As the industry canters towards a rush of new technologies it does so having to resolve a massive shortage of skilled people, plus an embarrassing diversity deficit. The Rise Up Academy is on the front line of these two battles, and it has opened career windows for many primary and secondary children. George Jarrett talks to Rise MD Carrie Wootten about issues and opportunities.
On August 2-3 (7-9 years) and August 4-5 (10-13 years) the Rise Up Academy will entertain 500 Summer School children with (eight) workstreams on subjects like virtual production, graphics, cloud technology, and postproduction.
Retraining has always been a hot potato. “We all need to learn and train to upskill and refresh our knowledge, and this is no less true for older operatives as it is for younger ones. The issue is where and how that training is delivered,” said Wootten.
“The industry is facing a melting pot of issues, from sustainability, rapidly changing technology, and a lack of diversity. There is a willingness to support the training of anyone to help address the skills crisis, but it is a complex picture that needs a strategic approach,” she added. “Cross sector collaboration is going to be critical.”
With so many other industries following the IP/IT road, staffed by highly skilled people why not poach banking, insurance or motor industry staff?
“This is definitely an option to consider, especially when looking to attract more diverse talent. But one of the biggest barriers here is internal bandwidth to commit to this kind of project. Companies are so busy fire-fighting and managing with the breadth of work they currently have in response to the increasing demand for content,” said Wootten. “To launch re-training initiatives is a lower priority.
”Covid significantly impacted young people’s chance of getting work experience, and it hasn’t returned to pre-Covid levels.”
“Although big companies like Sky have excellent programs to do this, it should be recognised that there is a wider economic shortage of skills and talent across all industries,” she added. “Covid had a significant impact on the job market, and it is going to take a multi-pronged, cross sector strategy to address the skills crisis.”
Problematic to offer work experience
Rise will look at re-training later in the year. It has evolved rapidly since its launch three years ago, and its first big event was the establishment (post-Covid) of the Rise Up Academy. What lays behind the skills issue?
“The sector has an ageing white male workforce and a severe lack of diversity, specifically in engineering and technical roles. Companies are losing 15% of their business on an ongoing basis due to the lack of talent available,” said Wootten. “Our mentoring programs and awards initiatives continue to be a critical part of our work.”
Work experience as an idea was ruled out by ITV Studios for insurance and safety reasons, but surely it is a vital cog for Rise?
“Covid significantly impacted young people’s chance of getting work experience, and it hasn’t returned to pre-Covid levels. It is problematic to offer work experience if you are based in studios/OBs – anywhere that involves significant amounts of kit. The insurance just won’t cover it, so it’s a Catch-22,” said Wootten.
“We need to communicate and highlight to young people the amazing array of opportunities available to them and critically what the pathway is,” she added.
Talented people schemes
The post 18 pathway is the big concentration, because while university degrees are a brilliant way in, they are not for everybody.
Wootten said: “Importantly, [degrees] are not a route for lower socio-economic communities. Young people I spoke to recently wanted to go into the industry at 18, so what are the steps they need to take to enter the industry once they finish school?
”We need to provide baseline training that allows individuals to respond to new technologies, and have a solid foundation to be able to work from.”
“Apprenticeships still exist and ScreenSkills has been looking at these across various skillsets. But companies do not have the internal bandwidth to support the investment apprenticeships take. They can be complicated and lengthy, and they are perhaps not agile enough in structure to work with the demands of the sector,” she added.
ITV Studios saw ten people come through its graduate program in the last year, but why not expand the concept into ‘Talented People’ schemes?
“That would be perfect, although some additional training would need to be provided too. Graduate schemes obviously look for a certain amount of expertise and knowledge, but the students on our Rise Up Academy programs won’t have enough knowledge to match that yet. But if companies could be flexible on this and the level of knowledge they would accept, then that would make a significant difference,” said Wootten.
Buzzing with young people
The summer school will be the biggest project Rise has delivered, and it will help to create the clear and structured route into media jobs that Wootten so badly wants to see.
She said: “With over 500 young people, over 100 volunteers and multiple companies (including BT Sport, ITV, Discovery, and Sky) involved it is going to be big! Hopefully it will be buzzing with young people excited about the industry, and where their future careers might be headed.
“I am surrounded by brilliant people who are invested in making a difference,” she added.
Strategies, funding, and new ideas are Wootten’s long term drivers. She said: “We need to be lobbying government about the specific skills shortages we face in media technology. The creative sector more broadly gets attention, so as a sector we need to be working with the DCMS to develop programs to address our specific challenges.
“Rise needs further investment to scale our projects and achieve the outcomes we all desire. I would love to see the Summer School delivered across the South and North of England, and in every home nation, but that takes money. I am 100% sure that doing this would significantly change the diversity of our sector and reduce the skills crisis,” she added.
In the Autumn, Rise will launch a new initiative titled Strive to Rise.
“This will provide a framework for companies to self-assess where they are internally with achieving gender diversity, and show how they can work to see a balance across all departments. The BFI has launched a skills report on the screen industries more broadly, but it is clear that we need more engineering and technical talent, and urgently.
“The challenge is that the job roles and skillsets change rapidly as new technology develops, so we need to provide baseline training that allows individuals to respond to new technologies, and have a solid foundation to be able to work from, and to adapt to any new skillset required,” said Wootten.
It is a perfect storm
Going back to Universities, there is a specific media technology issue. “There will always be a place in our industry for graduates, but courses that have traditionally produced broadcast engineering talent are struggling to recruit students and have challenges to keep these courses open,” said Wootten. “Companies are looking to computer science courses and sometimes wider subjects to attract talent.”
Universities are expensive and they leave the life debt that dogs so many young people.
“This will play a factor in choosing whether to go into higher education, so we need to be acutely aware of this when striving to achieve more diversity. Combine this with a lack of knowledge about roles within media technology, its salaries and earning potential (both with children and parents) then it is a perfect storm,” said Wootten. “Most kids are on a journey at about the age of 12/13, whether they know it or not.”
Interested in learning more about this subject? Read how training is rising up the production agenda.