The Rise Up Academy: Helping Media Technology Solve Its Skills Crisis | Executive interviews
On August 2 and 3 (7-9 years old) and August 4 and 5 (10-13 years old), the Rise Up Academy will entertain 500 summer school children with (eight) workflows on topics such as as virtual production, graphics, cloud technology and post-production.
Retraining has always been a hot potato. “We all need to learn and train to improve our skills and refresh our knowledge, and this is no less true for older agents than for younger ones. The problem is where and how that training is delivered,” Wootten said.
“The industry faces a melting pot of issues, from sustainability to rapidly changing technology and a lack of diversity. There is a willingness to support anyone training to help solve the crisis skills, but it’s a complex picture that requires a strategic approach,” she added. “Cross-sector collaboration is going to be key.”
With so many other industries following the path of IP/IT, staffed with highly skilled personnel, why not poach personnel from the banking, insurance, or automotive industries?
“It’s definitely an option to consider, especially when looking to attract more diverse talent. But one of the biggest hurdles here is the internal bandwidth to commit to this type of project. Businesses are so busy battling the fires and managing the scale of the work they currently have in response to the growing demand for content,” Wootten said. “Launching recycling initiatives is a lower priority.
“Covid has had a significant impact on young people’s chances of gaining work experience, and it has not returned to pre-Covid levels.”
“While big companies like Sky have great programs to do this, it must be recognized that there is a wider economic shortage of skills and talent across all sectors,” she added. “Covid has had a significant impact on the labor market, and it’s going to take a multi-pronged, cross-sector strategy to tackle the skills crisis.”
Difficult to provide work experience
Rise will consider retraining later in the year. It has evolved rapidly since its launch three years ago, and its first big event was the creation (post-Covid) of the Rise Up Academy. What is behind the question of skills?
“The sector has an aging white male workforce and a severe lack of diversity, especially in engineering and technical roles. Companies are losing 15% of revenue on an ongoing basis due to a lack of available talent,” Wootten said. “Our mentorship programs and rewards initiatives continue to be a vital part of our work.”
Work experience as an idea has been ruled out by ITV Studios for insurance and security reasons, but surely it’s a vital cog for Rise?
“Covid has had a significant impact on the chances of young people gaining work experience, and it has not returned to pre-Covid levels. It’s problematic to offer work experience if you’re based in studios/OB – anywhere that involves significant amounts of kit. Insurance just won’t cover it, so it’s a catch-22,” Wootten said.
“We need to communicate and highlight to young people the incredible range of opportunities available to them and, critically, what the journey is,” she added.
Talented Person Programs
The post-18 route is the big focus, because while college degrees are a great entry route, they’re not for everyone.
Wootten said: “Above all, [degrees] are not an avenue for socio-economically disadvantaged communities. The young people I spoke to recently wanted to enter the industry at 18, so what are the steps they need to take to enter the industry after graduation?
“We need to provide basic training that allows people to react to new technologies and to have a solid base to be able to work.”
“The learnings still exist and ScreenSkills looked at them across various skill sets. But companies don’t have the internal bandwidth to sustain the learning investment. They can be complicated and time-consuming, and their structure may not be nimble enough to meet industry demands,” she added.
ITV Studios has seen ten people take part in its graduate program over the past year, but why not extend the concept to ‘Talented People’ programmes?
“That would be perfect, although additional training would also have to be provided. Graduate programs are obviously looking for a certain expertise and knowledge, but students in our Rise Up Academy programs will not yet have enough knowledge to match that. But if companies could be flexible on this and the level of knowledge they would accept, it would make a significant difference,” Wootten said.
buzz of young people
The Summer School will be the biggest project Rise has delivered, and it will help create the clear, structured path to the media jobs that Wootten wants so badly to see.
She said: “With over 500 young people, over 100 volunteers and multiple companies (including BT Sport, ITV, Discovery and Sky) involved, it’s going to be big! Hopefully it will be driven by young people who are excited about the industry and where their future careers might go.
“I’m surrounded by brilliant people who invest in making a difference,” she added.
Strategies, funding and new ideas are the long-term drivers of Wootten. She said: “We need to lobby the government about the specific skills shortages we face in media technology. The creative sector is getting broader attention, so as a sector we need to work with DCMS to develop programs to address our specific challenges.
“Rise needs additional investment to scale our projects and deliver the results we all want. I would like to see the summer school run in the south and north of England, and in each home country, but that takes money. I am 100% confident that this would dramatically change the diversity of our sector and reduce the skills crisis,” she added.
In the fall, Rise will launch a new initiative called Strive to Rise.
“This will provide a framework for companies to self-assess where they are internally in achieving gender diversity and show how they can work to find balance across all departments. The BFI has launched a skills report on screen industries more broadly, but it’s clear we need more engineering and technical talent, and urgently.
“The challenge is that job roles and skills are changing rapidly as new technologies develop, so we need to provide basic training that enables individuals to react to new technologies and have a solid foundation to be able to work and adapt to any new skills required,” Wootten said.
It’s a perfect storm
Coming back to universities, there is a specific problem of media technology. “There will always be a place in our industry for graduates, but courses that have traditionally produced broadcast engineering talent are struggling to recruit students and have difficulty keeping those courses open,” Wootten said. “Companies are turning to IT courses and sometimes broader subjects to attract talent.”
Universities are expensive and they leave behind the debt of life that eats away at so many young people.
“This will play a role in deciding whether or not to go to higher education, so we need to be very aware of this when striving to achieve more diversity. Combine this with a lack of knowledge about roles within media technology, its salaries and its earning potential (both with kids and parents), so it’s a perfect storm,” Wootten said. “Most kids are traveling around the age of 12/13, whether they know it or not.”
Want to know more about this topic? Find out how training is increasingly on the production agenda.