What does a location engineer do?
Location engineers set up the studios and technology needed to broadcast TV programmes from all over the world. This could be at an international conference for climate change, the aftermath of an earthquake, the tennis at Wimbledon, a big political announcement at Downing Street or a war zone like Ukraine. If you want a job that combines technology with being at the heart of big events, this could be the perfect role for you.
A location engineer needs to be able to drive and operate broadcast vehicles such as satellite-link trucks – vans with satellite dishes on the roof that send footage back to the studio at home. They also need to be able to set up links to the newsroom or studio over the internet. They find solutions to colleagues’ technical problems and use the equipment they have with them – however limited – to get programmes, or the latest news report, onto our TVs, laptops and phones.
Location engineers work on a 24-hour basis, so regularly work shifts and sometimes have to travel at short notice. Often, they are the only engineering member of a small team, so they need the experience and knowledge to work a huge range of communications and broadcasting equipment.
Although the job can bring excitement and variety, location engineers often work in difficult conditions, so need a lot of resilience.
These challenging conditions mean location engineers must have the know-how to work safely, and if they’re responsible for a team of people, to ensure that they’re working safely too. They also set the standards for the quality of the engineering work.
Watch and read
- Ravensbourne students broadcasting The Royal Shakespeare Company’s Macbeth
- Interview with Jahangir, broadcast engineer for Sky
What is a location engineer good at?
- Working under pressure: keeping calm in difficult conditions and meeting tight deadlines
- Technical knowledge: having a good understanding of how equipment needed to broadcast a programme works
- Thinking outside the box: coming up with new solutions to fix technical problems
- Teamwork: Reassuring colleagues; giving clear instructions and advice; collaborating with people in lots of different roles
- Flexibility: Travelling at short notice and working around the clock.
Who does a location engineer work with?
A wide range of people, including producers, staff working in studios, local casual or freelance staff and engineering staff from other broadcasters.
How do I become a location engineer?
You need to understand the science and process of broadcasting and be great with technology. If you’re the person in your family who’s always asked to help fix phones and laptops, the chances are you’d make a great location engineer.
You could start as a trainee broadcast engineer and work your way up, or you could transfer across from being an RF or satcomms engineer. Most location engineers have a degree in engineering or technical media, or about three years’ experience in a similar field.
At school or college
If you’re interested in a career in broadcast engineering, A-levels in maths, physics and computer science would be good to get under your belt. You could combine these with subjects from the arts and humanities, such as English, history or music, which may come in useful for the content of the programmes you work with. Languages are also handy as location engineers often travel a lot. For example, learning Russian would be invaluable if you were working in Ukraine.
The following Level 3 vocational qualifications are also relevant to this role:
- BTEC in Engineering with Engineering Maths
- Cambridge Technical Extended Certificate in Engineering
- BTEC National Foundation Diploma in Engineering
- C&G Technical Certificate in Engineering
- EAL Technical Diploma/Extended Diploma in Engineering Technologies
- BTEC Diploma/Extended Diploma in Electrical and Electronic Engineering
- City & Guilds Advanced Technical Diploma in Electrical Installation
- EAL Diploma/Advanced Diploma in Electrical Installation
Selected schools and colleges have also started offering T-levels – a qualification equivalent to three A-levels that is designed to help you get into the industry of your choice. Study is 80% classroom- and 20% work placement-based.
The following T-levels would help to kick-start your career in broadcast engineering:
- Media, Broadcast and Production
- Digital Production, Design and Development
- Digital Support Services
- Digital Business Services
- Design and Development for Engineering and Manufacturing
- Maintenance, Installation and Repair for Engineering and Manufacturing
- Engineering, Manufacturing, Processing and Control
Apprenticeships are jobs with training. Search for apprenticeships in broadcast engineering with broadcasters like BBC and Sky. Go to What’s an apprenticeship? to find out more and Where can I find an apprenticeship? to find apprenticeships in your region. Alternatively, you can approach companies directly. Take a look at our list of apprenticeships to find the schemes of the main broadcasters.
The BBC has a three-year broadcast and media systems degree apprenticeship that offers a mix of practical experience and university study in all areas of media systems engineering. You may also be interested in the level 3 apprenticeship for broadcast and media systems technical operator.
Get involved with events in your local community, whether that’s running the sound for your school talent show, managing the special effects for an amateur dramatics society or helping out at a volunteer-run radio station.
Contact theatre productions or local music venues that can get you behind the scenes of a production environment. Anything that gives you experience in dealing with equipment in a live environment will be helpful. Voluntary experience is great for your CV, because it shows you’re enthusiastic, have technical ability and experience and you work well as part of a team.
Get a degree
A degree in a maths or science subject would stand you in good stead for entering the world of broadcast engineering. You could also look at electronic engineering, software design or computing. Go to ScreenSkills Select to find university and college courses accredited by ScreenSkills.
Look outside the industry
If you can’t or don’t want to get into broadcast engineering straight away, industries that require similar skills include telecoms, live events and radio. These would enable you to strengthen your technical abilities and get experience with technical equipment.
Some location engineers also have a managerial role, so try to find roles that provide experience with technical equipment as well as increasing responsibility within a team. For roles that have both technical and managerial aspects, look into smaller film and music video productions.
Get work experience
Write to local production companies and ask if they offer technical assistant roles. Keep an eye out for work experience opportunities at the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Sky and the PACT Indie Diversity Training Scheme.
Alternatively, try approaching a rental equipment company that supplies productions with the gear they need. This will enable you to get your hands on equipment, learn more about it and get to know people who work in TV.
Take a short course
If you are over 18, make a ScreenSkills account and check out ScreenSkills’ Training and opportunities page and click on Training to see what courses are available, whether they are in person or online. The training doesn’t have to be linked directly to broadcast engineering; for example, a short course on developing resilience would help you understand how to thrive in challenging circumstances.
Get to know people in the film and TV industry by attending events such as ScreenSkills’ Open Doors. Go to Training and opportunities and use the events filter to find out what’s on. Meet professionals and ask them questions about their work, while demonstrating interest in and knowledge of the industry. Offer to provide them with your professional contact details and try to stay in touch with them. Go to Network well to learn how to do this.
Create a LinkedIn profile. See if there are Facebook pages or other social media groups for people making film and TV in your area. Create a ScreenSkills profile. There are a lot of crewing agencies that will charge you to be on their books. Sign up to the free ones initially. Wales Screen, Northern Ireland Screen and Filming in England offer free crew databases and opportunities to network in person. Find a film office near you and get connected. If you do sign up to paid sites, make sure they specialise in the areas in which you’re interested.
Search for jobs
Search for jobs on the broadcasters’ websites as well as on LinkedIn and other job-hunting websites. Make use of the ScreenSkills jobs board. You can also send a short speculative letter with your CV to technical managers or vision supervisors.
You might also be interested in...
- Why the Industry needs more Broadcast Engineers | NFTS
- BritishFilm Commission list of UK studios
- Engineering Council
- Rise: Women in Broadcast
- The Institution of Engineering and Technology
- The International Trade Association for the Broadcast & Media Industry
- Society of Media Professionals, Technologists and Engineers
- International Broadcasting Convention
- The Media Production & Technology Show
- E&T (Engineering & Technology) magazine
- NEP UK and Ireland
- Broadcast – Tech Talks
- Broadcast Buddy TV YouTube channel
- BBC Research and Development
- BBC Academy
- ITV Entry Careers
- Sky early careers
- 4Skills (Channel 4)
- Bectu (the media and entertainment union)
- Bectu Ratecards