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Fair Work in Practice - NUJ Case Study: Opportunity

Scottish Union Learning has been working closely with unions across Scottish Apprenticeships to develop apprenticeship standards and frameworks, to progress apprenticeship opportunities with employers and to support Apprentices in their workplaces.

This is the third in a series of five apprenticeship case studies from a range of unions working in different sectors. Each case study will focus on a specific Fair Work dimension in practice, although the Fair Work dimensions do not stand in isolation from each other.


"Fair opportunity allows people to access and progress in work and employment and is a crucial dimension of Fair Work." Fair Work Framework 2016

NUJ: A Media Industry Case Study

by Joan Macdonald, NUJ

The American founding Father, Thomas Jefferson, wryly observed that the harder he worked, the luckier he got.

Similarly, when it comes to opportunity, the more privileged a person, the more opportunities they are likely to hear about and take advantage of. At the heart of apprenticeship programmes, then, there need to be strategies to promote equal information regarding opportunities and equal access to those opportunities.

The NUJ have been involved in Modern Apprenticeships since 2014, when we were invited on to a working group with Skills Development Scotland, Creative Skillset and industry employers to shape the Modern Apprenticeship in Creative Media.

We believe the apprenticeship route helps to break down barriers and provides an opportunity to address the problem of inequality of access to the industry and under-representation of minority groups in the media.

Media Skills for Schools

For too long, the media industry has been dominated by white, middle class, privately-educated, journalists. In 2014, 54% of the UK’s most influential editors and broadcasters went to private schools. In 2019, a study by social mobility charity The Sutton Trust found that this had dropped to 43%. This drop reflects the work done to make journalism a more inclusive profession. However, since only 7% of the general population have attended private school, the media remains one of the most elite of UK professions.

The NUJ has been working hard to challenge this and provide more equal opportunity across social and geographical divisions. We have considered it vital to work in schools to promote inclusive entry into the profession. Our Media Skills in Schools programme gives in-depth training to both teachers and pupils to establish newspapers and internet radio stations in schools, reaching pupils in both geographically remote Highlands and Islands schools, as well as inner city schools with multi-racial populations.

The programmes raises awareness in schools of the modern media industry, and also gives information on pathways into the profession. This includes Modern Apprenticeships and Foundation Apprenticeships as well as Higher Education pathways.


A Reuters study of top online news outlets and ten top offline news outlets found that only 23% of top editors across the 200 major outlets in their sample were women, despite the fact that, on average, 40% of journalists in the ten markets are women. There is still much work to be done to attract women into the profession, and our schools programme and apprenticeship work promotes equal access across gender and ethnicity. Our training programmes, which are open to apprentices, include courses specifically tailored for women, such as Confidence Skills for Women in the Media.

Opportunity in Foundation Apprenticeships

The NUJ has also been involved in developing National Occupational Standards for the Foundation Apprenticeship in Creative and Digital Media for senior school pupils who gain recognised qualifications and practical workplace experience, preparing them for the world of work and providing a talent pipeline for young aspiring journalists.

This has been welcomed by employers, one of whom said:

“This project ticks all the boxes for us. It gives us close links with local schools, meaning we can take on local trainees who can train and progress with us.”

Opportunity in Modern Apprenticeships

“If we were to sit down and draw up a list of exactly what we needed, it would be identical to the training offered by the NUJ under the Modern Apprenticeship Programme.” Anon. employer.

Recruitment of apprentices has extended beyond local and national newspapers, broadcasters and special interest publications to include charities, local authorities and political staff.

Over the years, some of the highlights of the program include:

  • The NUJ have been proactive in ensuring opportunity for those following the Modern Apprenticeship programme. An event with the First Minister was filmed by ex-STV apprentice Jack Aitchison. Daisy Smith, the STV Modern Apprentice at the time, did a piece to camera for the Scottish Government’s communications department. Callum Beaton, a Modern Apprentice with mental health charity Action in Mind, invited the First Minister to come and see first-hand what they were doing to help young people in the area with mental health issues.
  • Daisy and Jack have also featured in NUJ and Skills Development Scotland Modern Apprentice publicity material. They were highlighted in the NUJ’s submission to the All-Party Parliamentary Group of Social Mobility inquiry into Access into Leading Professions. Their experiences showed increasing access to a career in journalism through an apprenticeship, which offered training and skills and provided a genuine alternative to access through the college/university route.
  • Daisy was also a finalist in Skills Development Scotland’s Modern Apprentice of the Year awards.
  • MPs and MEPs representing Labour and SNP have been keen to utilise the Modern Apprenticeship programme to train their Parliamentary and constituency staff to produce high quality content, including videos for their websites and social media platforms. In the process, apprentices have gained a recognised qualification.
“I would say to anyone thinking about an apprenticeship to go for it. It is not just about getting a qualification and experience while you are getting paid – it is about building your confidence and your skills which you would never learn elsewhere." Daisy Smith, Journalism apprenticeship is big news for Daisy

Post-apprenticeship support

The NUJ encourages students and apprentices to be active in training and we have also been keen to use apprentices where possible to do work for the union. For example, we employed a young apprentice to make a film for us, funded by Skills Development Scotland, promoting the Media in Schools project.

Apprentices who wish to take part in NUJ training are encouraged to do so to ensure that they continue to develop their skills base, which can help them in developing their career path.

The NUJ has developed a mentoring programme to offer continued career support and professional development opportunities. Apprentices are eligible and encouraged to apply for this programme.

Related resources

Fair Work - Union Activity Summaries 2020-21

Fair Work in Practice - RMT Case Study: Security This is the first in a series of five apprenticeship case studies from a range of unions working in different sectors.

Fair Work in Practice - UNISON Case Study: Respect This is the second in a series of five apprenticeship case studies from a range of unions working in different sectors.

Fair Work in Practice - Unite the Union Case Study: Effective Voice This is the last in a series of five apprenticeship case studies from a range of unions working in different sectors.

Fair Work in Practice - Unite the Union Case Study: Fulfilment This is the fourth in a series of five apprenticeship case studies from a range of unions working in different sectors.