The High-End Television Skills Fund’s annual workforce research shows “significant changes” in the perception of how skills issues are impacting HETV production in the UK.

The report found that for the first time since the report’s inception in 2017, respondents highlighted an improvement in concerns around skills gaps and areas of skills shortages as well as a year-on-year decrease in the concern in leadership and management areas.

In a year impacted by strike action and a slowdown of commissioning levels, there was more availability of skilled crew as the report also reflected levels of uncertainty about the levels of returning productions and the workforce raised concerns about the future impact of the development of AI. 

“The HETV Skills Fund’s seventh annual workforce research reveals that while people did hold some level of concern over skills across departments, they were outweighed by the sense of improvement in both the level of skills among crew and the areas affected by skills shortages,” commented Barry Ryan, Chair, High-End TV Skills Council. “I’m proud of the recognition for the positive impact made by the Fund, particularly reflected in the dedicated leadership and management training programmes but remain focussed on ensuring these initiatives respond directly to the needs of our industry to retain good skills levels across all departments.”

Skills gaps overtook areas of skills shortages as the larger concern for the workforce, with a lack of experience among crew promoted too quickly viewed as the leading cause. The report highlighted that the potential reduction in demand for production represents an opportunity for the HETV Skills Fund to address concerns by providing upskilling training to help crew improve their skills and knowledge.

Of those skills gaps listed, leadership ability is still perceived to be the skill most lacking among respondents, followed by the ability to work to a budget and resilience. While there was a reduction in the severity reported in large amounts of skills, communication, presentation skills and client management were each identified as skills more lacking than in last year’s report.

The research was conducted between October 2023 and January 2024 among respondents who were directly involved in crewing up productions (e.g. line producers, heads of production, producers), with additional interviews with people in senior roles within production and those in broadcasting and support agency positions. As with previous years, the objectives of the research were to identify key skills and grade shortages and associated issues from the HETV industry; and to enable the HETV Skills Fund to be more strategic in its investment plans for 2024 and beyond.

With the commissioning slow-down in 2023 and the subsequent impact in terms of production activity, 66% of survey participants said that they were currently working on a HETV production (2023: 83%). Many interviewees – largely consisting of producers and heads of departments – frequently mentioned that they were now receiving CVs and being asked for work. This trend is indicative of a surplus of freelancers facing a challenging employment landscape.

For the first time, the research revealed the potential impact and influence of AI on the sector and also the acceptance and understanding that AI is likely to create new roles and jobs in the industry. A minority of respondents cited the risk of junior crew missing vital hands-on experience of breaking down a script to create a production schedule, or assembly editing by using AI tools. Additionally, the majority of interviewees also shared concerns regarding the implications on IP and copyright.

This year, there was a change in perception regarding skills gaps and shortages in high-end television. 33% of respondents said that skills-related issues were getting better (2022/2023: 22%; 2021/2022: 7%) as opposed to getting worse (2023/2024: 22%; 2022/2023: 41%; 2021/2022: 78%). This perception can be attributed to the impact of the strike action and the commissioning downturn, but also infers that, with people in the sector out of work, there was an excess in terms of supply.

In relation to some specific skills-related issues, there were some specific and significant changes, again related to the production slowdown. For example, the physical lack of crew available dropped from 71% the previous year to 37% in 2023/2024. And similarly, there was also a significant decrease in the number of crew leaving productions early – 39% in 2023/2024 compared to 76% in 2022/2023.

The perceived lack of business and management experience  decreased from 75% to 64% in year. Also, the lack of “relevant craft and technical experience and skills” reduced from 65% to 51%. However, participants commenting on crew being promoted too quickly, highlighted in previous reports consistently, was 82% (2022/2023: 87%).

Possibly due to the slowdown in production and the strikes resulting in a lower level of demand, the perception amongst interviewees was that the skills shortage issues were less severe than in previous iterations of the research. In 2023, 52% said that skills shortages were a very serious or serious problem, which was lower than 2022 (81%) and 2021 (86%).

Since 2022/2023, the level of grade-specific shortages has decreased, in some cases by as much as 50%. However, key shortages remain – but have eased significantly – in roles such as production accountant, line producer, location manager, editor (including assistants), production manager and production coordinator. This year, new shortages were identified in the following roles – technical director in post-production; production roles in VFX; virtual production supervisor; digital matte painter; talent coordinator; researcher and playback operator.

The research also identified skills gaps, the extent to which available crew are equipped with the right level of skills and experience to fulfil their work. A main driver for skills gaps was stepping crew up too early. While there was a significant year on year decrease, from 76% to 60%, for the first time the severity of skills gaps exceeded the perception of skills shortages at 52% (2022/2023: 76% vs 81%; 2021/2022: 63% vs 86%).

The impact of the HETV Skills Fund focused investment in leadership and management training is reflected in this year’s research. There were significant year-on-year decreases in both these areas – Leadership (63%/79%) and management (57%/68%). Team working also so a notable reduction in score, from 44% to 31%.

Staff Reporter

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