Skills shortages: Long-term thinking essential to tackling root causes   

In the second part of his analysis of educators’ views of the skills shortage facing the broadcast sector, Michael Burns explores the issue of diversity, looks at the initiatives already making an impact and considers the long-term outlook for the industry.

“It’s still quite a white industry, but changing, because of the work being done by the new production companies like Whisper and Buzz 16,” Joe Towns, senior lecturer & course director at Cardiff Metropolitan University, observes. “And there are still not enough women in the technical roles.”

“Working with employers, I also hear that students are not that good in the room face-to-face, a bit reticent to pick up the phone or go out and speak to people, not always great under pressure,” he continues. “So you need opportunities on a course where you replicate the live environment, the pressure, deadlines and workflows.”

Read more The educators’ view of an industry in crisis

Generally, Towns feels current courses are not focusing enough on key skills, or new skills, or acknowledging how the job market is changing in sport media. “Practical assessments need to reflect that so students can leave with a portfolio of relevant work which will help them find employment and a collection of practical experiences which provide them with meaningful opportunities to learn,” he says.

“As much as tech drives what we do, I still feel it is a people industry and those softer, personal skills are vital; the ability to get on with people is key. That’s why we do so much practical activity, to ensure the students have the chance to work alongside each other, and with athletes.”

Fast stream

It’s not all doom and gloom though. Passionate individuals are working very hard to ameliorate the root causes of the skills shortage, often in their spare time.

Rise Academy, for example, is working to raise awareness of broadcast engineering courses and other career pathways and opportunities in the sector.

“Rise Academy is actively working on enhancing our outreach and engagement efforts,” says Andy Beale, co-founder of Rise Academy, and formerly chief engineer & head of innovation at BT Sport. “This includes showcasing real-world applications of media technology, highlighting success stories, and emphasising the critical role of technology in modern sports broadcasting. By demonstrating the vibrant and innovative nature of the industry, we hope to ignite more interest and inspire the next generation to pursue careers in this field.

“To achieve this, Rise Academy has recently exhibited and run hands-on interactive experiences at TeenTech Festivals across the country and the Step Up Expo careers fair at Olympia in partnership with SMPTE. We also ran a very successful career open day at IMG Studios in partnership with ETP Productions and EMG and supported Solent Students from both the live events and TV production courses. In the summer holiday, the academy will once again be running its award-winning Summer School for the third year in Hayes, West London and we are also delighted to be launching it in the North West at dock10.”

Industry firms are also stepping up to provide on-the-job training. “Limitless and EMG have been great with getting students involved over the past few years,” says Polly Hickling, learning and development lead for media at Eviden and secretary/treasurer at SMPTE UK. “We have also had students involved with Sky and there are schemes to get students involved with NEP and Wimbledon. The will is there, but you do end up with a lot of busy students.”

As well as running a Sports Broadcasting Masters course, Towns produces live rugby on weekends for TNT and Premier Sports and is also on the board of the Media Cymru Skills Advisory Committee.

“When we recruit, we look for people who are still active in the industry and we encourage them to continue as freelancers in the industry as it benefits everyone,” he says. “My university has given me permission to do some work for OBS in Paris this summer because they know how much knowledge I can bring back to the classroom next term, and it has kudos with the students to say I was producing the Olympics.”

“We have 20 students on our post-grad degree, and we stream 20 matches across the academic year, so students get one go each at directing a live match,” he continues. “We want to grow this so we are looking to develop an app where students can experience what it’s like to direct sport remotely, in the classroom or on their laptops at home. We are working with former BBC Sports director Rhys Edwards on a sports directing simulator called ‘Multi-Camp’. The idea has received funding from Media Cymru, we are the academic research partner and it’s reaching the prototype stage.

“We’re also working with Whisper Cymru on remote production projects covering rugby in Wales, hoping to develop a new generation of match directors used to working remotely.”

“Remote production also opens up directing roles to people with disabilities who previously have not been able to access broadcast OB trucks,” says Towns. “Whisper, as part of the C4 Paralympic remote production from Cardiff this summer, has built new studios and galleries with accessibility at the forefront of the designs.”

Cardiff Metropolitan University has also built a relationship with the streaming arm of Matchroom Sport. “As a result, we now have six graduates working full time, travelling the world as broadcast engineers on the Matchroom Sport output,” says Towns. “They’re setting up streams at boxing press conferences or directing snooker and darts feeds at major tournaments.

“We are also in conversation with [Cardiff-based post facility] Gorilla to create specific EVS training courses and upskill our students so they are ready to fill this void in the industry. [Our aim is] build partnerships with local industry, then jointly apply to national funding bodies like Media Cymru and reach out to tech companies like EVS to help us put on bespoke courses aligned within our academic year.”

“The Belgian universities work amazingly with EVS,” notes Hickling. “They collaboratively work on PhDs which aid product development and give great opportunities.”

Long-term thinking

“To address the talent gap and ensure a steady pipeline of skilled professionals in media technology and broadcasting, we need a multifaceted approach,” says Beale. “First, increasing awareness and interest among potential students is crucial. This can be achieved through targeted outreach, partnerships with schools and careers services, and showcasing the exciting opportunities in this field at careers and skills events.

“Second, educational institutions and industry stakeholders must collaborate more closely. This includes developing a curriculum that reflects the latest technological advancements and real-world applications, as well as offering internships, apprenticeships, and mentorship programmes to provide hands-on experience.”

“Wider support for other pathways such as apprenticeships, T levels or year 14 BTEC technical courses with industry placement would also offer alternative routes into employment.”

Just the other week, Hickling convened a forum of universities in the media tech field to see the lay of the educational land. As well as confirming her fears about the scale of the problem, it also gathered enough data for SMPTE to perhaps formulate an initiative.

“We already support all of these courses with initiatives, such as our institutional membership which offers support financially for students to attend our meetings; ‘pint with a pro’ where SMPTE members attend the university students’ union with experts to discuss and answer industry-related questions; our once a year Young Innovators event which supports junior engineers in sharing with students the jobs they have while connecting those in the industry who are looking for graduates with the students; and finally our newest initiative to send a selected group of students to IBC this year.”

“However, this is all support for students already in the system,” Hickling continues. “The Step Up event we were involved with was aimed at encouraging more students in, but we have to keep the courses open to push the pipeline through. In short, it’s definitely something SMPTE will be continuing to support and expand.”

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