With the BAFTA nominations recently announced and the Oscars fast approaching, the UK screen industries are currently centre stage – and not necessarily for the right reasons.
If anyone thought that the new generation of talented black stars signalled a more inclusive movie landscape, then another set of rows over diversity suggests otherwise.
This is a shame. The UK excels in the creative industries and the buzz of awards seasons is the obvious moment to inspire young people to consider a career in the creative sector. Actors are the headline stars, but behind the glamour of honour ceremonies is a wide range of jobs in production, writing, craft, tech and visual effects (VFX)—with huge demand for new talent from all backgrounds to fill them.
The good news is that while the current headlines over lack of diversity indicates a need for more action, the screen industries are involved in tackling this issue at the start, with education. The government-backed Creative Careers Programme has begun to transform careers education for the creative industries in schools. For further and higher education, our solution is ScreenSkills Select, a process of endorsing and enhancing courses identified by practitioners as industry-relevant, and a more collaborative process than its predecessor, Tick.
It is an area where the UK boasts a string of internationally-renowned institutions. There are around 4,000 screen-related courses in higher education and another 7,000 in further education. Many are good, even brilliant, academically. But for students whose ambition upon graduation is to start work straight away on set or in a studio, then industry is working with us to signpost the courses in animation, film, games, television or VFX that also give them the best preparation for their future career.
A booming business
Though the industry has long been viewed as precarious, the statistics suggest otherwise. The production boom now means it was film and TV that saved the UK from a potential pre-Brexit recession in the autumn, according to the Office for National Statistics. Research conducted for the British Film Institute three years ago predicted then that the industry would need 10,000 new entrants and an estimated 30,000 job opportunities by 2022. That was before the current rounds of investment from major new players such as Netflix and Amazon Prime.
At ScreenSkills, we conduct regular research into employer needs which shows a sector so busy there are now significant skills shortages across a wide range of roles. Nearly half of respondents contacted recently across the industry reported that skills gaps were causing serious or very serious problems in their work; over half of respondents highlighted the importance of improved careers education, advice and guidance to address the skills challenges.
A close, cooperative relationship between industry professionals and university academics can benefit both sides, as well as students, ensuring courses remain relevant, students increase their employability, and the UK can work towards a more inclusive and diverse screen industry, continuing to make world-renowned film, television and games. Education providers already face tough regulatory hurdles, so the aim is to provide a supportive partnership to deepen engagement between the education sector and the relevant industries – ensuring that skills gaps and shortages are addressed, and that educators can ensure their courses remain up to date.
A push to diversify
The success of the UK’s creative industries presents young people with a plethora of opportunities. Yet we know they have always presented a challenge because many of the jobs are little understood and the pathways to them have sometimes seemed unclear. The film and television industry has historically proven nepotistic and difficult to navigate for those without the right connections – and students are often concerned about job security and reluctant to enter an industry where so much of the work is freelance. Students without obvious connections and those from low socioeconomic backgrounds sometimes feel, possibly fairly, that it’s a closed shop – and an insecure jobs market even if you get in. That’s why we believe it is so important to signpost the options.
Anyone offering advice to students should appreciate the scale of the screen industries, the extent of skills shortages and the varied job opportunities available across the sectors. And despite the arguments over diversity, the industry is committed to addressing issues of social mobility and representation and want to attract students from all backgrounds. ScreenSkills Select is designed to bring both education and the screen industries closer together. It’s a model that could be adopted by other industries who are also chasing talent and hoping to increase inclusivity and diversity.