Brits Bridge Production Skills Gap, Improve Diversity With Training Initiatives

Sandra Kelly, Finance Director, Canals &
Courtesy of ScreenSkills/Erroll Jones

The boom in bigger-budget U.K. movies and series — funded mostly by the global streamers and Hollywood studios — has created shortages in skilled labor at a time when there is also a desire to improve diversity in the workforce. Both issues have been made more challenging due to the pandemic.

Research released recently by ScreenSkills, an organization that helps address the training needs of the British industry, highlighted a host of issues including a rise in remote working, the need for more staff in production management roles, the need for better interpersonal and communication skills, and the difficulties of providing on-the-job training when faced with COVID restrictions, staff shortages and budgetary restraints in a sector that is overwhelmingly freelance, and in which staff jump from project to project with little continuity.

“The challenge is: How do you keep pace with what the industry needs, particularly given the specialization, and the scale and ambition of shows?,” says Seetha Kumar, chief executive of ScreenSkills. “I think it’s just scaling up what we already do, and doing much more of it.” One of her priorities is to cater to the training needs of mid-career professionals. “The key pinch point, I would say, is less at the new entrant level, and more in specialized job roles, given the scale and ambition of shows are increasing.” The aim is to help staff broaden their experience and strengthen their credits by honing skills.

One thing that can be done to address skills shortages, she says, is to encourage people from other professions, whose skills are transferable, such as accountancy and production management, to join the industry.

Flexibility is crucial when adjusting to the changing needs of the industry, such as the adoption of more remote work in the past year. “When things happen, as during the pandemic, and there was significant change, the industry adapted flexibly and imaginatively to the needs,” she says.

The widespread sharing of information about safe ways of working during COVID should be replicated when addressing other issues, such as skills shortages and increasing diversity.

Despite the sector’s largely freelance and project-based model, ScreenSkills is working with other industry players to develop common approaches to recruitment and onboarding processes, as well as other priorities such as developing anti-bullying and harassment policies, and improving mental health, including achieving a better work-life balance.

“We have to constantly evolve and change,” Kumar says.

There is a need to develop better leadership skills at all levels within the workforce “so we create a culture that is much more respectful, thoughtful, even under pressure,” she says. Although “bad behavior” exists within the industry, “there’s a real desire and willingness, certainly with the practitioners we work with, to challenge it, and to change it,” she says. “A good leader is somebody who — no matter what happens — can stay calm. You can be polite, you can be respectful, and get the job done.”

There is a willingness to improve diversity in the industry, Kumar says, but further work needs to be done. Although programs for getting a foot in the door exist, maintaining momentum is more difficult in an industry in which clear pathways rarely exist, and zig-zagging is the norm.

“If you come from a disadvantaged background, or you feel the other, you lose confidence quite quickly,” she says. One way to assist career progression is to “help them build connections; so mentoring becomes really important,” she says. “We also help them build networks.”