ScreenSkills has got its work cut out to dispel the fog about industry skills gaps, argues Richard Wallis, Principal Academic & HEA Senior Fellow of the Faculty of Media & Communication, Bournemouth University.

ScreenSkills has launched its new branding and website.  If the name sounds unfamiliar, this is the re-christened UK Sector Skills Council previously known as Creative Skillset (and prior to that, just Skillset).  The organisation, now merged with training provider The Indie Training Fund, has officially shed its interest in fashion and publishing to concentrate entirely on the UK’s ‘screen industries’ – and not before time. 

The move is intended to provide more clarity about skills gaps in film, games, television, visual effects, and immersive technology.  But the brief is still a very broad one, and treating highly disparate areas like these as a single industry sector may not be enough to cut through the peasouper fog of muddled thinking about skills and training that has prevailed across these industries. 

Talk of ‘screen industries’ suggests broad commonalities, and of course, there are many.  But there are also many important distinctions.  Particularly so when it comes to skills.  The organisation’s most recent available report from its Film Employer Panel, for example, found that 79% of the companies/productions it surveyed reported that they ‘do not currently have any vacancies that are proving hard to fill’.  By contrast, a recent report from Profundo Research about television production, identifies a ‘moderate to serious’ skills issue, particularly at mid-level and senior grades.  Then compare these findings with those of the games industry, where according to Screenskills/Creative Skillset’s Computer Games Employer Panel survey, it’s coding and programming skills that are in seriously short supply. 

The sector has suffered from a game of Chinese Whispers, where apparent skills gaps reported in one area become misapplied to others.  Generalised talk of ‘critical skills deficiencies that threaten to undermine the future success of the film and screen industries’ is not helpful unless there is detail, and the evidence presented is transparent.  Too much of the research to date has been unverifiable.  Supposed quantitative studies often turn out to be based on absurdly small sample sizes.  Anecdotes and opinions are presented as conclusive indicators.  Scratching beneath the surface of big statements, as a recent Nesta study has found, there is in fact ‘little granular evidence on the skills required by creative talent’ across the board.
ScreenSkills also has another problem.  When asking its panels about its own (Creative Skillset’s) services, the majority of respondents apparently either report that they have no plan to sign up for them, or have simply never heard of them, and when asked about the organisation’s course accreditation (‘Tick’) scheme – which it ‘invests hundreds of thousands of pounds on promoting’ – only 5% report that they are familiar with it and have used it.  ScreenSkills has got to up its game if it’s going to play its part in dispelling the fog and contributing to a genuine understanding of the rapid changes in this sector – whatever it calls itself.

Richard Wallis

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