Prior to the Rise Up Academy’s 500-student Summer School, BT Sport Chief of Engineering Andy Beale warned: “The impending skills crisis that we expected is here, and it is real.”
The parallel diversity crisis – across its gender, ethnic, socio-economic and disability aspects – sits alongside the skills sets shortage in media technology infrastructures, but may have to sit as a near continuing ambition while the industry first starts to solve its skill sets headache.
But Andy Beale was also optimistic. “I genuinely believe we can attract a slightly different type of person than we used to have, and increase our diversity to where it should be,” he said.
Like BT Sports, ITV Studios is a big supporter of the Rise Up Academy, and Tim Guilder, Head of Production Technology added: “With the 40% uptake in video delivery that we are trying to make, we’ve got a lot of content that needs to be produced. We need the technical people to help facilitate that.”
He has in mind new talent that wants to understand how things like IP works in TV production. At the Summer School, incorporating groups of 250 11-14-year-olds for two days and 250 15-18-year-olds for two more days, the eight workshops offered a hugely wider variety of career windows.
Recognised job roles may vanish
During the event, Rise MD Carrie Wootten said: “We have traditionally waited for people to come to us, because we had been overflowing with interested people. But that has changed significantly.
“What we are trying to do is give the young people an overview of all sorts of different routes into the industry, whether that is new technology through IP, more traditional engineering technology, post production, graphics, or fast-growing areas like streaming and virtual production,” she added. “We want to see them find where their passions lie.”
Surely the students enjoying the overview of the different career pathways were very unlikely to all nominate the same workshop as their favourite?
“Some of them will come out of the Summer School loving virtual production. But others will say actually I want to go and build a gallery in a TV studio, and do outside broadcast work,” said Wootten. “The skill sets are key. But with other new roles coming along all the time some recognised roles might soon be disappearing.”
What then was the Summer School designed to achieve? “It was originally an idea on a scrap of paper that I had back in March,” said Wootten. “There were twinned things to resolve – the current skills shortage, we have got an aging white male workforce, and we have that lack of diversity coming into the industry.”
“What we were trying to achieve with the Summer School is to look at those issues and bring in a pipeline of new talent that wants to work in our industry. We need them,” Wootten added. “We got over 40 companies involved, plus 100 volunteers, and now it has turned into this whole big project.”
The next step is to take what the Summer School has achieved and grow it.
“If we are to achieve what we want as an industry, which is to solve the skills crisis and the diversity issue, we’ve got to scale this,” said Wootten. “We have to reach a huge amount of young people and inspire, educate and inform them about the TV industry. It’s about the pipeline.
“The youngest children that we’ve worked with in our previous Rise Up Academy workshops were nine. There are the Secondary schools that you need to go to, and then there is where you want to go to after that. Not all young people want to go to university, or can afford to go,” she added. “If university is not for you, then we have to look at creating other routes for coming into the industry at 18.”
Re-skilling is also in the pipeline
TV is not short of people interested in the industry, and there is talent out there.
“We have not told them how to get into our industry, and what skills they need. And I have had people ask me whether we are going to run an adult version of the Summer School. Regarding re-skilling and re-training, this has to be something I have to look at over the next year,” said Wootten.
But building on the first Summer School, which was very much an experiment, has one barrier.
“I would love to do this in Leeds, Manchester, Glasgow, Cardiff, and in Devon or Cornwall. I would love the DCMS to give us some cash. We need the government to give us funding because the media industry is huge in the UK, and it raises a huge income for UK plc,” said Wootten.
“The critical thing with the Summer School was the practical stuff. The workshops were nothing like lessons. Everyone was creating something in every workshop. That enables them to think: ‘I can get a career; I can do this as a job.’ They do not get that out of school,” she added.
The workshops – all supported by six people, and reflecting the levels of ethnic diversity companies like BT Sport, ITV and Sky are chasing urgently – focused on things like creating live streams, vision mixing in the cloud, post production (including VFX, editing and colour grading), and adding graphics the traditional way onto video.
It was the latter that highlighted the rapid changes we’ve seen in workflows, with graphics now being rendered or generated on the device every viewer is watching on, not being stamped indelibly on video.
“You don’t necessarily need a broadcast degree to get into media. Show passion and willingness to try something new…”
Suddenly different sponsors, different languages, and many interactive benefits get involved with personalisation. Frankie, a student we met in the live streaming session, said her interest had been sparked, and she wanted to work in filmmaking with Sky.
“Feedback from the first group of students, from session to session, showed one child saying something was really boring, but another child said the same thing was the most amazing thing ever. That’s the whole idea of the Summer School, to give them that experience,” said Wootten. “What I have been so overwhelmed with is that all of the industry partners are working collaboratively through the academy.”
Moved from a medical background
Mirusha Jegatheeswaran, Content Technology Support Engineer at ITV Daytime and a Rise Women in Broadcast 2021 Mentee, explained how she got into the industry in keynotes to both Summer School age groups. And it was no surprise that they were wholly engaged.
Her presence at ITV Daytime is a boost to the diversity campaign, plus a clear sign that broadcasters should recruit from other industries.
“I come from a non-broadcast background. I studied computer systems engineering, and that is what I do in my first media job,” she said. “I was originally working in healthcare with the NHS, so to move from a medical background to broadcast was a challenge.
“I was ready for it because I am someone who is keen on learning new things. I explained that you don’t necessarily need a broadcast degree to get into media. Show passion and willingness to try something new and a desire to progress in the industry, and recruiters would love to hire you,” she added.
Jegatheeswaran would be keen to help Rise when it develops adult re-skilling activities. She confessed: “I knew nothing about broadcast media and the technology used within the industry, and I am still learning on the job.
“I can proudly say ITV did not look at my prior experiences. I am the first female they have recruited on the team, and this is something to cherish,” she added. “And I want to continue to encourage more females to get into the industry.
“The more mistakes you make, the more lessons learnt, hence why I chose this industry. I know when I mess things up, I am still learning, and I have very understanding colleagues who are always helpful and want to make the best out of me.”
To find out more about the Rise Up Academy and the important work it is doing, read The Rise Up Academy: Helping media technology resolve its skills crisis