Published on: 12 March 2015 in Directors UK

Andrew Chowns at the Westminster Media Forum

Reading time: 3 minutes and 37 seconds

On Thursday 12th March Directors UK's CEO, Andrew Chowns spoke at the Westminster Media Forum as part of a panel discussing the "priorities for infrastructure and workforce". Andrew's particular focus was on freelancers, training and encouraging (and facilitating) the development of talent.

Also speaking on the panel were Dinah Caine (CEO of Skillset), Spencer MacDonald (Assistant General Secretary of BECTU) and Jane Bonham-Carter (Lib Dem spokesperson in the House of Lords on Culture, Media and Sport).

Dinah Caine speaking at the Westminster Media Forum, image via @ferdeline

Skillset recently carried out a piece of research which showed that 77% of the production companies surveyed reported having hard to fill vacancies and 77% also reported a significant skills gap in their workforce. 22 out of the 24 companies involved in high-end TV production reported that they had recently experienced difficulties in crewing productions and 57% of freelancers reported having a skills gap. Despite these obvious issues the creative industry's spending on training, per head of population, is the 3rd lowest in the UK (the tech industry, for comparison, is the 2nd highest).

Andrew discussed the ways in which the high-end tax credit has impacted on the industry's workforce, whilst it has undoubtedly increased demand for our resources and skills this has resulted in shortages in certain areas due to all the workforce getting booked up, as Andrew said this is a nice problem to have however "we don’t want productions to feel like they must bring non-UK labour with them — or to not come at all".

In the short-term we believe that this is a relatively easy problem to solve, we do have good talent here in the UK but it is "not always known about because commissioners and producers are unaware of it and wary about moving outside their usual networks", we are seeing the impact of this approach more broadly with the chronic underemployment of women and BAME talent. At the level we are talking about "people need mentoring and hands-on experience to build confidence, familiarity and practice, there is really no point in them simply shadowing others", we need to embed this way of developing staff across the industry, broadcasters should mandate this as a requirment of production companies they work with.

Any approach to tackling the under-representation of women, BAME and diverse backgrounds in the broadest sense has to start from a position of honesty about how this industry works. Until we acknowledge that most opportunities are as much about the networks and contacts you can call upon as experience and capability we will always fall short of long term change. Supporting a diverse, representative talent pool both now and into the future is about more that schemes and initiatives; they have to be anchored in a system that genuinely sees and understand the value of what they are trying to achieve. It's time to break the working cultures and behaviours that prevent more diversity in an industry obsessed with ‘risk-aversion’ which inevitably results in maintaining the status quo (and its demographic). We would argue that the real risk being run by our industry is that those working both on and off screen look less and less like the audiences we are all working for.  

To this end we welcome the Creative Diversity Network's announcement of its new Commissioner Development Programme, a pan-industry initiative which aims to widen the diversity of commissioning and will see up to eight individuals working within Commissioning teams at broadcasters including Channel 4, ITV, Channel Five, Sky and the BBC. Genres include factual, drama, sport and factual entertainment. Initiatives such as these alongside work such as our Women Directors, BAME and Pay campaigns will both serve to expose the realities of the industry we work in and aim to achieve real, longterm and positive change.

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