Is the media and broadcast industry not cool enough to attract new talent?

By Dominik Wrona, head of portfolio & propositions at BT Media and Broadcast 

Forget astronauts and firefighters, 21st century youngsters would much rather grow up to be YouTubers or influencers. According to a poll by Harris, it’s the dream of an astonishing 30% of British 8-12 year olds.

TV presenting is also a sought after and competitive career, with an increasingly diverse mix of talent gracing our screens.

However, behind the camera the picture is more complicated. Whether it’s broadcast engineers, data scientists or the tech teams that build the infrastructure we all rely on, there’s a significant shortage of people with the skills our industry needs.

So what’s the problem? Is our industry simply no longer “cool” enough?

Luckily, we don’t think so – we know that broadcasting is an exciting industry to work in. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t barriers for new talent entering our industry. So, here’s five areas we need to focus on if we want to secure the talent we need.

Explore alternative career pathways

For technical and engineering roles, the traditional career path is studying for a university degree, followed by applying for graduate-level roles. But this shouldn’t have to be the norm.

Not every role within our industry should require a university education. And that’s why we’re now seeing an increasing number of UK broadcasters and media companies offering apprenticeships as a gateway into the industry, to attract the brightest talent.

The opportunity of diversity

Great strides have been made. Behind the scenes broadcasting is still a very white, male dominated industry – from the top executives to the engineers keeping our shows on the air.

This is why it’s so important to continue to support initiatives like Rise Women In Broadcast, which offers mentoring opportunities to women looking to enter media and technology careers.

And it’s also true for ethnic minority representation. Sadly, though the industry has made some impressive strides in front of the camera, behind the camera the picture is much the same as ever. And fixing this should be a priority, as expanding the talent pool isn’t just good for the sake of it – it’s good for business too.

It’s not just London

Though much of the industry is headquartered in London, talent is much more widely distributed.

Salford and Leeds have both become major strategic hubs, thanks to the recent creation of centres for the likes of the BBC and Channel 4. And, more widely, there are skilled engineers and data scientists across the country.

The challenge is building our companies so that they can take advantage of this geographic opportunity. And with many companies now offering flexible working, and the industry adopting more remote production workflows, being based outside of London should no longer be a barrier for attracting talent.

Retaining talent

There’s an easier way to make sure we have the people we need, alongside finding and hiring new talent – and that’s retaining the talented and skilled people we already have within our teams.

Our industry can be challenging at times, with short contracts, low pay and unsociable hours. But we can make this better, and it isn’t always just a question of higher pay.

There are huge opportunities with remote production to offer more flexible working opportunities so that employees can continue to do the work we need, while remaining closer to their friends and families.

Employees returning from maternity leave or sabbatical should also be supported to help them find their feet again. And as technology evolves and skill requirements change, older workers should be given opportunities to re-skill or upskill, to ensure they can continue to work effectively and confidently.

The allure of AI

Finally, there’s the rise of AI. Since ChatGPT shook the world in early 2023, every industry has been scrambling to catch up. And this has exacerbated the brain-drain from the sector. If you’re a talented young data scientist or engineer, why would you choose to work in broadcasting, when you could work at one of the firms at the cutting edge of this transformative new technology?

But we believe AI is not just the agent of change – it’s also the solution to this problem.

Generative AI models are already having a dramatic impact on our industry, and in the future, AI will be a crucial part of production – whether it’s generating scenes and shots from whole cloth, using technologies like OpenAI’s Sora model, or during broadcast to optimise streams and tailor recommendations.

And this means that we need these same data scientists and engineers. The challenge for us as broadcasters is finding the language to talk about this. We need to make it clear to talent that working with us is a huge opportunity to explore how AI can transform the broadcasts that millions of people watch every day. And that’s pretty darn “cool”.

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