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ScreenSkills’ CEO looks ahead

Apr 8, 2021

ScreenSkills CEO, Seetha Kumar reflects on 2020 and looks ahead to 2021 and beyond.

The end of the financial year coinciding so closely with the anniversary of the first lockdown of the pandemic seems a good moment to reflect on the lessons of 2020-2021 and what was achieved and also to say thank you to all those who worked with us.

But I want to start by looking forward. The screen industries have bounced back with remarkable resilience and there are clear hopes that the sector will help drive economic recovery and growth. We will do everything we can to continue to support that growth and the people who underpin it. As we never tire of saying, you can’t make great film, television and animation without the people.

The coronavirus crisis has created new challenges for individuals, productions and businesses involved in screen across the globe, especially in relation to returning to work safely. However, there have also been new opportunities. For us, our online training offer was turbo-charged and the pivot to our current virtual delivery model may have long-term benefits – enabling us to support a greater diversity of talent by increasing accessibility.

For industry, necessity has encouraged both collaboration and innovation. The Screen Sector Task Force developed the health and safety guidelines which were a necessity for production and exhibition to resume. ScreenSkills designed and delivered the accompanying free basic training to more than 58,000 people as well as more advanced training for those with greater responsibilities.

Covid has expedited take-up of game-changing creative technological opportunities, such as those provided by virtual production, and ScreenSkills is already working with industry and education providers to develop national standards for this technology. The ambition is to ensure that the UK has enough people with the right mix of skills to capitalise on tech long used in games but only beginning to be adopted by film and TV, our data-driven focus enabling us to spot future skills needs.

Government announcements such as the budget commitment to “flexi-job” apprenticeships, adopting our long-held call for greater flexibilities, indicate that skills and training are moving up the political agenda. We must look to build on this momentum to secure long-term, coherent investment in skills for our growing sector, which is fabulous but also fragmented. One ambition for the year ahead is to unify and amplify – ensuring that the right interventions are pursued and that everybody hears about them, removing additional barriers created by fragmentation. We can’t do this alone, but our role is to be the glue joining the very best training and opportunities to exceptional people across the UK, aligning industry need with individual ambition.

Entry-level programmes are not enough. We are a people business and in order to effect genuine change on diversity and inclusion we must ensure that all talent is equipped with the skills – technical or craft, business or leadership – and networks to succeed long-term. Practical action on inclusion and achieving a diverse skills pipeline is embedded in what ScreenSkills does and encompasses everything I personally want to achieve.

So just a quick look back. While the country at large learned new languages, picked up once forgotten instruments and baked banana bread galore, the screen industries trained. ScreenSkills offered opportunities to network, to explore other parts of the sector and to continually upskill. In straight numbers, thanks to industry contributions to our skills funds and the BFI, awarding National Lottery funds, ScreenSkills’ year looked like this:

  • Screenskills offered nearly 1,200 pieces of training, events, masterclasses and online learning, which were completed by 68,500 individuals.
  • Excluding online learning modules, 17,799 people took up at least one opportunity, of these 63% were women, 9.5% disabled, 17% Black, Asian or minority ethnic and 49% from the nations and regions. (We admit the figures are lower once Covid training is included as that was taken up by so many of the existing workforce.)
  • The online community grew to 106,577 registered screen professionals by the end of March.
  • They have browsed 8.4 million pages on the website – compared with fewer than 650,000 in the year before we re-launched as ScreenSkills – and 69,000 are signed up to our main newsletter and others engage through other platforms.

The Screenskills community has grown considerably since Covid-19 struck – but we also know that there are many more who could benefit from training opportunities, especially those from groups under-represented in the industry and across the nations and regions. We want to reach those, too.

It has been a difficult year, but it has not been without rewards – and even some awards.  Our immersive First Day: on Set experience, designed to take people behind the scenes on a shoot, won a Production Guild of Great Britain innovation award.  More recently, our work with partners Creative & Cultural Skills and the Creative Industries Federation on Discover! Creative Careers was recognised with an honour sponsored by the Department for Education at the Careers Development Institute awards. Both of these initiatives are helping showcase the wide variety of roles available in our exciting but often mysterious sector to the next generation.

I took part in a discussion on virtual production as part of a Department for International Trade (DIT) mission and a subsequent DIT webcast on opportunities in the creative industries and earlier in the year we discussed with MPs and peers the impact of Covid on film and TV and the implications for the workforce. We ran Skills to Screen: Aviation, a programme to help transfer skills from the aviation sector, with the Department for Work and Pensions and Pinewood Studios and we hope to continue a long-term partnership with the department as we look to improve social mobility within the sector.

Just before Easter the inaugural Select Conference was held online, connecting leading figures from industry with education providers, enabling employers to feedback directly what they want to see from new entrants. Right now, applications are being sifted from experienced Black, Asian and minority ethnic screen professionals for our Film Forward career progression programme and for Fast Track, a three-year progression programme in high-end TV. We are also reaching the final recruitment stage for our apprenticeship pilot with Warner Bros. and Netflix after a Covid hiatus.

It never stops and next year looks set already to build on everything Covid has taught us, how to best support the workforce, use technology to improve accessibility and be nimble and responsive to emerging industry needs.

I will continue to write from time to time to update you, but for those keen for more regular communication, do sign up for our monthly newsletters. Thanks again for all that you do to support us in what we do,

Seetha Kumar,
CEO ScreenSkills

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