April 2022

The dock10 trainee scheme aiming to tackle the TV production skills gap

The dock10 trainee scheme aiming to tackle the TV production skills gap

Suddenly, training is one of the hottest topics in the broadcast industry.

Thanks to the streaming war and a post-pandemic commissioning spurt, production is busier than ever – making it tough for shows to find enough experienced craft talent when crewing up. Making matters worse, the TV industry hasn't done enough to train a new generation of craft talent to work on complex multicamera shows.

Many of the current generation of craft leaders first learned their trade after being employed by the BBC and put through its famed training programme. This was at a time when many of the BBC's shows were produced inhouse and its programme makers were full-time staff.

Since the early 2000s, however, the BBC – in common with other broadcasters – has outsourced much of its production – and training – to freelancers and independent production companies.

Today's shows have been able to rely on freelance craft talent who were trained up when they originally worked for the BBC. The problem is that this freelance market is now ageing – and the industry is starting to realise there hasn't been an injection of new and fully trained talent to replace them.

"A lot of the crews now are the same people I was working with 20 years ago," says dock10 head of studios Andy Waters, who was trained at the BBC's famed engineering college at Wood Norton. "Our industry is going to have some problems in the future unless we make some changes."

It's for this reason that dock10 piloted its own trainee programme for craft talent.

Two years ago, dock10 advertised for two entry level sound assistants who were interviewed and selected by a dock10 studio manager and two sound supervisors.

They have been trained over the past 18 months while working at the studio, developing their skills, experience and, crucially, their relationships with sound supervisors, directors and studio managers.

"It's a way of seeding the freelancers of the future," explains Andy Waters.

This pilot training programme was judged a success and has since expanded. dock10 has recently begun training two camera assistants. It is also repeating the sound assistant programme, for which it has just recruited two more trainees.

"We're trying to give them as much experience as we can of learning from the different departments, shadowing and getting involved in shows," explains dock10 studio manager Sam Handsley. The idea is that for the final six months of their contract, the trainees are able work as assistants on shows. When they go freelance, they can work at dock10 or other locations – and are able to demonstrate extensive experience and to draw on a range of contacts for work.

Handsley says that the two sound assistants who have been through the programme are now finding regular work. "They were both in the building last week working on BBC Bitesize Daily. This isn't just an 18-month thing - once they finish and go freelance, we want to be there to support them and give them opportunities."

One of the advantages of the training programme is that it offers sustained and meaningful on-the-job experience working on multiple different shows at dock10 studios over a long period. This range and regularity of experience – spanning dock10 hosted shows such as Match of the Day through to The Voice - is often hard for freelance trainees to find. The scheme also allows the trainees to understand how the different teams and departments at a major studio like dock10 work together.

"You've got a real hands-on opportunity to learn here," says dock10 studio manager David Blake. "You have the chance to get in at the ground level, learning about everything from working on a show, to looking after kit, to working with engineers and making contacts on the studio floor."

It's one of the reasons that dock10's training programme has proved popular with young talent. Over two hundred people recently applied for the camera assistant scheme, says David Blake. Two senior camera operators were part of the panel for those selected for interview. "Everyone did a practical breakdown and rebuild of the camera as part of the interview. It was quite tough for a lot of the applicants," he says.

Enthusiasm, initiative, the ability to work as part of a team, and some experience of cameras or audio were key factors for choosing the successful applicants.

These are clearly some of the factors that helped get Matthew Clarkson and Madeleine Jones selected as the latest pair of sound assistants to train at dock10. A film production graduate who specialised in sound throughout his course, Matthew spotted the dock10 ad for the role on Instagram. "It was a long shot, but I thought I should apply – and here I am."

Madeleine, who graduated from university with a degree in politics, philosophy and economics, followed her interest in music and sound to take an evening course last year in audio engineering. When she finished the course, she started looking for jobs at MediaCity and saw an ad for programme – and applied.

Amy Ashley-Mather recently started the camera assistant programme. "We basically got thrown in straight away, starting in the green screen studio where they film Match of the Day and then we had two days on a pilot, which was my first camera assist in the studio. It was really good – everyone was super helpful." Later in the week, Amy had a camera training session with a dock10 engineer. "It meant we could go through in detail the things we picked up last week and refine what we learned."

Dylan Patel, who is also on the camera course, says: "It's very hands on – we are learning something completely different every day."

Importantly, the scheme also offers the trainees the opportunity to work with and to gain the trust of lots of different people and production teams at dock10 – many of whom could employ them when they start freelancing. "It's a great opportunity to really shine and get yourself noticed," says Sam Handsley.

dock10's hope now is that the scheme will expand – and perhaps be emulated by other broadcasting companies as part of an industry-wide effort to tackle the skills shortage. "We'd love for others to get on board with this idea," says Andy Waters. "We're hoping it may become a model for others if it is appropriate for them to use."