Direct accelerated training: ITV lays out its tactics for resolving the skills shortages that are handicapping production, with the launch of an ITV Academy that will merge new training plans with those that already exist. But not under one roof. George Jarrett talks to the director of this crucial long-term project, Sonny Hanley.

A graduate of the Digi Beta era, starting as a trainee production coordinator and going on to become ITV’s controller of content services, Sonny Hanley is a man with a unique role in securing a competitive work force for ITV’s content future.

ITV Academy Lowering barriers and increasing skillsets

ITV lays out tactics for resolving the skill shortages in production

As ITV Academy Director Hanley has a broad plan with two core missions. He said: “It [the ITV Academy] isn’t an actual physical building. Our remit is really about plugging the skills gap shortage in the industry, and what we are looking at precisely is production talent within TV.

“We are looking at areas like production management, editing, and junior production managers and assistant editors, and how we are going to get them up to the next level of their careers,” he added. “That is direct accelerated learning, though technical skills and on the job training.”

That is all about multiplying top skills and people, but the second mission is just as vital.

“At the same time, we are going to have one eye on entry level talent, making sure that we continue to produce that diverse production pipeline of young people,” said Hanley.

Asked about his plans for a team of tutors, he added: “We are going to leverage the experienced and talented people within ITV, but we are also going to work with our training partners. These are external bodies like Screen Skills and the National Film and Television School; we will supplement that training expertise should we need it.”

ITV Academy: Solving industry problems

The ITV Academy is not an educational institution. People do not leave school and just join it like a college.

“The second remit is about making sure that those entry level pathways into ITV are clear, regardless of the background you are from. This is vital, and it is an open playing field for everybody: so, whether that is apprenticeships, trainee schemes, graduates, work placements, or paid placements it is very clear as to how you can get into ITV and find production roles,” said Hanley.

Read more The Rise Up Academy: Helping media technology resolve its skills crisis

The challenge that is the skills shortage does not just dog production. It is a huge concern to companies in the delivery sector. Against this backdrop, and the pressures of solving sustainability and diversity issues in tandem, Hanley has taken a huge job.

Sonny Hanley

Sonny Hanley, ITV Academy

“Yes. It is a big job in terms of what we are trying to achieve, but the Academy has the backing of the management above. And we know it is an industry problem, not just an ITV concern,” he said. “That is why in the steps we are taking that the Academy is the direct result of what we see in terms of skills shortages.”

Being specific to production, why the problem? “The last ten years of the industry have been immense in terms of making programs and delivering them. Content creation has grown exponentially in direct comparison to the small numbers of people coming into this industry with the correct level of skill,” said Hanley. “There is probably a skills gap right across production.”

The creation of an umbrella structure (the Academy) has allowed ITV to merge the existing into the new.

“We have a number of current training schemes right across ITV Studios, which is made up of a number of labels. These different initiatives will be brought into the Academy. These include the news traineeship, which has been running for 15 years and has trained over 180 people,” said Hanley.

“We also have the development researcher’s traineeship, which has started a new initiative called the continuing drama traineeship,” he added. “This looks at getting underrepresented people onto our continuing dramas – Coronation Street and Emmerdale.”

ITV Academy: Movement around the business

While the production of content has passed the excess line, and keeps rising with FAST channels proliferating, Hanley says the production techniques have not grown out of their traditions.

“It is not a different way of doing it. The technology of how we produce content has all been changing, but the fundaments are still the same,” he said.

ITV Academy Lowering barriers and increasing skillsets (2)

The development researcher’s traineeship has started an initiative to get underrepresented people onto continuing dramas such as Coronation Street

Direct accelerated training is one thing, but what about the big issue all companies face of re-skilling?

“The Academy will also make it easier for people to move around the business, by providing that training. It is important that these people are able to do the jobs where we currently see the shortage,” said Hanley. “The Academy is nationwide as an entity – in our three major sites of London, Leeds and Manchester, and around the hub sits too. Our work is mainly production sustainability.”

Will Hanley have a relationship with RISE, the organization dedicated to bringing young people into television technology careers?

He said: “Not directly at the moment. Currently it is the technology department (and Tim Guilder) that leads that partnership with MD Carrie Wootton, but I have had conversations with her and I think it is a relationship we will want to foster and make stronger in the future.”

The Academy is open for business, with people already able to apply for the drama and ITV News traineeships.

“For the traineeships, they will be new talent. We will partner with the National Film and Television School because it provides short courses, and we can provide the resources in terms of studio space,” said Hanley.

“What has changed in production is the advent of the cloud, allowing your editors to be in multiple locations, and things have become slicker, faster and more efficient. The way that ITV produced The Violent Night during lockdown is an example of all of that.”

ITV Academy: Finding production accountants

Hanley’s career path also included being an edit producer and a senior business analyst on the technology side of ITV. His last work time in production was 2009. Will Live production come under his training regime?

“Not specifically because we are in the early days. We will continue doing that discovery phase in terms of learning when and what the skills gaps are. And if we need some work around Live we will come up with the initiatives to fill that gap,” he said. “We have a lot of expertise in house already, and if we have to, we can rely on our partners.”

In two or three years’ time how will Hanley judge his success? He said: “I will celebrate that if we have filled the skills gaps, that we have more experienced production managers available, more editors to cope with the demand for cutting content, more production accountants, and more make-up artists.

“And then we will move into different areas of the business, perhaps commercial and marketing, and key digital skills. This is what I would dream of as success,” he added. “And we will be launching an initiative around finding more production accountants.”

The ITV Academy was launched in Feb 2023 with the remit of making it easier for people to access and apply for jobs, training and development. Roles currently available through the ITV Academy include new entry-level opportunities to work on Coronation Street as:

Trainee makeup artist

Trainee runner

Trainee grip assistant

Trainee production secretary

An initiative announced in parallel is the ITV Academy News Traineeship, which gives twelve journalists across England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Jersey, an opportunity to start their career in news through a nine-month placement.

Read more Training rises up the production agenda