BFI urges 1% of UK production budgets to be invested in training

The Skills Review concluded there is an urgent need for more investment, as well as greater industry involvement in the approach to development opportunities 

By Tim Dams 29 Jun 2022

BFI urges 1% of UK production budgets to be invested in training
Credit: Bridgerton on set, Liam Daniels/Netflix

The UK production sector needs to contribute at least 1% of all production budgets to train its existing and future workforce, according to a major Skills Review published today by the British Film Institute (BFI)

The Skills Review, which was commissioned by the Department of Digital, Media, Culture and Sport (DCMS), concluded there is an urgent need for increased investment as well as greater industry involvement in the approach to skills and training.

Setting out the background to the review, the BFI said that 2021’s record £5.64 billion of production spend - up 63% since 2017 - is leading to increasing and often critical crew shortages at all levels, which are beginning to negatively impact the industry and contributing to highly-stressed workplaces.

If investment in training does not increase, the Review recommends the UK government explores mandating investment in skills development and training, linked to production spend.

The Skills Review concluded the quality of production work in the UK is under threat, potentially damaging the country’s international reputation for film and TV production. It said workforce shortages are leading to some people being promoted without the necessary support, training and experience. Crew shortages are especially threatening the UK’s indie film sector, which is struggling to compete for crew.

Introducing the review, BFI chief executive Ben Roberts spoke of the need for an ‘industrialised’ solution to the training needs of the industry. “The fact that DCMS asked us to undertake this review recognises how seriously and how valued the sector is,” he said, noting that the production sector has moved far beyond its ‘cottage industry’ roots. “We’re at a different scale now where the problem is serious and does need to be in industrialised.”

Spending at least 1% of all production budgets on training would bring the TV and film industry in line with levels of investment made by other industries, such as construction.

The BFI said the mooted 1% of production spend invested in training could include contributions to ScreenSkills’ Film and HETV Skills Funds, spend on initiatives productions run themselves or which they outsource to training providers and partners, as well as contributions to the Government’s Apprenticeship Levy providing they are spent on crew skills and training.

Currently, studios and production companies producing films and HETV in the UK contribute 0.5% of their core UK expenditure to ScreenSkills’s Film and HETV Skills Funds, but with a cap of £66,300 per production. For HETV productions with budgets of more than £5m, the maximum contribution is set at £100,000. In total, £8.2 million and £1.4 million was collected through the HETV Skills Fund and Film Skills Fund respectively in 2021/22.

Research published last week by ScreenSkills and funded by the BFI predicts the industry will require a further 15,130 to 20,770 full-time employees by 2025, and an overall training investment of over £104 million a year. This figure is roughly 1.4% of the projected level of production spending in 2025.

Five further recommendations

Alongside the call for industry to invest at least 1% of budgets in training, the BFI set out five other recommendations:

1. An industry-led and localised approach to investment in training. The review said current – and predicted – size and scale of the UK production sector requires a new approach. As well as a significant increase in financial investment, industry collaboration and ownership of crew development is needed. It said this requires input and engagement from all stakeholders. To address crew shortages outside London, it said regional partnerships will be key.

2. A more formalised approach to hiring and professional development. Production jobs are rarely widely advertised and recruitment can be reliant on word-of-mouth, said the review. This is often the result of insufficient time between commission and production to allow for an open recruitment process, and can present a barrier to people entering the industry, negatively impact the diversity of the workforce and hinder progression for those already in it. The review said that productions need to support freelance crew to manage their professional development and introduce formal feedback and appraisal mechanisms. It noted that increased on-set pressures are exacerbating issues of bullying and harassment that urgently need to be addressed. In the short term, the adoption of flexible ways of working, such as job sharing, could help improve inclusivity, increase the talent pool, and help retain skilled crew. It added that the sector needs to consider the impact that late commissioning, long hours, and working practices have on workforce development and retention.

3. Stronger bridges into industry from education. The review said a mismatch between industry needs and education persists, resulting in new entrants who are not equipped for a career in production. It concluded that industry needs to build on existing models for trainee schemes, work placements and apprenticeships that can provide entrants with the on-set experience and contextualised knowledge. This requires employers to invest time in forging closer working relationships with education and training providers, as well as paying for trainee and apprenticeship wages, and increasing access to employer-led opportunities for students.

4. More comprehensive careers information. The review said there is a lack of awareness of the breadth of job roles in the screen industry, and progression pathways can be unclear. The sector needs to improve careers advice across schools and in higher and further education. Career-changers from other sectors and new entrants would also benefit from clear, comprehensive information.

5. Better data to support policy and action. There is little reliable data on the number of film and TV workers in different roles and grades, and a lack of forecasting on the demand for production crew.

Next steps 

The DCMS and BFI are now convening key industry stakeholders to develop a plan that addresses the key recommendations.

The Review highlights a number of positive examples of work funded and driven by industry. Amazon, for example, is investing £10m over three years through a partnership with the NFTS, the BBC provides training via the BBC Academy and Channel 4’s Skills is investing £5m per year for three years to create over 15,000 training opportunities. Netflix announced a £1.2 million training programme for up to 1,000 people, while Sky runs a Content Academy. 

However, the scale needs to increase dramatically, said the BFI. Neil Peplow, BFI’s director of industry & international affairs said the Review’s recommendations involve more strategic collaboration with industry, as well as their financial and resource investment.

“It has got to the point where people are looking at the scale of the issue and understand they can’t just plough their own furrows in order to be able to fix it,” said Peplow. “The industry also understands that the scale is at a quantum which previously they hadn’t considered.”

To kick-start delivery against the findings, BFI is to launch four programmes. One will trial a service to map crew and to forecast shortages. Others will create job description templates that can be adopted by productions at recruitment stage; provide careers advice and guidance; and fund workforce diversity monitoring.

Asked whether the Review was just another in a long line of reports on the training needs of the industry, Roberts acknowledged, “we have been round this block before. But the paradigm has shifted. We’re in a different quantum now in terms of the scale of the industry.”

Seetha Kumar, CEO ScreenSkills, added“This report recognises the strategic leadership, financial investment and value in kind already provided by industry in skills and talent development via ScreenSkills alongside all we have delivered under the BFI’s Future Film Skills strategy. That existing good work across education, outreach, in-work training and other career development must be built on and scaled up significantly to support continued growth.

“The need is for everyone to work collaboratively on a sustainable long-term skills strategy and plan -  a unified approach - recognising that stop-start funding and initiatives that aren’t joined up will not address what must be done if the UK is to capitalise on the potential for even greater success in film and television.”

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