ScreenSkills calls for reform of apprenticeships and levy for the screen industries

Changes will improve effectiveness says skills body for UK screen industries

Image: (c) Erroll Jones
  • Apprenticeship Levy to support a broader range and diversity of training options
  • Levy funding to cover additional employer costs of providing apprenticeships; means-tested apprenticeship bursaries to improve applicant diversity
  • Apprenticeships standards tailored more specifically to industry roles and the removal of fixed minimum-length
  • Provision of industry-recognised specialist training providers
  • ScreenSkills to be intermediary agency body with agreed responsibilities and authority to support apprentices and employers
  • An assessment of the current apprenticeship model to identify alternative models and evaluate value for money

A report published today (Monday 22 May 2023) by ScreenSkills –the industry-funded and sector-led skills body for the UK’s screen industries – is recommending fundamental reform of the apprenticeship levy in the UK and how apprenticeships are applied for the sector in England following an assessment of two pilot schemes. The purpose of the pilots was to assess whether a limited agency-based apprenticeship model was viable for the project-based nature of the film and TV production sector.

“Apprenticeships can be a powerful and effective way of building a skilled and inclusive workforce, offering a gateway for people irrespective of background or educational attainment, but currently the system is ineffective and inflexible,” commented Seetha Kumar, CEO, ScreenSkills. “What we are proposing to Government will enable the sector to unlock the true potential that the apprenticeship system could offer by better reflecting the distinctive needs of our freelance, project-based sector.”

Working with industry partners as well as the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for Education, ScreenSkills has run two successive pilots. The first pilot ran between January 2020 to February 2023 with Netflix, Warner Bros Discovery and co-funded by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. The second pilot started in February 2022 and will finish in January 2024. Alongside lead partner, Amazon Prime Video, ScreenSkills worked with Sky (with APX Content Ventures), Banijay, Lime Pictures And Fremantle; the pilot was co-funded by the Department for Education.

Pilot One – ScreenSkills Apprenticeship Programme (January 2020 to February 2023)

Funded by DCMS, this was the first agency pilot in any sector and was deliberately limited in scale. Co-designed between ScreenSkills, DCMS and the two pilot partners - Netflix and Warner Bros Discovery – the programme launched in January 2020 but was interrupted by the Covid pandemic. ScreenSkills was the employer of the 20 apprentices during the pilot, with industry partners paying wage costs and providing placements throughout the programme.

Pilot Two – DfE Flexi-Job Apprenticeship Agency (February 2022 to January 2024)

Following the announcement of the Flexi-Job Apprenticeship fund in the March 2021 Budget, ScreenSkills created a second pilot with lead partner Amazon Prime Video alongside Sky (with APX Content Ventures), Banijay, Lime Pictures and Fremantle. With DfE funding for the first year only, the five employer partners agreed to financially support the pilot for its remaining duration from March 2023 to January 2024 – either funding the programme costs incurred by ScreenSkills or employing the apprentices directly.

“We really wanted the pilot scheme to work and reach new talent pools thereby improving inclusion and opportunity.  However, the scheme is too inflexible and too expensive, making it unattractive in comparison to hiring other new entrants,” added Bella Lambourne, HR and Operations Director, Banijay. “If the levy could be used on shorter contracts and to pay for a proportion of salary to at least fund the time spent learning or off the job this would be a game changer.”

Pilot Findings

There have been some benefits from both pilots - greater diversity by creating opportunities for apprenticeships from varied backgrounds, positive experiences of apprentices during on-the-job training and, in the case of the original pilot progression into the industry. However, overall assessment has revealed fault lines in the current apprenticeship system.

Both the DCMS-supported Apprenticeship Programme and the DfE Flexi-Job Apprenticeship Agency programme were not flexible enough to provide a viable long-term training solution for apprentices in film or TV production. The external and internal costs incurred by employers in the pilot are unsustainable in the long-term. In particular, a key issue was the resource required to identify sufficient, suitable and continuous placements to provide on-the-job training at scale due to the project-based nature of film and television.

The pilots have also revealed that the quality and relevance of some of the apprenticeship standards and the off-the-job training has constituted poor value for money when compared to other entry level routes that are available in the industry. Some current apprenticeship standards are an imperfect fit for roles in film and TV production – either because the duration of the training is longer than required, or the curriculum of a generic standard does not match the reality of a production role. For example, in the first pilot, the mismatch of the assistant accountant standard to the specifics of the production accountant role meant some of the apprentices were under-prepared for end-point assessments.

Overall costs for both apprenticeship models are estimated by the participating partners to be significantly higher than other entry-level training programmes, with only 14% of the total costs of the pilots covered by levy contributions, compared with 69% being met by industry.


As a result of the two pilots, ScreenSkills’ central recommendation is to reform the current apprenticeship levy as well as how apprenticeships are applied in the screen industries.

An imperative is to extend the scope of the Apprenticeship Levy so that it can provide support to a broader range and diversity of vocational training options that would be recognised and quality-assured by ScreenSkills. Additionally, the levy should be made more flexible to allow money to be used to cover the additional costs that have so far been incurred by the employers. This includes paying apprenticeship wages when undertaking off-the-job training or on leave, or funding means-tested bursaries to increase the diversity of new entrants.

Additionally, the removal of the fixed minimum-length requirements for apprenticeship standards would enable them to be better aligned with the specific requirements of roles in film and TV production and deliver training that was both more effective and relevant.

With the necessity of primary legislation to deliver these changes, ScreenSkills has also identified a number of changes to the current Levy and system that would improve apprenticeships and help inform future reform.

ScreenSkills, as the skills body for the UK screen industries, believes that it is best placed to be the industry agency to support both the apprentices and employers. Funded though the Levy, ScreenSkills would take responsibility for cohorting apprentices from multiple employers to maximise the effectiveness of their training; supporting apprenticeship recruitment and providing ongoing consistent pastoral care; and facilitating the review and improvement of the current apprenticeship standards to ensure that they are fit for purpose and providing support and advice to industry employers.

The Apprenticeship Levy should also be used to increase the number of industry-recognised training providers. To enable this, the funding bands allocated to training costs for screen-specific apprenticeship standards and approved by the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE) would need to be reviewed to attract more training providers. As well as helping to provide improved, sector-specific off-the-job training, ScreenSkills believes that this change would also encourage more employers to invest in apprenticeship training.

Due to the distinctive nature of the screen sector, when apprenticeship standards are reviewed it should be ensured that they are fully tailored to roles in film and TV production,  potentially through developing more specialist pathways.

Finally, ScreenSkills recommends an assessment of the current apprenticeship models in the screen industries. While ScreenSkills believes in, and supports the principle of an agency model, the current structure of both the Apprenticeship Programme and Flexi-Job Agency Programme models are too inflexible. Therefore the assessment should examine the viability of whether the agency and modular flexi-apprenticeship models could be combined. Additionally, a thorough economic analysis of apprenticeships, including a comparison with existing training routes into the screen industries to determine value for money should be carried out.

“Apprenticeships could be part of the answer to our skills shortage and we run the risk of letting people down if the system and levy aren’t changed,” concluded Kumar. “This report provides the Government with a series of solutions that could deliver immediate improvements and inform the longer term changes needed that would not only benefit the screen industries but also have a positive impact on the wider UK economy and our global creative reputation.”

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