its title and involves working for a marketing agency in a creative role on a customer publication. Or if the apprentice content role is with a media start-up. In both cases, the experience can be a stepping stone to working in a media role for an existing media company.

However, beware: many ‘apprenticeships’ are entry-level, lower paid jobs actually aimed at graduates. If the ad for the apprenticeship promises experience and a ‘living wage’ level salary but does not offer training for an externally validated media qualification then it really isn’t an apprenticeship. And it’s probably a graduate job in disguise, which means you’re up against extra competition.

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