Ben Vleminckx, Chief Executive of member Evolve Music, shares how they’re working with emerging and established music leaders on workforce development and invites you to contribute to the conversation about best practice.


As a sector we rely heavily on our freelance workforce. In fact, without them it wouldn’t exist. We are very aware that the last 12 months have left freelancers unsupported and floundering with no work. Organisations now need to invest in the support of our freelance workforce as we begin to rebuild, recover and move forward.

Earlier this year ACE set out their first stage of their ‘Let’s Create’ delivery plan which focuses on five themes. Theme two ‘Supporting Individuals’, highlights the need for organisations to shift focus and invest in workforce development following the impact of COVID-19. So many individual freelancers have left the creative industries over the past year and there is already evidence emerging that the younger generations have lost confidence and are pursuing other career pathways.

As founder and now CEO of Evolve Music I have always kept workforce development and training high up on our agenda, having been a freelance musician and music leader myself. When the pandemic hit, this gave us the time and space to launch our sector and workforce development programme ‘Evolution’.

We began the process through consultation with our small freelance workforce and external leaders in our sector. Providing a virtual space to openly discuss rates of pay, individuals’ training needs and ideas for future programmes was a pivotal point for us. This has not only improved our relationship with our team of freelance music leaders, but also reassured them that their needs are central to our planning and something that feeds our vision and ambition to be a truly authentic co-creation centred organisation. This is an ongoing journey to which we are dedicated to providing time, energy and resources.

As a small organisation, we are aware that we can’t be everything to everyone, but we have tried to establish tools which will enable us to support as many people as we can. Our Evolution programme is divided into two strands: training and networking. The Evolution Network offers both formal and informal events for any music leader/music educator to learn, share and connect with others. We believe that we need to invest in the whole community music workforce, not just our own, to continue to push, innovate and challenge.

Our Evolution Music Leader Training Programme runs alongside this and is a new six-month training programme for emerging music leaders to hone their skills. This training is experiential, focusing on individuals’ professional development and tailored to their needs and interests. The lack of opportunities like this in the South West is alarming and we felt that as a growing regional organisation, we were well placed to develop something. Unlike with most training opportunities, we pay our trainees to work on our creative music programmes during their six months with us. They are also assigned an experienced mentor who will observe their practice, provide constructive feedback and meet with them regularly to work through their individual goals.

Partner support is also fundamental. We benefit from the support of a range of external partners including music education hubs and other community music organisations who share expertise and provide opportunities to learn about community music practice.

Embedded within our workforce development programme are specific equality, diversity and inclusion goals. This includes increasing the diversity of 25% of our annual trainee cohort and ensuring we profile work from diverse community musicians and organisations. Our long-term ambition is to support diverse individuals through coaching, mentoring and paid work to gain experience and pathways to working at a senior leadership level.

As our Government continues to squeeze and cut funds for cultural education within our formal education system, I see it as the role of cultural organisations like ours to yet again step in. We have a responsibility to support the next generation and our talent and workforce development programmes are vital to the growth and continued success of our world class arts and culture sector.

I would love to hear from other organisations about what their strategic plans are around investing in workforce development and enable conversations to begin around sharing best practice.

Ben Vleminckx

Chief Executive, Evolve Music

Photo credit: Martin Tompkins