Skills shortages: Exploring the growing challenges around recruiting top talent

Staff at work at Appear TV

An insufficient supply of young software developers, a generational shift that means people are staying for shorter periods at each employer, and increased competition from other areas of IT are among the factors making it increasingly difficult for broadcast technology companies to recruit the personnel they need.

In the second in a series of articles assessing the ongoing skills shortage, SVG Europe spoke to a quartet of vendors renowned for their history of innovation – Appear, Disguise, Imagine Communications and Tinkerlist – about their recent experiences of recruitment, the impact of the ‘democratisation’ of media technology, and the steps being taken to nurture long-term staff retention.

The state of skills

Focusing on the UK, Benjamin Gunkel, broadcast sales EMEA at Disguise, provides a concise summary that will be applicable to many other mature broadcast markets. “A perfect storm of rising demand for content, fallout from those who left the industry during the pandemic and rapid wage inflation has led to an unprecedented talent crisis across the UK broadcast sector,” he says. Inevitably, the increase in salary expectations among skilled workers is “making the few talent available much more expensive” to hire.

Andy Rayner, who recently joined Appear as CTO after lengthy spells at Nevion and BT, pinpoints “challenges not only within the Appear space – which entails everything from low-level media processing software development right through to customer support – but also among customers who are actually running the live productions that we are providing technology for. They are seeing plenty of challenges in terms of resourcing people to do the operation and execution of events.”

As a fast-growing company, Tinkerlist is feeling the impact of the skills shortage

As a company marking its 10th birthday in 2024, Tinkerlist is well-placed to identify the impact of skills shortages on a rapidly growing business. A remote working business model helped to attract people initially, but “during covid everybody started doing that so we kind of lost that advantage,” recalls head of HR Charlotte de Roey. Meanwhile, competition for senior developers has become more intense, and “as a small company whose teams are very busy, we don’t have the time or resources to train media developers to attain a more senior level. [The result is that] I have been on the lookout for senior positions for both back-end and front-end development for over a year now.”

Democratisation of technology

Glodina Connan-Lostanlen, chief process officer at Imagine Communications, is not alone in identifying the transition to IP as an important pressure-point. “I think that the situation is maybe serious, but not desperate,” she observes. “By putting more IP into the production environment, we have both got to train the existing engineers and start to bring in people from the IT side of the industry. However, we know that we have an ageing workforce so we have to ensure we continue to encourage the sharing of knowledge and experience. For instance, for an IT expert to come in and become broadcast- and live production-savvy does mean they have to acquire a good understanding of the video and audio complexities we have.”

That said, the greatly increased accessibility of professional-grade media tools in recent years does mean that – theoretically at least – new recruits could be joining the industry with a reasonable skill-set already in place. But with so much convergence occurring with, for example, gaming and live event production, their instincts aren’t necessarily leading them in the direction of broadcast.

Rayner – who recalls having an “innate curiosity of all things media from a young age” – says that the “democratisation of the technology, as I call it, means there is the potential to do multichannel live video production and other things that I could only have dreamed of as a youngster [from home]. There is more possibility for people to get excited about media technology careers now than ever, so it’s interesting that there isn’t necessarily as much take-up.”

Progression and retention

Not all of the skills problems are specific to broadcast, and in its growing challenges of retention and career progression it actually reflects those taking place – to a greater or lesser degree – in countless other fields. For example, the shift towards employees spending a few years at a company before moving on which started to occur among members of Generation X has become significantly more pronounced in Gen Z.

“There is a generational HR challenge that means you have to accept that when you bring in new talent, the younger generation will often tend to stay two or three years before moving on,” says Connan-Lostanlen, although that doesn’t mean there isn’t still scope to encourage retention: “If you can make the job more meaningful – not that it isn’t meaningful now! – but if you can pitch it in the values that we have as a company around diversity and inclusion, and the possibility to grow and take on new roles, [then more retention can be possible]. We will continue to do more on that front, and I think as an industry we have to remind people that this an exciting industry and one that is always in transition, which is one of the things that makes it so interesting.”

Rayner also emphasises the importance of trying to establish an appealing internal career path, despite the generational challenges. “I’m one of the new boys here at Appear,” he says, “but one of the things I was really encouraged by [from the start] was that they had worked very hard on creating a tangible career progression path within the technology side of Appear, so that people can see the steps ahead of them and the additional responsibilities and capabilities that are expected at the different levels. To have that idea of career progress isn’t something that you see happen everywhere.”

There may also be benefits to casting the net wider, especially with Gen Z and now Gen Alpha more inclined to pass through several distinct career phases. De Roey notes: “We sadly don’t have the resources to [offer internships at present], but we recently had an application from someone who had spent much of their career in TV production and wanted to switch to development instead. I think that more of that will happen [across the industry] and hopefully we will be able to help people reinvent themselves in the future.”

Existential challenges

If the staffing challenges that individual companies face have grown, one positive consequence of increased awareness is that more collective action on encouraging M&E talent is now taking place than ever before. Multiple interviewees highlight the efforts of initiatives such as the Rise Academy and the Global Media & Entertainment Talent Manifesto in nurturing future generations of media technology talent. Nonetheless, the scale of the existential challenges now looming on the horizon – the most obvious example being AI, which could ultimately eliminate some roles altogether – means that HR strategies will have to become even more finely-attuned to the evolving technology landscape.

Connan-Lostanlen seems inclined towards a relatively hopeful view of AI’s impact on skills and resources. “I think AI will do well what it can do well, and it will also mean there is a need to give other types of jobs to people,” she says. “It seems to me that the right outcome [with AI] will be that it is used to do things where the outcome is going to be equally good, then we make sure that we focus the human talent on the more complex things… and of course there are a lot of complex things in the media ecosystem! So I think there is going to be scope to reapply humans to other aspects where more help is required.”


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