Seetha Kumar, Chief Executive Officer, ScreenSkills

Source: Screen File

Seetha Kumar, Chief Executive Officer, ScreenSkills

UK training body ScreenSkills is urging the government to reform the apprenticeship system and levy for the screen industries following an assessment of two pilot apprenticeship schemes.

The training body paired with the department for culture, media and sport (DCMS), department for education (DfE) and a number of industry partners to trial two successive pilots.

The first ran from January 2020 to February 2023 with Netflix and Warner Bros Discovery and was co-funded by the DCMS, while the second was co-funded by DfE in February 2022 and will run until January next year with lead partner Amazon Prime Video alongside Sky, Banijay, Lime Pictures and Fremantle.

The benefits of both programmes included greater diversity by creating opportunities for apprenticeships from an array of backgrounds and positive experiences for apprentices during on-the-job training.

However, ScreenSkills said its overall assessment revealed faultlines in the current apprenticeship system.

Neither training programme proved flexible enough to provide a viable long-term solution for apprentices in film and TV.

ScreenSkills said the costs incurred by employers in the pilot were unsustainable.

A key issue in both schemes was the resource required to identify sufficient, suitable and continuous placements to provide on-the-job training at scale, due to the project-based nature of film and TV industry work.

The pilots also revealed that the ‘quality and relevance’ of some of the apprenticeship standards and off-the-job training has provided poor value for money compared to other entry level routes, with some current standards an ‘imperfect fit’. Either the duration of the training was longer than required or the curriculum for an apprenticeship standard did not match the reality of a production role.

ScreenSkills chief executive Seetha Kumar said it is frustrating that apprenticeships are being “stifled by an inflexible system”.

She added: “It’s a system that disregards the freelance and project-based nature of a sector which the government has itself identified as an important growth sector for the UK. The changes that we are proposing could play a major part in addressing the skills shortages the screen sector is experiencing.”

The pilots’ participating partners estimated that the total costs for both models were ‘significantly higher’ than other entry-level training programmes, with only 14% of the total costs of the pilots covered by levy contributions, compared with 69% being met by industry.

ScreenSkills recommendations

The training body said it was imperative to extend the scope of the apprenticeship levy so that it can provide a broader, quality-assured range of vocational training options. It also wants the levy be made more flexible to cover additional costs that have so far been incurred by the employers. This includes paying apprenticeship wages when undertaking off-the-job training or on leave, or funding means-tested bursaries to increase the diversity of new entrants.

ScreenSkills  suggested that fixed minimum-length requirements for apprenticeship standards should be removed to better align with the requirements of roles in TV and film production and make the delivery of training more effective and relevant.

The levy should also be used to increase the amount of industry-recognised training providers, while funding from the levy would allow ScreenSkills itself to be responsible for creating cohorts of apprentices from multiple employers to maximise the effectiveness of their training, as well as providing ongoing pastoral care.

ScreenSkills called for an assessment of the current apprenticeship models to examine the viability of whether the agency and modular flexi-apprenticeship models could be combined.

“If we don’t change how apprenticeships work for the screen industries, making them more effective for both the apprentices and the employers, then ultimately the system will fail for our sector,” said Kumar.

“The impact of that failure will be enormous. As well as letting down the very people who want a career in film and television, and adding to the existing skills shortage, it would undermine the government’s own priority to level up the sector by creating opportunities for everyone, regardless of their background.”

A version of this story first appeared on Screen’s sister site, Broadcast