We caught up with chair of the Unscripted TV Skills Fund and Channel 4’s Managing Director, Nations and Regions, Sinead Rocks, about the how the Fund aims to support and develop the industry workforce.
Why is the Unscripted TV Skills Fund (USF) important from a broadcasters’ perspective?
I think pretty much every broadcaster recognises that if you want to ensure you always have brilliant people making world class content for you, investing in training is a must. However, the need to do this is arguably more acute than ever before with universally acknowledged skills shortages within our sector, right across the UK. A key strength of the USF is the fact that it takes a collaborative, industry-led approach to tackling the issues at hand and from a Channel 4 point of view – we love the fact that it is committed to building a more inclusive workforce and a bigger pool of talent in the nations and regions.
The Fund has got a number of contributing partners across broadcasters, streamers and indies. How unusual is for them to be working together and what do you think the benefit of that is?
It’s pretty unique in my experience and I think that is what makes the USF so special. There’s real power in joining forces to tackle skills gaps and working to future-proof our industry. And having broadcasters, streamers and indies – from right across the UK all sat around the same table – means we are able to get a really comprehensive view of what the challenges are and work out collectively what can be done to tackle them.
How do the council, steering and working groups come to decide what areas should be invested in?
The USFs strategy is largely shaped by the council which is chaired by Jane Muirhead and made up of representatives from indies right across the UK. They’re best placed to identify priority areas for training because they’re the ones on the front line trying to find and hire brilliant staff on a daily basis. The council is supported by a number of working groups which focus on five key categories – craft and tech, production, post-production, development and business skills. Their work leads to an annual plan for investment, which once ratified by the council, goes to the steering group for final agreement. At this point, the broadcasters and streamers will be sense-checking it all and ensuring the proposals align with their priorities too. ScreenSkills supports the whole decision-making process with extensive skills research so we are able to take into account where further intervention might be needed and what has worked well previously.
What achievements have you been most proud of in terms of the Fund’s work?
The fact that we do have such an inclusive group working together, making decisions and sharing intel – the power of that cannot be underestimated and it’s ScreenSkills (and in particular the amazing Sarah Joyce – ScreenSkills’ Head of Unscripted TV ) that has made that happen.
I’m also really pleased that the Fund makes it easier for freelancers – who are often the lifeblood of our industry – to access free training throughout their careers and that much of its activity is focused on developing a more inclusive workforce.
What have been the key learnings since the Fund launched in 2021?
I think we have realised how vital it is to prioritise carefully. There is much that needs to be done to build a workforce fit for the future and to address the multitude of gaps and shortages that exist – but we can’t do everything all at once. So careful planning and strategic thinking has been key.
The Unscripted TV Skills Fund is the most recent of the Funds to launch, what have been the challenges the council, steering and working groups have faced in that time?
Being thorough and considered takes time and often that’s not something busy indies have much of, but the working groups and council have really thrown themselves into the fund and I’d really like to thank them for all their hard work.
If you were able to commission one piece of training, what would it focus on?
I’m really interested in looking at transferable skills from other sectors – finding ways to bring people from other careers over to the creative industry, particularly in relation to production management and business operations.
What are your hopes for the future of the Fund and how it can support both the industry and the workforce?
I’d love to see the USF continue to grow. More and more broadcasters and streamers are coming on board and ultimately that will bring in more funding for more training, which should help ensure we have a world class pipeline of talent right across the UK.