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Q&A: Paul Latham, Live Nation

By | Published on Thursday 18 July 2013

Paul Latham

Last week UK Music officially unveiled a new Skills Academy for the music business, capitalising on the work already done by the government-backed Creative & Cultural Skills organisation, but with a specific focus on the music industry. A key aim is to encourage music companies large and small to explore the potential of apprenticeships as a way of finding and training future talent; ie creating paid entry-level roles linked to some kind of formal training that overcome many of the issues (for employer and trainee) that surround unpaid internships.

Live Nation International COO Paul Latham already chairs Creative & Cultural Skills, and has become Patron of the new UK Music Skills Academy. Shortly after the launch in Westminster, CMU Business Editor Chris Cooke spoke to him about the Skills Academy mission, the benefits of apprenticeships, and why music companies should get involved.

CC: How did you get involved in Creative & Cultural Skills originally?
PL: I got a call out of the blue from Tony Hall, who at that point was still running the Royal Opera House. He said he was involved in a new employer engagement initiative for the creative industries, and given I was the biggest employer in UK live music – and back then theatre too – could he meet to discuss it with me. It sounded interesting from the start, though my initial thought was: “I’m a Guardian reader, how come I’ve not heard about this before?” When we met, it turned out that was one of the problems!

But the concept was a good one, how can we get young people with talent and ambition out of the unemployment statistics and into our industry? When I first left school I worked in an unemployment benefits office, and saw first hand what mass unemployment was doing to a generation in Thatcher’s Britain, so this was an ambition that really resonated with me. And it also made me reconsider the HR policies at my own company, what were we doing to address this issue ourselves? We were offering the same work placements and internships as everyone else, but were those really working? And why were we only considering graduates for entry-level roles? It suddenly dawned on me that I wouldn’t have got an interview at my own company!

CC: So you got involved?
PL: Yes, there seemed to be a real opportunity to shake things up here, and that really appealed. So I agreed to support the initiative, and ended up as Chairman. We made the focus school leavers, so sixteen-plus, young people who couldn’t afford to go the university route. Mainly because the research showed that these were the people most at risk of becoming long-term unemployed. The first task was to find educators who would come on the journey with us, and then employers who shared our aspirations.

Once we’d done that, we worked with the employers and educators together to develop apprenticeship opportunities that combined learning and working, so some of the week doing a job, and some of it at a local college. But with learning directly linked to a real career. The government has supported the scheme with some funding, but this is really an employer-led initiative. And the stats from the first few years are encouraging. We’ve gone from zero to in the region of 2600 apprenticeships across the UK creative sector, and 90% of those who have gone though the scheme are still working in the industry, 57% still with the same company. It really seems to work.

CC: What has Live Nation’s involvement been?
PL: We’ve got apprenticeships across the business, with young people learning about all the different parts of our company. As a venue owner, we have bases all over the country, and look to work with local colleges near our venues to provide the right kind of formal learning for the kind of jobs we can offer. Though the apprentices learn within the company too. And in that respect it becomes a two way process – our employees really appreciate the opportunity to mentor new talent, and, I think, benefit from having young people with such enthusiasm for our business working with their teams. And, because these roles are more formalised that old fashioned internships, those relationships are much stronger.

CC: Have other music companies come on board?
PL: In many ways, music is the last part of the wider creative sector to become a focus. Though there are companies from our business already involved. White Light, one of our suppliers, learnt about the programme and were quick to throw their support behind it. And they now have their own apprenticeships scheme set up.

CC: But the music business could do more?
PL: Yes, definitely, and that is why this UK Music-led initiative is so important. It’s worth noting that different parts of the music industry have already been doing some great work in providing opportunities and training for young talent; for example, both the BPI and the Music Mangers’ Forum have projects in this domain. But hopefully the UK Music Skills Academy can better unite these initiatives, which makes it easier for companies to share knowledge, and for young talent to access opportunities. And of course there are lots of small companies in the music industry, who possibly can’t afford to take on an apprentice alone. But perhaps if they worked with other similar sized employers they could. So, really it’s about joining the dots on various levels.

CC: Has there been interest from music industry employers?
PL: Yes, lots. I think more or less everyone in this industry has some decent bones in their body, they want to do the right thing. They just don’t necessarily know how to do it when it comes to supporting young talent, and of course people have a lot of demand on their time. The UK Music Skills Academy will provide an easy guide to how to set an apprenticeship up. There might need to be a little bit of a rally call – ‘stop taking on unpaid interns, it’s morally wrong, and could soon be legally wrong too’ – but I think if we can communicate the alternatives, people will get it.

Employers interested in getting involved in the UK Music Skills Academy should contact