Published on: 27 March 2015 in Longform

Andrew Chowns: Spotlight on skills

Reading time: 5 minutes and 46 seconds

In this week's issue of Broadcast Andrew Chowns, Directors UK's CEO and Chair of the Creative Skillset TV Skills Council wrote the following article about the growing skills gap in the industry, republished below, with permission (you can see the original article as it appeared in Broadcast here):

Creative Skillset’s report, The Full Picture, is a must-read for anyone concerned about the development of our workforce. It lays out what the leaders of 121 UK production companies think of the skills gaps and shortages they face. For me and Cat Lewis, in our roles as chair and vice-chair of Creative Skillset’s TV Skills Council, it is a call to arms: what conclusions can we draw about the career and skills development needs of our industry, and how can we turn these findings into a plan to ensure a properly skilled workforce throughout the UK?

The first couple of pages provide us with two key findings: Some 77% of respondents find it hard to fill vacancies and, again, 77% describe a shortfall between the skills they need and those of their current workforce. The report then takes us through,
genre by genre, the specific challenges. Some are fairly well-known and understood:

The lack of programme strands with a career-development role built in, such as those that The Bill and Skins used to offer. The value of providing real work opportunities, such as mentoring and apprenticeships, that can help supplement basic skills with confidence, familiarity and practice. The difficulty of attracting and retaining people with digital and social media skills in the face of competition from other industry sectors.

Others are not so easy to understand, as they appear to contain a number of contradictions: 

Many respondents find it especially hard to find talent to work in the nations and regions. Yet aside from drama, members of the TV Council based outside London and the south- east say there is plenty of great talent there. Companies are either not aware or are not prepared to use the locally available workforce, preferring to transfer people from London. Some roles that are said to be hard to recruit, such as series producers, edit producers and factual directors, might be in short supply because of changes to working practices like the fragmentation of roles initiated by the companies themselves.

And some are clearly in danger of doing great harm to our talent base:

Many said broadcasters and production companies were riskaverse in hiring people – and not just for senior roles. This is often coupled by a lack of awareness of the available talent, or an unwillingness to consider anyone outside a small circle of ‘approved’ specialists. It’s a strange paradox that we have so much access to information about the workforce via social media, talent websites and databases, yet so much reluctance to give a chance to someone new. A number of these factors are combining to create a workforce that lacks diversity across all measures.

At this month’s Westminster Media Forum, I called for a revolution in recruiting to tackle these challenges. This must include our approach to skills and career development. Our first task is to ensure we have a clear understanding of the key findings of the report, especially: how can we spread the word about the full range of talent of the workforce in the nations and regions and ensure every programme made as part of the outof-London quota leaves a legacy?

Do we have the most open and effective routes into the workforce – not just from the default option of universities but also from schools and communities? How can we create real work opportunities that spread outside the trusted ‘safe pair of hands’ and break down the prevailing risk-averse culture?  Why do TV companies find it so hard to recruit and retain good digital and social media talent?

It is not all doom and gloom, of course. In a way, we are tackling a problem of success because of the high demand for our talented workforce. A number of promising initiatives are already under way, many with Creative Skillset support and encouragement.

The BBC’s recent announcement of 5,000 digital apprentices was especially eye-catching, and shows that bold steps can be taken. There are also new apprenticeships being developed for Broadcast Engineering and Broadcast Production, and there is Creative Skillset’s successful Trainee Finder programme placing paid trainees onto drama productions.

Due to the success of the highend drama skills levy, Creative Skillset is also supporting a number of projects, many of which have a diversity focus, to upskill crew and develop writers, producers and directors. The recently announced CDN Commissioner Development Programme is supported by the Creative Skillset TV Fund.

But there is still much to do across all genres of the TV industry. So much of our production workforce is now freelance. It is simply too valuable and important for us, and we cannot leave freelancers and their career and skills development to chance.

The truth is that we will only be able to secure a freelance workforce that is properly paid, high quality, developed and inspired if we all contribute, whether in cash or in kind. And our strategy for achieving this is something for which we must all take responsibility, starting now.

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