CEO update on skills challenges

I appreciate your thoughts may be on staycations, and I hope you have an enjoyable one, but I just wanted to update you on the work we are doing and the challenges of ensuring there is sufficient investment in skills and training to safeguard the astonishing growth of recent years.
UK plc stands to benefit massively from additional production spend and job creation from continued inward investment - without forgetting the importance of indigenous production and the role of the public service broadcasters in the delicate home-grown ecosystem.
Yet however much industry supports us, and we thank all of you who do, investment in training is currently not commensurate with production spend.
Last year the HETV Skills Fund received £3.3 million in industry contributions despite Covid and the Film Skills Fund £475,000. Despite the extra costs of the last year, broadcasters and production companies committed to investing in the new Unscripted TV Skills Fund to ensure it can keep pace with skills demands. Contributions continue to rise, albeit in modest amounts, to the Animation and Children’s TV Skills Funds respectively. We are currently in the final official year of delivering the BFI’s Future Film Skills strategy with National Lottery funds. Arts Council England supports us to share insight and best practice with our colleagues in the arts where there are mutual interests such as the crossover of roles between outside broadcasting and the streaming of live events.
But the demands for a skilled workforce are such that this investment is a fraction of what is needed to tackle skills gaps and shortages, professionalise the culture (including behavioural change in areas such as bullying and harassment) and improve inclusion.
The first quarter of the year saw a record spend of £878 million in film and high-end TV even with the pandemic unabated. If the current growth rate continues, we could hit £6 billion per annum in production spend in the next few years, meaning up to 30,000 additional jobs in production. Crunching the numbers, the UK probably needs 10,000 additional training interventions a year to keep up with growth.
Without increased investment, a lack of crew risks inhibiting growth and driving up costs.
There is a continued need to secure the skills pipeline. And some problems span the industry with work on addressing shortages in the range of production management roles being addressed with training initiatives across film, animation, HETV, children’s and unscripted. But most of the acute shortage areas are not currently in entry positions but in mid to senior specialised roles, which require more expensive interventions, including working to transfer skills in from other sectors such as accounting.
It needs to be a cross sector effort to scale up and deliver. As the industry-led skills body, we work to unify and so amplify all the work that is already being done. So, the question that remains is where that increased investment is to come from when industry already gives so much in time as well as money? Almost 300 members of our industry give generously of their time, for example, sitting on the board, skills councils and working groups and other ad hoc groups addressing areas such as virtual production and ScreenSkills Select, our endorsement programme for college and university courses.
There is work underway across the creative industries in preparation for the Autumn Spending Review where skills need to be a priority to support economic recovery and growth, but we know securing any new money for our sector will be a challenge. The BFI is also just beginning consultation on its new strategy including the use of National Lottery funds. We aim to make a positive contribution to all these discussions.
In the meantime, our work goes on. The 20 apprentices on the pilot we are conducting with WarnerMedia and Netflix to help make apprenticeships work better in the sector have just had their induction, which was attended by the Culture Minister Caroline Dinenage.
The HETV Skills Fund has announced its Leaders of Tomorrow, a diverse cohort of 19 from across the UK who will benefit from a comprehensive programme of mentoring, masterclasses, bespoke training and paid on-the-job training over three years to help them progress to HoD or a leadership role in the industry. Look out for our panel about this programme at the Edinburgh International TV Festival.
Film Forward, the programme designed to help productions extend the network of those they work with by matching them with experienced Black, Asian and minority ethnic crew for subsidised placements has made its first placement and discussions continue to place more.
The ScreenSkills Mentoring Programme has just announced 10 new partnerships for more than 250 mentees including three programmes targeted at deaf and disabled talent and crew. This comes on top of nearly 2,500 people mentored through us or partners we have supported over the last two years.
The new Unscripted TV Skills Fund went live, a moment marked by a fascinating debate with RTS on The Future of Unscripted – People, Places and Amazing Programmes. Our children’s and animated funds joined forces for a panel at the Children’s Media Conference on leadership and we have taken part in a string of other events designed to ensure that all who might benefit from skills and the training we offer know about them.
Planning for the autumn includes new e-learning modules in fair recruitment and mental health on top of the existing slate which includes unconscious bias, tackling bullying and harassment and coronavirus basic awareness on production with a total of more than 90,000 completions - including re-takes to stay up-to-date.
We are also assessing how to join up the range of entry-level programmes that exist – with two aims: clarifying routes and opportunities for those wanting to get into and get on in the industry; and agreeing industry principles for effective entry-level schemes. Information on entry routes and training options would be made available on ScreenSkills’ website. ScreenSkills Board member, Sally Debonnaire, ITV Studios Director of Production, is championing this work.
Work has been also progressing on identifying the skills needed to maximise the potential for virtual production in the sector and more training and events will be announced shortly.
The UK is a highly attractive place to make film, television, and animation, not least because of the skilled and highly professional crew and talent. But we cannot be complacent. It is a competitive global market and there are many countries angling for a bigger slice of it so continued UK growth is not a given. You can’t make great film, television and animation without investing in the people and we need to be investing more.
On that somewhat serious note, I hope you all manage some variety of summer fun.
Seetha Kumar,
CEO ScreenSkills

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