What skills does the industry need right now?

Due to a production boom, the UK screen industries are in desperate need of particular skills. So what does this mean if you are looking to kick-start your career in film and TV, or move over from another industry?

Image: Liam Daniel / Netflix

You might have seen in the news that there’s currently a huge shortage of skilled workers in the UK screen industries. 

Over the past decade, the sector has experienced a boom and is now worth almost £6 billion. There aren’t enough people to fill the number of jobs going, so if you’ve ever dreamt of a career in the screen industries, now is a great time to get in.

“Film and TV has never been considered an achievable, viable career,” says Sam Rifkin, national crew and facilities manager at Creative England. “People think you’ve got to go to London or you’ve got to know someone in the industry. Nowadays that’s not true.”

Where are the jobs?

Gone are the days when London was the heart of British film and TV.

“There are equally as many productions outside the M25 as inside the M25,” says Helen Bater, a production manager in Bristol. “Cardiff has got so much going on. Leeds is impossibly busy at the moment, as is Manchester. You would be able to work regionally very easily but it will be around the major cities.”

Sam says the busiest regions for Creative England are the North West and Yorkshire, where Netflix’s Lady Chatterly’s Lover and Disney+’s new Full Monty series are among the productions taking place.

“We’ve got about 20 productions across the regions all looking for crew,” Sam says.

Image: Amanda Searle BBC, 42 Productions

What skills are needed?

Sam helps productions find crew and says that prior to the pandemic, there was already a shortage of certain roles, such as production accountants.

But after Covid, the number of productions being made doubled, which means there are now “double the number of productions competing for the same crew,” Sam says.

There are shortages across the board, but Sam says she’s most often asked to find production coordinators, production assistants and production managers.

The most in-demand skills

Research by ScreenSkills in 2020 found shortages for the following roles:

In the coming years, there is also expected to be shortages of art directors, 2nd assistant directors, 3rd assistant directors, location assistants and unit managers.

Image: Delicious © Sky UK Ltd

How do I get in?

Despite huge gaps, that doesn’t mean you can walk straight into a job as a top director on the latest high-end production, even if you’re at a senior level in your current sector.

“For some roles, you would be starting at the bottom of your chosen career path” explains Claire Stratton, senior learning and development manager at ScreenSkills. “You still need to learn your craft and the technical aspects of that role.”

However, production management could be a good place to start.  

“When people think of TV they may not think of the production management side of things as it might not seem as glamorous as being a director,” explains Claire Stratton. “However, the skills needed are transferable from other industries, such as being organised, a good team player, people management and negotiation skills.”

"You may find you start your career in production management and progress very quickly, once you know what it’s like to be on set and work in a production office. All those soft skills would make you excel and mean you progress much quicker.”

Image: On set of King Lear © Ed Miller, Playground Entertainment 2018

How do I get a job?

Make the most of the skills and experience you already have.

“Many of the skills you might have working as serving staff or in event management or the travel industry would transfer nicely into film or TV,” says Claire.

Helen says she always likes to hire people who have worked in hospitality.

“You’ve dealt with people; you’ve very likely dealt with finance,” she says. “Any front-facing job like that I always take very seriously. Production is a people job - it’s people management.”

Sam says she often sees people leaving out this kind of experience on their CVs, thinking it isn’t relevant to the film and TV industry.

“Ultimately, that will get you a job,” she says. “It’s those previous jobs that tell me what these people are good at. For example, I’ll know this person has patience dealing with lots of different people or working nights.”

What you can also do, Sam adds, is demonstrate you’ve brushed up on the industry.

“At an interview, you have to be able to show that you know what’s going and you’re up to speed with the kind of programmes being made at the moment.”

You can also take advantage of the ScreenSkills website to find training, funding and networking events. 

A lot of opportunities are posted on the ScreenSkills jobs page. Sam recommends signing up to Creative England’s crew and facilities database, where production companies often post opportunities. It’s also worth looking at Facebook groups that have been set up by freelance crew to build a network of people and share jobs.

Image: Director on set of A Very English Scandal © Blueprint Pictures 2018

What about pay?

If you’re transferring into the film and TV industry, you might not earn the same amount of pay you got in your old job, at least at first.

However, the skills shortage does mean rates are competitive and newcomers have the opportunity to progress fast.  

“A runner rate is £600-650 a week and a production secretary is £850,” says Helen. “You’d be looking to go up to that level in two years.”

It’s also worth considering the issue of job security, as the vast majority of jobs in the industry are on a contract or freelance basis.

“But because supply is such a massive problem at the moment, the likelihood is you would be snapped up in a second, “says Claire. “It might be contracts but we’re finding people lining up work many months ahead.”

You’d need to have an understanding of how to market and set yourself up as a business and a freelancer. Signing up for the Screenskills Business Toolkit for Film and HETV Freelancers will help with this.

A word of warning from Helen is that the film and TV industry is “not a family environment”.

In most cases, you would only be eligible for government maternity allowance and working on a film set often involves long days away from home.

ScreenSkills has launched a job sharing programme for HETV that aims to address this issue and make the industry more accessible for parents and carers. 

But, Helen says, “it’s a good career. There are lots of weird and wonderful things that go on. I wouldn’t go to work if I wasn’t having fun.”

Take a free e-learning course

We have developed five e-learning modules called Getting into the Screen Industries to support people looking for their first break. They are a good first step in understanding what you need to do to get your first job. They include an introduction to working in screen, how to identify the right role for you, how to find and apply for work and how to perform well at interview.