The British Film and Television Industries - Communications Committee Contents

CHAPTER 5: Skills and training

281.  Throughout this inquiry, we were told that one of the strengths of the UK film and television industries is the highly skilled workforce. The quality of British actors is immediately apparent in the succession of Oscars and other awards won, and in the regular demand for British performers in leading roles in Hollywood. This high quality is also to be found in behind-the-camera roles of writing, directing and the range of craft and technical skills required for production and post-production. But we were struck by the views of some of our witnesses that there were skill shortages in some areas and that training was not as well linked to the needs of the industries as it might be. We also heard that the changing structure of the industry and the current economic climate were limiting the availability of funding for training.

282.  We heard that training across the film and television industries is patchy, with considerable variation in the extent to which organisations contribute towards both funding and provision of training. The BBC is heavily involved in training, spending £43m on training in 2007/08. On the other hand, small companies are more limited by resources, and so can only provide limited training opportunities (Q 1393). Dinah Caine, Chief Executive, Skillset, told us that, in 2008, 78 per cent of broadcast television employees have received some formal training, whereas only 36 per cent had in the independent production sector (Q 1216).

283.  There are a variety of funding and training organisations within the film and television industries, but Skillset is the main organisation through which funding is channelled. Skillset is the Sector Skills Council for Creative Media[102], which covers training in both the film and television industries, and describes itself as "an independent, industry-led organisation; jointly funded by industry and government, our job is to make sure that the UK creative media industries have the right people, with the right skills, in the right place, at the right time, so that our industries remain competitive" (p 262).

284.  This chapter outlines what the training landscape looks like and ways in which links can be forged between education and industry to help plug the skills gaps. We also consider the role and funding of Skillset. In this discussion, we go beyond the question of skills and training as they affect the production of UK content, and comment on how training could be developed to improve the general health of the film and television industries.

Education and industry

285.  High proportions of the workforce in both the television and film industries are graduates. According to Skillset (p 266), around two-thirds of the workforce in the television industry is made up of graduates, which is a higher proportion than the creative media sector overall. Nearly half of those hold a media-related degree, and the percentage of entrants choosing media-related degrees is growing. In the film industry, there is also a high percentage of graduates—58 per cent in film production out of which 21 per cent hold postgraduate degrees and 38 per cent are media related (p 266). Universities therefore play an important role in training provision. However, many of our witnesses from the industries were concerned that universities do not offer the specialist training needed by students who want to go on to work in the film and television industries.

286.  We heard from a number of witnesses including those from the animation industry, visual effects sector, and cable and satellite companies that even graduates with a vocational element in their media studies degree, still require another one or two years of training once they enter the industry. Sophie Turner Laing, BSkyB, criticised the quality of media studies courses, saying students "are not particularly brilliantly taught and then we have to retrain them as soon as they come out" (Q 2019). On the other hand, Kate O'Connor, Executive Director, Policy and Development, Skillset, argued that media courses are not aimed at developing technical skills. She explained "some of those courses at degree level are not intended to be about training for work in the media industry; they are disciplines, like any other arts discipline, that students study for the love of the subject" (Q 2094).

287.  Whatever point of view you take on university courses, it remains the case that there are several specific skills gaps or shortages at the higher or postgraduate level that are not being addressed. These are predominantly in visual effects (anything that you see in a film that you cannot shoot with a film camera and is then created in post-production); animation skills and multimedia skills. Also, at the secondary school level, Skillset agreed (Q 1222) that it needs to be made clearer to pupils that studying science subjects like mathematics and physics, can lead to a career in the animation, computer games and post-production sectors.


288.  On visual effects, Roy Button, Warner Bros, told us that UK universities are not offering the necessary grounding in digital skills, compared with France and Germany; hence the Computer-Generated Imagery (CGI) sector had to bring in foreign trained students. This view was supported by Colin Brown, UK Film Commissioner, who said that the UK visual effects specialist companies (which are largely based in London's Soho), work extremely well together and produce very high quality output. But he added that the UK was not training enough visual effects artists. Many more people with mathematics and computer science skills need to be trained, and there were gaps in the provision of training for these skills (Appendix 5).

289.  Alex Hope, Managing Director, Double Negative, emphasised the importance to the UK economy, of pursuing the development of higher-level skills in visual effects, in order to bring about a global competitive advantage. He said "currently the significant challenges come from the States and from Australia and New Zealand—there are some companies in Canada as well … increasingly we will see competition from Southeast Asia, India and China" (Q 942).

290.  Mr Hope identified "two kinds of visual effects work—what might be referred to as commodity work, which might be painting out the wires on a stunt man … [and] the higher end work of creating a digital character. I would suggest that that lower end work will be very price sensitive and that for the higher end work, which is the more skilled work, there are significant barriers to entry. So a policy that focuses skills at that very top end is policy that is going to see a sustainable British visual effects industry". He thought that this required that "companies, both small and large, understand where there are R & D grants and things like that available to them, of which a lot of smaller companies in my sector are not necessarily aware. And seeing policy that is joined up between universities, the film visual effects industry and the games industry is what I would strongly recommend" (Q 942).

291.  Other representatives from the visual effects and videogames industry advocated closer links between higher education institutions and industry. Alex Hope said, "I would favour a move to bringing industry and higher education closer together, incentivising in-house training at larger companies; incentivise the training of those people giving training in higher education, so that people who are teaching a course in computer graphics have the opportunity to spend some time in a company like ours to learn what current best practice is" (Q 956).


292.  Skillset report that a quarter of animation companies report a skills gap. Miles Bullough, Head of Broadcast, Aardman Animations[103], said, "In our sector we feel that the education system is not delivering to us the graduates that we need for our business" (Q 1458). According to Aardman, there are around 250 media courses containing an animation module in the UK, but UK employers still have to recruit graduates from France and Germany. Aardman tried to set up an academy themselves, in partnership with local universities, to try and plug the skills gap but said that, because of the structure of higher education funding in the UK, they were unable to develop it. Skillset told us that the Government skills agenda and budget focuses on lower-level skills, and that the budget for specialist skills is channelled through higher education funding bodies.


293.  We were told that lack of flexibility within universities made it more difficult to train in multimedia skills, such as computer studies/graphic design. Peter Dale, Chair, Television Skills Council, Skillset, said that a problem with the structure of higher education was that "very good organisations and universities still operate in silos of creative work. So, for example, in games, in a university the computer science department will have nothing whatsoever to do with the graphic design department, and there will be competition between them" (Q 2100).

294.  Skillset told us that targeted funding would be required in order to tackle the skills gaps in the areas of visual effects/post-production/animation, but that this would only involve training about 300 individuals a year. They suggested that, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) might hold some of the Higher Education Funding Council money in a specific fund for high-level training, which could be accessed by Skillset (Q 2122).

295.  We recommend that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills should encourage the Higher Education Funding Council to deploy some of its funding to support high-level, post-graduate training in the post-production and animation sectors.

296.  As with other industries, reducing skills shortages in the creative sector would be helped by closer links between education and industry. Skillset has attempted to do this by setting up a network of "academies, media academies and screen academies, and it is those particular higher education institutions and FE colleges who are now working with the industry"[104] (Q 2094). These academies run courses with a significant vocational element which meet standards laid down by Skillset, and which "can start to build the kind of curriculum and the kind of programmes that are needed by the industry" (Q 2103). Skillset told us that examples of highly successful academies include the NFTS; Teesside University; and Bournemouth University (Q 2095).

297.  Lord Carter of Barnes, then Minister for Communications, Technology & Broadcasting, told us that in his view the links between the creative industries and universities were growing. He said there was "increasing and in-depth engagement between industry, commerce and the major educational institutions" (Q 1786). We would like to see these links developed further, to enable students in the creative industries to spend a significant part of their courses with a company.

298.  Skillset emphasised that industry dialogue with the higher education sector is a two-way process and that industry needs to be clearer about its needs. Peter Dale, Skillset, said, "Certainly one of the structural problems we have been having with the media academies is getting the industry to make recognition of what they might contribute. They tend to take the old view, which is that: "The academies or colleges will turn out people with some ability and we will pick ones we like the look of", rather than saying, actually: "This is a process of dialogue we ought to be having where we are identifying the skills that we anticipate needing and match that with the curriculum that these places are offering". That dialogue is not happening, at the moment. We are making a great effort to make sure that happens, but it has to be a two-way thing" (Q 2105).

299.  It is apparent that, in order to realise the full benefits of, for example, academies, in enabling greater connections between education and industry, that the industries must be willing to engage in greater dialogue with the education/training providers.

300.  We support Skillset's efforts to promote dialogue between the education and training providers and the film, television and videogames industries. We recommend that the Higher Education and Funding Council should encourage closer relationships between universities and the creative industries, including the introduction of sandwich courses for media studies degrees enabling students to spend part or all of the penultimate year of their degree working in the industry.

Apprenticeships and internships

301.  Historically, apprenticeships have been used in industries of all kinds to address skill gaps. But partly because of the unusually high proportion of graduates and postgraduates coming into the creative sector, there is limited use of apprenticeships in the film and television industries. As Dinah Caine, Skillset, noted, "… there is a tendency to recruit people with higher education qualifications, which immediately rules out the normal old-style apprenticeship recruits" (Q 1233). She considered this to be largely due to the culture of the industry, "because a lot of roles in the industry could be open to apprenticeships" (Q 1233). She said that Skillset is trying to address this problem. For example, it is considering the development of a digital media apprenticeship which might "get the industry to see that they do not always have to recruit at HE level" (Q 1233).

302.  Additionally, the prevalence of freelance employment, in both film and television, makes apprenticeship schemes difficult to operate. Kate O'Connor, Skillset, said that "there is huge scope for apprenticeships in the film industry, but because of the nature of employment in the film industry people are not employed, apart from on the films and projects. There does need to be this brokerage system, so that we can sort out training providers … to help organise those apprentices" (Q 1231).

303.  While they are not widespread, apprenticeships are provided by some companies. Eric Fellner, Deputy Chairman, British Film Institute, and Co-Chairman of Working Title productions, told us that Working Title had decided to set up their own scheme. "We finance it fully ourselves, it costs us a couple of hundred grand a year and we just think it is worth putting that kind of money in. We can give three places and we train people right across the board. All of the people that we have trained have since gone on to work in the industry and are starting to develop business skills and creative skills to take them into, hopefully, being the leaders of the future" (Q 1157).

304.  Other companies have used work placements as well as full apprenticeships. Roy Button, Warner Bros, thought that it was essential to bring students into the studios on work placements. He said that "we always avail ourselves of any trainees or training opportunities or apprenticeships for as long as we can on a film. Certainly in some of the craft grades that I am interested in, scenic artists, painters, plasterers, all that sort of thing, less so for the more mechanical stuff like electricians and props because that is somewhat simpler because it is less talent driven" (Q 1391).

305.  In our view, apprenticeships and internships in the film and television industries are under-used and uncoordinated. We believe there is scope for increasing their use, to the benefit of the industries but also as a step to providing more structured careers for film and television industry staff.

306.  In addition to the issues already discussed, there seem to us to be three further training issues to be addressed in these industries. First, the entry routes into the industries are still fairly informal, which perpetuates the "who you know" culture in some pockets of the industries. Second, the industries are characterised by widespread use of unpaid work experience, which while developing skills, discriminates against those who cannot afford to work unpaid. Third, unequal attention is paid to training by different organisations within the industries.

307.  According to Skillset, 47 per cent of the television workforce has undertaken unpaid working at some point in their careers (p 12). In a 2008 survey, nearly 40 per cent of the film production workforce had done some unpaid work experience in the film industry before getting a paid job[105]. Skillset emphasised the absence of clear entry routes into the industry and that progression routes are not supported by proper organisational structures (p 7).

308.  The use of foot-in-the-door work experience would probably be reduced if our recommendations on apprenticeships, internships and sandwich courses are adopted. This was a point made by Peter Dale, Chair, Television Skills Council, Skillset, who said, "I think this goes back [to] … education and access to courses, because, clearly, if you turn out with the right skills, that is more qualifiable than having your father know someone who runs a television company. I think unpaid work is endemic; it is undesirable, but I think the figures speak for themselves. A very, very large proportion of freelancers will have undertaken unpaid work at some point, and companies with their backs against the wall trying to make a programme on a reduced budget will be even more tempted to take those people on" (Q 2129).

309.  Skillset along with the industry is trying to address the issue of informal work experience. Kate O'Connor, Skillset, said, "We have just recently finalised a code of conduct for what are called graduate internships, because this is the area that seems to be most confusing—what constitutes work experience, legitimately unpaid, and what constitutes working for nothing to get a foot in the door to get that first range of contacts" (Q 2132).

310.  Within the television industry, there are initiatives such as in-house training, and work experience. In addition to or in lieu of Skillset's funded schemes, these are run and, where applicable, funded by organisations including the BBC, and major independent production companies.

311.  Looking across the television industry, and the variation in provision of training between cable and satellite providers, the PSBs and the independent production sector, it is clear that there is unequal access to the industry as a whole, with the risk of exploitation of staff through unpaid work, as well as unequal access to training.

312.  We welcome the work that Skillset is doing on codes of conduct for internships, and encourage them to play a greater role in the coordination of apprenticeships and other on-the-job training.

313.  We urge the film and television industries to provide more equal access to training and skills-based career development through greater use of apprenticeships and graduate internships.


314.  As we have mentioned, the BBC is a key provider of training within the creative industries. Its training budget was £43m in 2007/08—although, in the run up to the 2005 Charter Review, it was around £57m a year (Q 1250). The budget cuts have led to a reduction in, for example, general traineeships, which were only reintroduced in 2009 (Q 568). Despite the reduction in the training budget, the BBC does still play a significant role in training both for its own staff and more widely. Tim Bevan, Working Title Productions, said, "a lot of our crews who would be working on Harry Potter movies have probably been trained at the BBC" (Q 1386).

315.  The BBC outlined to us its role in both training its own staff and the wider industry. Jana Bennett, Director BBC Vision said, "Overall, last year we had 57,000 days' worth of face to face training of staff, so there are very many other different types of training we do as well. 5,000 days of training were also delivered to individuals and organisations in the wider industry" (Q 568).

316.  Given the pressure on training budgets in the television industry, the BBC could make its training provisions more widely available. Peter Dale, Chair, Television Skills Council, Skillset, said, "One of the things we are really trying to do is to ensure that organisations that have substantial training capacity, like the BBC, can make that more available. Of course, it is in the BBC's interests to spread its public service contribution as widely as it can. So we are in very good dialogue with the BBC about using its training for freelancers and repurposing it for people who do not belong to the BBC" (Q 2138). In response to this suggestion, Jana Bennett, Director of BBC Vision said, "We understand that our role in training becomes more important with the structural pressures that the industry is under. I do not think we can be the sole provider of everything but we want to be more porous and open" (Q 569). In December 2009, the BBC launched the BBC Academy—a dedicated centre of excellence for training in journalism, production, leadership and technology, giving wider access to the BBC's training resources and skills to support the wider UK media industry.

317.  In the light of the variability of training across the sector, we welcome the continuing role played by the BBC and the BBC's willingness to make its training more widely available through the launch of the BBC Academy.


318.  Contributors to Skillset's training have included BBC, ITV, Channel 4, five, the Indie Training Fund[106] and S4C (Channel 4 Wales). The BBC is the largest contributor. Two of the funds Skillset uses to support the film and television industries are the Film Skills Fund, and the TV Freelance Fund. The Film Skills Fund is the largest fund in the UK dedicated to training in the film industry with funds provided by the UK Film Council, of £6.5m per annum over the last five years. The TV Freelance Fund invests in training for the freelance television workforce, and invested £1.5m in 2007-08. It was introduced because the television industry is characterised by high levels of freelancing, a mobile workforce, and the high cost of training.

319.  Other organisations providing formal training include the National Film and Television School (NFTS) and the Film Business Academy. The NFTS has 13 core funders and receives just over 50 per cent of its funding via the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and Skillset. A further 20 per cent is received from broadcasters, and the remaining 30 per cent through fees and fundraising. Funding provision to Skillset and the NFTS has fallen within the last few years. The implications of this are considered in paragraphs 324 to 331.

320.  The Film Business Academy, which is supported by Skillset and the UK Film Council, was launched in 2005, in order to provide courses in business skills for the film industry. According to Terry Ilott, Director, Film Business Academy, there was the perception that there was a "huge dearth of business skills in the industry" (Q 1276). This was a view supported by Martin Smith, Special Adviser, Ingenious Media, who said, "We have the best technical skills and we have the greatest talent, but we do not capture the commercial upside in this country. We must raise our sights higher" (Q 852). According to Mr Ilott, 80 per cent of what is taught is generic to business (Q 1314), but the Film and Business Academy has film-specific modules within their MBA and MSc business and management programmes.

321.  In emphasising the importance of training within the film and television industries and how delivery might be improved, we recognise that there has been a large reduction in the funding available to Skillset, through which public funding for training is channelled, and a significant reduction of funding to the NFTS, one of the key deliverers of training. During 2009, NFTS has lost its funding from ITV, Channel 5 and Discovery. Sky and Channel 4 have also had reduced their funding. In total cuts have amounted to over £500,000 (p 285), around 6.5 per cent of the NFTS total budget of £7.7m[107].

322.  As Skillset is the main organisation through which funding is distributed, reductions in funding to Skillset effectively mean reductions in funding available to the film and television industries overall. We recognise that there are excellent private providers of training to the industries, but the sector as a whole relies heavily on the contribution of Skillset.


323.  Skillset told us that, over the past two years, broadcasters have reduced their investment in training and skills. Kate O'Connor told us that as of 2009, out of all the PSBs, ITV reduced its funding to Skillset the most, withdrawing funding totally from the freelance training fund, and "substantially" from the core fund (Q 2144). She went on to say, "It does concern us that, overall … we have now 50 per cent of the fund that we had last year, with a growing list of skill requirements and a real need to prepare for the future upturn, hopefully, of content development and the skills associated with that" (Q 2147). Furthermore according to Skillset, in 2009, the independent production sector has only contributed 20 per cent of what they normally provide (Q 1216).

324.  Asked about ITV's reduction of funding to Skillset, Michael Grade said, "We have made the decision that whatever resources we have we need to spend on internal training and development of our own people first … We have had to cut the investment. It is not in our long-term interests for there to be an even greater skill shortage in the sector, not in our interests at all, and we have to get back to our previous levels of investment as fast as we can—as fast as the economy will allow (Q 1879). He went on to say, "Sadly, when you lose 15 per cent of your revenue overnight, you have to make some very fast, short-term decisions. You do not want to make them but you have to; you have no choice" (Q 1880).

325.  John McVay, PACT, felt that ITV's decision was short-sighted, and that an obligation should be placed on PSBs to contribute to organisations such as Skillset, as they are subsidised by public money (Q 361). Michael Kuhn in his capacity as Chairman of the National Film and Television School, agreed with PACT's view (Q 1296 and 1324).

326.  The Communications Act 2003, does not oblige PSBs to contribute to organisations such as Skillset or the NFTS. Asked if such obligations should be placed on PSBs, Stewart Purvis, Partner for Content and Standards, Ofcom said that there had been discussion about a more interventionist approach, "about requiring specific funding from specific broadcasters for the training, for instance, of freelancers" but added that there has not always been agreement on that and Ofcom has not necessarily always agreed with Skillset's interpretation of our options". He went on to say, "as yet we have not thought it one of our regulatory duties to insist that broadcasters contribute to, for instance, freelance training" (Q 2281).

327.  We regret that funding contributions from the television industry (including the PSBs, satellite and cable sector, and independent production sector) to the key training providers, have been reduced or withdrawn. Training is critical to the long term health of the television industry. We are particularly concerned that the PSBs, which continue to receive some privileges from their status as PSBs, are withdrawing from the funding of training. Lord Puttnam told us that to allow a situation to occur "whereby ITV, on the same day that it is released from £20 million worth of PSB obligations, cuts its external training budget completely is lunacy" (Q 779). We believe that training should be a priority obligation of PSBs and that, if necessary, the regulatory framework might be reviewed to ensure that the PSBs continue to fund training.

328.  We understand the current pressures on the budgets of UK commercial public service broadcasters but believe that the reduction in training budgets threatens the future competitiveness of the UK television industry. We urge the Government to encourage PSBs to revive their investment in training.


329.  The UK Film Council has been a major contributor to Skillset, but its contributions are likely to be lower over the next few years. Stewart Till, then Chairman of the UK Film Council, told us in March 2009, "I think it is vital that the Film Council continues to invest in the training and education of that workforce. We have spent £6.5 million a year over the last five years; so a very large slice of our budget. What I often think the Film Council does best is to do what the industry, because it is a very fragmented industry, does not do. The industry historically has not been good on training and education because it is so fragmented. These very small companies or freelance workers do not invest in it" (Q 151). Despite the importance placed on the UK Film Council's contribution to training, the allocation to Skillset's Film Skills Fund has fallen to £5.4m in the current financial year and, under the Council's plans[108] will fall to £3.25m for the three years to March 2013. While we understand the pressure on the Council's budget, which has come about through a reduction in lottery funding as we outlined in Chapter 2, we regret that, despite the importance given in the UK Film Council's plans to nurturing skills and creative talent as a core task, it is prepared to see a 50 per cent fall in its funding of training, compared to the allocation for the past five years.

330.  We regret that, because of budgetary constraints, the UK Film Council should be forced to reduce significantly its funding for training for the next three years, at a time when training should be a priority. We urge the Government to ensure that the UK Film Council is adequately funded to allow it at least to restore its former level of support for training.

The current regulatory framework for training in the television industry

331.  The current regulatory framework for training in the television industry is set out in the Communications Act 2003. In accordance with section 6 of the Act, Ofcom set up a system of co-regulation for training, and established, in 2005, The Broadcast Training and Skills Regulator (BTSR), as a co-regulatory body between Ofcom, Skillset and the industry[109]. The purpose of such a system is to ensure an industry-led method of planning, organising and measuring the delivery of training in the sector; and gives responsibility to broadcasters for setting objectives and standards for training both individually and collectively through Skillset.

332.  There is, however, some confusion, between Ofcom and Skillset, about the co-regulatory arrangements. Skillset said in its written evidence (p 21) that "current powers have not been sufficient to allow for meaningful dialogue". When pressed on this, neither Skillset nor Ofcom were able to clarify the issue for us, and suggested that we talk to the other bodies in the co-regulatory relationship. There appears to be a disagreement between Ofcom and Skillset around Ofcom's obligations regarding freelance training. In an industry which is so dependent on freelance working and informal training, this uncertainty around statutory definitions of training is unhelpful and needs to be clarified as a matter of urgency. Given the inevitable temptation within the private sector to take short-term cost-cutting decisions, the industry is reliant on the industry regulator to take a longer view and safeguard the nation's long-term talent and skills base.

333.  Ofcom told us (p 508) that it has "put proposals to both BTSR and Skillset for rationalising the current framework and developing co-operation in information collection and will be working with both organisations on the way forward".

334.  We welcome Ofcom's proposals to develop co-operation within the regulatory framework for training in the television industry and recommend that Ofcom should publish guidance to clarify the roles of the organisations involved.

102   Skillset subdivides the Creative industries into 10 sectors: animation, computer games, facilities, film, interactive media, other content creation, photo imaging, publishing, radio and television Back

103   Aardman Animations, Ltd., also known as Aardman Studios, is a privately owned British animation studio based in Bristol, United Kingdom. The studio is famous for its stop-frame, clay animation productions.The same technology is used for all productions. Aardman is well known for its plasticine duo, Wallace and Gromit. Back

104   The Skillset Media Academies form a network of colleges and universities across the UK which are centres of excellence in television and interactive media. Back

105   Skillset/UK Film Council Film Production Workforce Survey (2008) Back

106   ITF is a registered charity that aims to improve the competitiveness of UK independent television and digital media production companies, by collecting funds from their productions to invest strategically in appropriate training and development initiatives Back

107   NFTS Management accounts for year ending 31 December 2009, to be published in May 2010 Back

108   UK Film Council Plan.UK Film: Digital innovation and creative excellence-Policy and funding priorities April 2010 to March 2013 Back

109   BTSR's prime purpose is to work with its co-regulatory partners to ensure that the relevant broadcasters comply with Sections 27 & 337 of the Communications Act 2003.(BTSR annual report 2008) Back

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