The screen industries believe there are opportunities created by the coronavirus pandemic to make lasting positive change that should not be missed, according to new research published today.

Views on remote working, technological change and environmental sustainability were all explored in the ScreenSkills Assessment 2021, supported by the BFI.

Respondents highlighted the potential human and environmental benefits of retaining some of the Covid-enforced changes to working practices such as a better work-life balance, reduced travel and access to a more geographically dispersed talent pool from remote working.

Findings included:

– 69% of employers and 72% of the workforce surveyed believe remote working will be the most significant trend to endure beyond Covid-19 lockdown restrictions, followed by increased use of remote communication (59%).

– Increased remote working is likely to enable hiring from a wider geographical pool, according to 54% of employers and workforce survey respondents.

– Half of employers thought that the pandemic helped to create or influence a fairer work culture for the future. Lessons learned include: embracing new technical solutions; avoiding business complacency; maintaining greater empathy with colleagues; and working more collaboratively as a sector to tackle common challenges.

– Almost half of employers pointed to greater future emphasis on work-life balance. This followed last year’s survey by the Work Foundation (2020) which found that 78% of film and TV workers struggle to find such balance.

– Nearly half of employers and just over half of the workforce surveyed thought that by 2026 the sector will be deploying more environmentally sustainable practices.

Skills needs and recruitment challenges

Almost half of employers interviewed reported having an increased awareness of the importance of valuing, trusting and looking after people since the Covid-19 pandemic, further echoing the importance of soft skills and possibly signposting a need for more “people skills” and a stronger HR function in the industry.

Workforce respondents identified a wider range of skills needs, with financial and budgetary skills, and public speaking, ranking joint highest (35% each). This is followed by the ability to organise work (31%) and resilience (28%).

Recruitment difficulties were a problem for 82% of employers, 46% rating them as a moderate problem and a further 36% seeing it as a serious or very serious issue.

The production hiatus followed by restart may have skewed perceptions of skills shortages and gaps, though some clearly remain.

Production management roles remain in demand across scripted and unscripted production. Recruiting editors, researchers and series producers also remains a challenge for unscripted TV. Shortages of 3D and programming skills  continue in games, while animation needs 2D and 3D animators, riggers and storyboard artists.

There are emerging difficulties in recruiting producer roles in post-production and VFX, along with engine coding skills in VFX and high-end technical operators for post-production.

Changes to working practices, including remote working and workflow as well as virtual production, increased immediate demand for these roles that could remain beyond the short term.

Budgets and Covid safety affected the hiring of new entrants during the pandemic. There was some concern that the loss of a workplace-based training environment for new and recent entrants was likely to have a severe future impact, with fears of fewer suitably prepared new entrants in the pipeline at a time when the industry is recovering or growing.

The research found small numbers of workers had moved to another part of the screen industries or another location during the pandemic while 16% had left the industry for another sector altogether. It is not known whether they will return.

A majority of employers (64%) planned to organise workforce training in the coming year, down from almost 80% of employers two years ago. While remote training was valued during lockdown, three-fifths (60%) hoped for a mix of remote and in-person training once the acute phase of the pandemic subsides. The majority of employers said they would rely on ScreenSkills to deliver their future training.

Technology

The increased use of technology to enhance, speed up or replace existing practices was reported across screen sectors and departments.

Remote-working tools and technologies have become prevalent but the UK needs strong telecoms infrastructure and connectivity to make this an enduring change.

Various remote working tools, cloud-based workflows, and improved networks and streaming capacity dominated the list of significant technologies that survey respondents felt would affect the future of screen.

VR, AR and machine learning (AI) also featured. The extent to which virtual production will be adopted, and its impact on production schedules, budgets and creative considerations, are still being explored.

Workforce diversity remains critical

The impact of Covid-19 on industry diversity is unclear, though there is some evidence it might have exacerbated inequalities. Changes to working practices, including remote working and more online learning, have the potential to improve the development and recruitment of a more inclusive workforce.

Seetha Kumar, ScreenSkills CEO, said: “This research sheds valuable insight into the lessons learned from this most difficult of years. It suggests new technologies and imaginative work practices adopted at this time might contribute to a better working environment for the future as well as keeping the screen industries vibrant. We will continue to use the evidence of our research with industry to inform and shape investment in skills and training to future-proof the sector.”

Caterina Branzanti, ScreenSkills Head of Research who conducted the study with industry consultant Lisa Howe, said: “Covid makes it challenging to compare the state of the industry with two years ago in the way we originally planned with this research, but did provide a fresh perspective on skills and workforce challenges and opportunities. We trust it will be useful for evolving thinking on workforce management and development.”

Neil Peplow, Director of Industry and International Affairs at the BFI, said: “This timely study shows how our industry has quickly embraced innovation to address the challenges of the past year, opening up opportunities and enabling more flexible, considerate working practices. It also highlights areas where there is still work to do to support skills development and address shortages. We look forward to working closely with ScreenSkills and our partners in industry to build on these learnings.”

 

Jon Creamer