A day in the life: Numan Ahmed, Creative Apprentice

Ten questions about working at the RA

Published 15 January 2015

How do you get your first big break in the creative industries? We caught up with an RA creative apprentice to find out.

  • Numan Ahmed left school at 19 and worked in his father’s restaurant and at Primark, though he was desperate to pursue his passion for the arts. The creative industries can be difficult to enter, with job-seekers and graduates often working on unpaid internships before finding a permanent role. But Numan’s enthusiasm and dedication earned him an apprenticeship at the RA through his local council.

    Numan has been working at the RA through the Tower Hamlets Creative Apprenticeship Programme. The scheme, founded in 2013, is a 12 month pilot programme aimed to establish apprenticeships for Tower Hamlets young residents within creative organisations across the capital. Numan will complete the scheme in March and leave the RA with an NVQ (National Vocational Qualification).

    We caught up with Numan to find out about his daily life at the RA and how his apprenticeship will prepare him for the future.

  • What do you do at the RA?

    I work in different departments on different days. Every week I work for two days in the ticket office, one day in the marketing department and one day in the visitor services department.

    How did you come to work at the RA?

    I was reading my council magazine, East End Life, and saw an advertisement for the programme. I’d been looking for a way to get into the creative industries and so I applied.

    How do you start your working day?

    I give myself an hour to get to work. If I’m working in the ticket office I have to wear an RA fleece with an RA jacket if I’m working outside. Otherwise I just wear smart clothes when I’m in the office.

    What does a typical day at the RA look like?

    When I work in the ticket office, I come in at 9.30am, fifteen minutes before everyone else, so that I can set up. I get the cash, the keys and the pre-booked tickets out and put them all where they need to be, so that when everyone else comes in they can just get on with their job.

    At 9.45am I start working on the tills, selling tickets and helping to solve any queries that customers might have. When I work in visitor services there are lots of jobs to do, perhaps working in the cloakroom or helping direct groups of visitors. For marketing, I start a bit later and my job is more office-based, doing admin, replying to emails and writing tweets according to templates I have been given.

    What projects have you enjoyed working on?

    About three months ago, as part of my marketing job, I helped organise a bloggers event for the exhibition Dennis Hopper: The Lost Album. I was able to attend the event which was exciting: it was great to see it all come together. I really felt like I helped a lot.

    My favourite aspect of the job is in the ticket office because I really like talking to customers. It’s always very busy.

  • Numan Ahmed

    Numan Ahmed

  • What exhibition have you most enjoyed?

    I enjoyed Sensing Spaces which was on when I first started at the RA last February. I have a background in architecture because I studied it at college, and the exhibition was unlike anything I have seen at the RA or anywhere else. You could walk around and touch and feel the installations.

    Tell us something that’s unusual about your job role.

    In my job I work with everyone from every department. Whether it’s helping the porters and cleaners, moving boxes around, or working alongside the people selling tickets front of house, or the people who work in the back offices at the RA.

    What’s different about the RA compared with other places where you’ve worked?

    Before I came to the RA I was working in retail at Primark. It was a completely different place in many ways, but there were also a lot of similarities: it was always busy, and I was always helping customers. One of the main differences is that the audience here is slightly older, rather than young customers looking for deals. But I’m still doing customer service, selling tickets and meeting people face-to-face.

    What advice would you give to someone wanting to go into a career in the arts?

    If you’ve got an interest in the arts then that’s enough because you have a passion for it. Don’t worry if there are things that you don’t know because you can learn it. That’s the best thing about my apprenticeship - that I’m learning while I’m earning. Here you can pick things up while you’re working, and being on a paid scheme means that no one takes advantage of your time.

    What are you doing after you finish your apprenticeship?

    I’ve been working on a project to open an art gallery in Tower Hamlets, so I’ve been asking everyone here lots of questions about how to do it! All the art will come from students who are studying at Tower Hamlets College. I got the idea from the annual RA Schools show, and I thought we needed something like that in our area in East London. We’ve found an abandoned little house that we’re renovating for the art to go in.

    One of the great things about the apprenticeship is that you can still attend college. Because I didn’t go to university my education ended four years ago, but through doing this apprenticeship I’ve gone back to college and by the end I will have a qualification, an NVQ, that I can use in the future.

  • If you’ve got an interest in the arts then that’s enough because you have a passion for it. Don’t worry if there are things that you don’t know because you can learn it. That’s the best thing about my apprenticeship - that I’m learning while I’m earning. Here you can pick things up while you’re working, and being on a paid scheme means that no one takes advantage of your time.

    Numan Ahmed, creative apprentice

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