Skills shortages: Collaborative effort and action on diversity needed to avoid industry destabilisation

For the past decade or more, there’s been talk of a skills shortage across the media and entertainment industry, and the concerned voices have only got louder in recent years.

In the first of a series of articles addressing this shortage, we speak to organisations and agencies working at the coalface to find out what the current situation is, where the issues lie and if there are any signs of improvement.

As Ben Swanton of 808 Talent succinctly puts it: “I think the biggest challenge that we’ve got is there is clearly a shortage of young talent coming through that is interested in working on productions in general.”

Sadie Groom, founder of Rise, an organisation committed to fostering gender diversity within the media tech industry, adds: “Not only is there a lack of new talent coming through, recent changes to live broadcast workflows, such as the increase in remote production and cloud-based infrastructure, means that we also need to close training gaps with talent that has been working in the industry for years.”

Ben Swanton, 808 Talent

Indeed, the the sheer scale of technological knowledge that is now needed to work in the industry, and the fact that younger people are more likely to value a work-life balance that often isn’t an option when working on sports productions, are two key reasons behind the shortage.

“There’s just an inordinate amount of technical skills that people are required to know now. And it’s continually evolving. So, no sooner have they been trained up on something then something new is coming up. It’s like a never-ending hamster wheel of new tech that’s coming through all the time that we feel we need to be on top of,” says Swanton.

“I have 20-year-olds coming to me saying ‘I’ll do nine till five and then I’m checking out and I’ve got my life outside’. And that’s the way it should be in fairness,” he continues. “So it’s a work-life balance and unfortunately, sports production isn’t a work-life balance, it’s a passion. Companies need to be thinking about the employee and about these individuals and, as an industry, we have to try and make it as attractive as possible for people to come in.”

Tightening budgets also aren’t helping the situation, whether that’s productions wanting to create more content with fewer people, or salaries not taking into account the stress, anti-social hours and often large amounts of time away from home that can come with following a sport around the globe.

“We need more money,” adds Swanton. “Content owners don’t want to give more money, because they’re trying to save as much as humanly possible and we as consumers don’t want to be paying any more to watch the sports rights that they’ve overpaid for. All of these issues are being pushed down and talent’s getting squeezed as a result of it.”

Industry-wide issue

Difficulties hiring the right people are being faced across the industry, in engineering and technical roles as well as production and R&D. This is being exacerbated by the lack of diversity within it, which can mean recruiters have an unnecessarily limited talent pool from which to choose.

“The competition for skilled professionals is intense across all sectors, making it difficult for broadcasting to attract and retain top talent, especially after a high number of career changes post-covid. Accessibility gaps have also exacerbated the problem, and we know that there are still barriers to entry for young women, which inhibits diversity and equity throughout the industry,” says Groom.

Carrie Wootten, co-founder, Global Media & Entertainment Talent Manifesto, picks up this theme. “We have an ageing white male workforce, with a lack of diverse talent entering the industry. In conjunction with this, we are coming off the back of a global pandemic, actor and writers’ strikes, and innovation rapidly advancing the technology that underpins every aspect of media distribution and consumption. I think the skills shortages are being felt at every level, but at the moment the picture is pretty hazy.”

Read more: IBC2024 to host inaugural World Skills Café diversity and education event

Diversity also includes attracting a younger demographic to the industry and people from different backgrounds, and while companies seem keen to hire a more diverse workforce, often the talent simply isn’t there yet. The US in particular is lagging behind, according to Swanton.

“I do a lot of C-level and VP and SVP-level roles and I’m always asked for diverse candidates. But it’s really difficult, because I think we’re still five to 10 years away from having a strong pool of female talent that has the experience behind them that warrants them to take those steps up, especially in the US. You’ve got to hire the right person, particularly when you get to executive management level roles, because the implications that has on a business are massive. It has got better in the last four or five years in Europe, it’s much more positive and we’re seeing much more diverse candidates and profiles coming through in Europe, in the UK for sure, but certainly in places like France, Belgium and the Netherlands.”

Even across Europe, the picture is varied, however. “In Europe, the skills shortage is compounded by regional disparities in access to educational resources and training programmes. Some areas have better access to advanced educational opportunities, while others lag behind, leading to an uneven distribution of talent,” adds Groom.

“The knowledge exchange that needs to happen between companies globally to understand what initiatives are working and how they can be replicated and scaled isn’t happening”

So while the situation is improving in Europe, there is clearly more to be done and it seems the emergence of organisations such as Rise, Mama Youth Project and Global Media & Entertainment Talent Manifesto are beginning to make a difference, offering spaces for people to come together, mentoring, advice and knowledge exchange.

“I really love Rise for all that it stands for, all that it has done and is doing. And I think the reason that it is successful is it’s done a very good job of galvanising a lot of the big vendors and service providers in our ecosystem on a common problem. I think, as an industry, we need to do more of that,” enthuses Swanton.

Indeed, the need to work together is something that Wootten also highlights: “Any initiative that is looking to address the skills shortage will be making an impact – but I think this is also one of the challenges. The knowledge exchange that needs to happen between companies globally to understand what initiatives are working and how they can be replicated and scaled isn’t happening.”

“We need transparency on where the skills shortages are in each company. Unless companies are open with where their challenges lie, we will never have a clear picture or be able to work collectively or collaboratively to address the skills shortages or the lack of diversity in the industry, which is so closely interwoven with skills. This, alongside investing in inspiring and informing young people about the breadth of opportunities that there are across the sector will make the biggest change.”

Read more Exploring the growing challenges around recruiting top talent

Swanton agrees: “The only way we’re going to solve this issue is by being collaborative and making it more attractive as a business and waking up to the fact that, okay, the generation that’s coming into the industry, work-life balance is important to them, finances are important to them. So we need to respect that and then build a business case around people and a strategy to fit what we need.”

So, looking ahead, is there any reason to be positive and what could happen if the shortage isn’t tackled in a cohesive way?

For Groom, if action isn’t taken, the future could be bleak. “Unless we make the industry a more inclusive environment for women to work in, high turnover rates and difficulties in attracting new talent could lead to a continuous talent drain and a cycle of recruitment and training while we struggle to gain equilibrium, which would further destabilise the industry,” she says.

“The industry needs to be realistic and pragmatic. We understand there is a shortage, but what positive action steps are we going to make in order to rectify this? Some of them are already in place, but there is more that we need to do. And I think the big thing that comes out of this is collaboration,” adds Swanton.

Wootten agrees that having a plan of action is essential: “We must have a robust plan in place to ensure we have the most dynamic, skilled workforce for the future to ensure we are able to navigate the innovations that will continue to drive our sector forward. It is imperative that we work together to find solutions and to work collaboratively.”

Final thoughts to Swanton: “We’re such a creative industry, we are going to find a solution to this problem, short term, mid term, long term. I don’t think it’s going to be catastrophic in any shape or form, I don’t see this idea down the line, that we’re never going to be able to do production because we haven’t got enough people, we will find a way to make it work.”


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