How the Children’s TV Skills Fund is training the sector to level-up

Image: The Beaker Girls (c) BBC

Overseen by a council including children’s tv commissioners and producers from across the UK, the Children’s TV Skills Fund plays an important role in upskilling and developing the careers of those working in children’s TV as well as offering a gateway into the genre for new entrants and ensuring the workforce is trained to meet the needs of the sector.

Through expert guidance and collaboration with its council, the Skills Fund is able to swiftly invest in the implementation of training programmes which directly address the specific skills shortages identified and broaden the talent available to productions.  

“In the days before the Fund it was less a case of specific gaps and more just a general sense that, with all the major TV companies closing down their training programmes, we were in a sector where no training was happening,” recalls Val Ames, Producer at Quirky Films Ltd and member of the Children’s TV Skills Council. With a career spanning almost all sections of the industry, Ames was very familiar with the training resources offered by ScreenSkills. When the opportunity to join the Children’s TV council arrived, she jumped at the chance to have a say in the future of her chosen sector. “I thought this was something that absolutely needed to be done because as people age and leave the industry, we need more people coming in and being trained and without any proper training schemes, it was getting problematic to find new people.”

The issue of recruiting new talent issue was heightened by the pandemic. “We’ve experienced double commissions to make up for the fact that there had been a gap year and that’s where children’s TV suffers,” reveals Ames, explaining how a rise in pay rates has made it difficult for the children’s TV industry to compete. “Often we can’t afford those rates because while they’ve risen, children’s TV budgets haven’t. This means we frequently lose out, doubly so, because people tend to see children’s as a bit of a training ground before moving on.”

This Ames believes is one of the challenges the Skills Fund faces – how to retain talent working within children’s TV. “It’s hard because it is a completely transferable skillset and working in children’s TV doesn’t prevent you from working anywhere else. In fact, children’s is more complicated because you have the added issues of dealing with children, chaperones and tutoring. We’re trying to encourage people to see it as a full career,” she adds. “It’s a great section of the industry to work in.”

Training supported by the Fund recognises this complexity. Training has to give people the skills needed to do the job, as well as the specific responsibilities that come with making content for, and working with under 18’s. “We look at assistant director and director departments that need to know about licensing children, scheduling for children’s hours and also scheduling for tutoring,” explains Ames. “For production, we provide training for line producers, production managers and coordinators, again in terms of dealing with children and all of the bespoke issues that children’s television has to face.”

Success has been found in programmes like Dream Big!, a ScreenSkills’ initiative offering six-month paid placements on active children’s television productions. “We did that for the first time last year, training production coordinators and researchers. It was a big success so we’re doing it again this year,” smiles Ames. “All of the employers absolutely loved the people that they got through the scheme and in lots of cases, those candidates are now employed by them. They all absolutely sing their praises. In fact, there were some instances of companies who took people who didn’t make it onto Dream Big! but were such good quality, they were employed regardless,” she adds. “It’s been a very positive experience from both the trainees and the companies accessing them.”

Above all else, having a dedicated body of industry voices that can come together to inspect the overall health of training in the children’s sector is a factor that Ames is particularly grateful for. “It’s great to have that because children’s TV is unique in that it incorporates all other sectors of television. It’s kind of a microcosm of the whole industry so it’s great to have a committee where you get input from different people from within that microcosm,” she reasons. “It’s very useful to hear about what’s happening from all of the different regions too. There are some issues that are common right across the board but some problems are specific to certain areas. There are differences and it’s great to hear about who’s missing what in terms of training.”

Looking ahead, Ames believes there is some wider work to do in order to further improve children’s TV production, including forging better relationships between universities and the world of practical employment. “Trying to join the industry to academic training is key because there are thousands of film, media and television courses around the country constantly producing new people but there doesn’t seem to be enough of a dialogue between our industry and those universities,” she suggests. That said, she firmly believes the opportunities ScreenSkills creates provides an invaluable step forward. “Traditionally, training used to be imparted by the big broadcasters and that just isn’t the case anymore and hasn’t been for a long time,” she tells us. ”It’s absolutely essential to have bodies like ScreenSkills.”

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Read more about the work of Children's TV Skills Fund

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