SportTech UK 2013: taking steps to avert a sports broadcasting skills crisis

The continued evolution of sports broadcasting technologies is not in question – but there are legitimate concerns that there will be sufficiently skilled engineers to support them in ten years’ time, or maybe even less. Hence SVG Europe’s involvement in multiple new education initiatives at Salford and Ravensbourne, discussed as part of a broader panel session on training at this week’s SportTech UK event in London.

Bruce Devlin, CTO of AmberFin, expressed his frustration that “there are lots of opportunities for bright young things to work in video and audio”, but that frequently the CVs received are lacking in one aspect or another: “You might get someone that can do the maths but has no social skills; or someone who seems to have a degree in partying [but can’t do the maths].”

Hence his observation that we are in a period where “a bunch of follicularly-challenged grey hairs are keeping the business going”. Without steps to ensure the next generation has the necessary skill-sets, it could be that the industry is diminished “not because of technical issues but because we forgot how to do it!”

Devlin has put his own shoulder to the wheel with a series of popular short training videos, Bruce’s Shorts, which are designed to express complex technical issues in capsule form, and is now pioneering further schemes via the AmberFin academy initiative. “There is a need for us all to do something otherwise the lights might get turned out in ten years’ time,” he said.

Simon Broad, programme manager at BBC Academy, remarked that his own most recent moment of skills-related realisation came during London 2012 when he observed that “a lot of people working on [Olympics coverage] probably wouldn’t be covering the next one”. Broad went on to outline the current development of a new apprenticeship scheme that benefits from government funding and is set to recruit 20 fixed-term employees, to start work this September. The three-tier scheme combines formal qualification with training at the BBC Academy Wood Norton Engineering Division and extensive work experience with the BBC and other industry partners.

Andrew Cooper, academic director at MediaCityUK (Salford), echoed sentiments that more needed to be done about matching skill-sets to the actual working environment. “It is very difficult to predict what is down the line,” he admitted, “but we want to work with students and explore the future with them, before graduation and after.”

Michael O’Sullivan, consultant for the BYOMA programme at Ravensbourne College, remarked that its new campus on the Greenwich Peninsula, near the O2 Arena, had helped students “to become more aware of sports and the possibilities of sports broadcasting”. But whilst students arrive “tech-savvy and leave very tech-savvy due to the facilities we have here, what we tend to find is that they are not [particularly] industry-savvy,” said O’Sullivan. “They need to be able to feel more sure about what is expected of them when they [go into the workplace], so we want to work with SVG and others to help make them industry-ready.”

Broad, Cooper and O’Sullivan all added that they were very keen to hear from potential manufacturer collaborators who might wish to help support and shape emerging training initiatives.

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