Proof of audio and video youth: How Timeline has been encouraging greater diversity since 2017

A Timeline TV audio control room

There is an entire generation of content creators who honed their skills outside of traditional broadcast environments. They do not remember a time when IP was not a thing, and grew up with TikTok and Instagram as communication channels; in other words, technologies that are way more sophisticated than those that many traditionally-trained broadcast engineers grew up using.

That has created a generation of people who are naturals at embracing many of the new technologies influencing how we broadcast content. It makes the desire to attract younger and more diverse talent into the broadcast industry a real focus. So why are we so bad at it?

Lack of traditional routes

In March this year, when the Institute of Production Sound (IPS) held its training weekend, the two day residential was designed to not only help sound professionals get up to speed with technological change, but to reach out to more young people into the audio industry.

“The days when people received training as employees of large organisations are in the past,” said IPS coordinator Ian Sands. “With the majority of sound engineers now working in freelance roles there is very little formal training and many traditional routes into the industry are blocked. In an industry as fragmented as ours, one of the IPS’s aims is to provide training not only for its members, but for the entire sound community and we’re hoping that this event will attract more young people into the audio industry.”

Companies like Sky, the BBC and NEP seem to agree. They all run schemes for graduates, while initiatives like the Media Careers Podcast and SVG Europe Women’s own Behind the Lens project both aim to highlight the breadth of opportunities in an industry hungry for new talent.

Learn more and watch SVG Europe Women’s Behind the Lens full cut here

Meanwhile, manufacturers are also stepping up, with this year’s Audiotonix Steam audio mixer kit aiming to develop interest in audio engineering at STEM level in schools and colleges.

Ria Perez, production assistant, is one of the women and men to feature in the Behind the Lens educational video series from SVG Europe Women

Graduate growth

Stanislava Hristova, head of human resources at Timeline Television, knows all about the need to develop young talent. She joined Timeline eight years ago, when the company employed less than 100 employees and was already finding it difficult to nurture new talent.

“At that time, we were really struggling to get people to fill our roles,” Hristova says. “Our engineers were getting older and were either looking at retiring or moving into freelance roles. Trying to recruit permanent staff was a challenge. We also wanted to diversify our workforce because many engineers in our industry all look exactly the same; they all tend to be white, middle aged males. It’s not just Timeline who has this problem but everyone across our industry.

“We knew we had to change things so when we looked at how to diversify our workforce and bring fresh talent into the system, our goal was to boost the talent pool across the industry.”

Hristova already had experience running graduate programmes in engineering companies, and with the support of Timeline TV CEO Dan McDonald, Timeline’s Graduate Scheme was launched in 2017 with an initial pilot intake of four graduates.

Since then, the company has grown to support over 200 highly skilled staff, supporting some of the most prestigious sporting and entertainment productions in the world. Around 30 of them came directly from its graduate scheme, with around half of them recruited directly into audio roles.

Timeline TV’s head of human resources, Stanislava Hristova

Placements done differently

“A number of different companies run graduate schemes,” says Hristova. “Most of these place graduates in a training programme where they spend time in rotation in different departments, after which time they are eligible to apply for full time jobs.

“What we do is very different. We also build in rotations to enable graduates to spend time in different departments; it’s important because sometimes once they have had exposure to a different areas, they might prefer to pursue that. But we want to recruit graduates for dedicated roles, so we focus on those roles from the outset with graduate vision engineer roles, graduate sound engineer roles, graduate camera assistant roles, and so on.

“The reason our graduates are hired for a specific role is so they don’t have to apply for vacancies after the scheme; the job is already theirs for the taking. The initial assessment process is relatively competitive, and we still build goals and milestones into the positions, but the way we manage the scheme means our graduates don’t have to compete against each other when the programme is over. Knowing that they can land real jobs shortly after they start enables our graduates to spend all their time developing the role.”

In fact, it is so successful that having started as a two year programme it was soon reduced because, “we realised that the graduates were ready after 18 months”. On completion Timeline allocates a mentor, can provide external training in addition to on-the-job experience, as well as secondments to other parts of the business.

Focus on broadcast audio

Timeline works closely with multiple universities across the UK, including Ravensbourne and Salford, and since the programme began seven years ago all but one of its graduates has landed full time roles in the broadcast industry. With an even split between audio and video graduates, Hristova acknowledges that audio degrees tend not to promote the opportunities in broadcast.

She says: “We interview lots of audio graduates who are more focused on music, and most university projects are also music related. Most don’t have an appreciation or understanding of what they can do in the sound team of a broadcast company, but we have seen graduates progress into sound engineers, guarantees and assistants. In all we’ve developed around 30 graduates into roles which has really helped us grow talent, and because they learn on the job they already know how we work.

“It’s quite different to getting someone in and having to retrain them when they’ve already been trained somewhere else. It has really helped us develop that more knowledge and skill sets internally.”

Diversification is key

It has also worked towards Timeline’s original goal of diversifying its workforce. Graduates like junior guarantee Faye Martin, who joined the company on the scheme in 2018, are still helping Timeline support events like the Rugby World Cup and the Euros, but there is more work to be done.

“The broadcast industry suffers from such a lack of diversity, and unfortunately it is preselected at university level; there just aren’t many women doing engineering degrees,” says Hristova. “We started working with Rise and the Rise Academy because it is something the whole industry needs to address, and we need to address it early.

“It’s about making these career look attractive to younger girls. Many children don’t even know that there are so many opportunities in television and broadcasting because all they see is a camera and the presenters.”

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