The media industry is facing a skills crisis, right when the demands for content are soaring, what can be done to encourage more people to join the sector and to retain them once they are there?
In the fifth episode of season three of the Making the Media Podcast, host Craig Wilson is joined by two guests to discuss the issue—Charlotte Layton from post-production company Racoon, and Jay Welk, a recently-retired director of technical education from Utah, in the USA.
Listen to Hear:
- The scale of the issue facing the sector
- Innovative ways to encourage more people to consider a career in the media
- The opportunities which remote working could offer
Our Guests This Episode
With over 25 years in the industry, Charlotte has worked across the content creation pipeline. From a transmission controller at first L!VE Tv and then MTV, she joined BBC Resources (now Studio Works) in the early 2000s as a post-production producer. She then became Commercial Manager, taking on responsibility for the Television Centre studios, as well. After relocating the studio provision to Elstree, following the TVC site sale, she joined The Farm as Commercial Director, growing the business over seven years in preparation for its sale in 2019. Following the sale, Charlotte co-founded Racoon with The Farm's senior management team in 2021. Racoon is the post-production model for the future, focussed on redefining how we collaborate creatively in the work-anywhere world.
Jay recently retired from the Davis School District after having oversight for the design and build of the Davis Catalyst Center, a technical high school where students work with industry partners to develop technical and professional skills in preparation for career and post-secondary education opportunities.
Davis District is the second largest district in Utah with an approximate K-12 enrollment of 72,000 students. The ten high schools in the district offer a full menu of courses in all career and technical-education pathways.
It's not a sexy industry at the moment for individuals to want to enter. Kids think we're dull because they don't watch TV, they watch streamers, or they want to get into gaming, they want to get into films.
Charlotte Layton, co-founder, Racoon
Mentioned in This Episode
Craig Wilson: Hi, Craig Wilson here with the latest episode of the Making the Media Podcast. Thanks as always for joining us.
This time, we are going to take a look at an issue which is impacting broadcasters, production houses, and post-production companies across the globe—the skills crisis. The pandemic prompted many experienced people to reconsider their career choice and move elsewhere and as remote work increased, opportunities for young people to gain meaningful work experience dried up, and frankly, some other industries just seem a lot more attractive these days than one with a reputation for long hours and a complex career path.
To discuss this, I am joined by two guests—shortly we will hear from Jay Welk. Jay has recently retired but he was instrumental in the establishment of the Davis Catalyst Center, a technical high school in the American state of Utah, which is taking an innovative approach to getting young people interested in a career in the media.
But to start with, I am joined by Charlotte Layton, co-founder of the UK-based post-production company, Racoon. As we are talking about career paths, appropriately enough we’ll start with finding out how Charlotte’s career has progressed to where she is today.
Charlotte Layton: I had a really lucky start, I was one of the technical trainees at Live TV if you remember that little setup back in the 90s and it really was the best of groundings because I was lucky enough to work in the MCR with some ex-BBC engineers and they literally taught me so much that I have been grateful for every single day since, and from there I moved into MTV, where I was in transmission for years. And then actually I moved into studios and looked after the studios at MTV and then went into post, took a bit of a swerve, went into post production at the BBC, looked after EastEnders for a long while and then started to look after the studios as well at television center, moved them to Elstree when the wholesale process of the site went on, and eventually ended up at the farm, which is where I met my soul mates and spent seven years growing that business to the point where in when in 2020, myself and the senior management team there decided it was time to leave. The sale prices had successfully gone through for the farm, and we decided to set up Racoon. And why did we set up Racoon?
We set up Racoon because I think we recognized that the industry needs a bit of a refresh, particularly in the post-production arena. I think we recognized that the industry hasn't been particularly kind to itself and we wanted to try and help remedy that. We also wanted to take everything that we genuinely believed in in terms of harnessing technology—and this is pre COVID—we wanted to look at how we could support a work life balance that enabled people to genuinely live where they wanted to live, work where they wanted to work, work with who they wanted to work with and not be so constrained. And then, of course, COVID happened, and it became a different world, as we all know, kind of expedited all of our thoughts.
We realized that actually supporting people to work at home became a necessity. But post COVID, we now understand that people want choice and people want a bit of both. And I think that's what Racoon is there to do. Racoon is there to enable talent creatives to connect with their technology wherever they may be in what we see as a work-anywhere world.
CW: Yeah, I mean, there was a phrase a few years ago that I think some people saw as a bit of a badge of honor, which was post don't stop. I think there's been a bit of a change now that there is a feeling that actually post needs to stop at times.
CL: I totally agree. And I we've worked on some shows some classic big shiny floor shows. , the big Saturday-nighters—it does become a badge of honor. “I didn't finish till 3:00 AM.” “Well, I didn't finish till 5:00 AM.” And you just do start to think what sensible decisions can possibly be being made at those kind of times a day when everyone's run ragged?
So yeah, it is about trying to put the brakes on a bit and just take a step back and say, “do we need to be working like that?”
CW: So Charlotte, we've talked a little bit there about the pandemic and how COVID has impacted the industry. We're obviously here to talk a little bit about kind of skills and recruitment. And I think one issue that has come up is that the pandemic has actually prompted a lot of people to reassess where they are—not just in the media industry but in lots of other industries—and as a consequence of that, lots of people have left the industry. Is that something that you've seen happening across the post-production landscape?
CL: Absolutely, and not just post-production, production too. I think COVID did kickstart a huge reset in a lot of people's minds and a huge kind of introspective look at individuals lives as to “what am I doing”. And I think that time that people spend at home, which probably [inaudible] they hadn't spent any time at home, or very little time at home, did make everyone take a step back and think “Gosh, I actually do need to find a way to balance my life better.” And as I said, I think the industry hasn't been particularly kind to itself and you've referenced the fact that it became a badge of honor to work as long as you possibly could, as hard as you possibly could, and that didn't really allow for family time. Didn't allow for hobbies. It didn't allow for anything that you actually did outside of the work life.
So yeah, and I think equally coupled with that is the fact that the skillsets have changed. When you look at big organizations like BBC and ITV and how they've changed their dynamic and their setups, the training that, as an industry, I think we all relied on has fallen by the wayside to some extent and there aren't many other businesses that have the time or budget or ability to restart that into their own ecosystems. So I think what's ended up is that there's many, many individuals coming through the industry both in post and production who haven't had the benefit of experience or training and therefore they're often over-challenged in roles they're not prepared for, they lose their confidence, or they lose the confidence of others and that sends them away—drives them away.
CW: Do you think it's also a little bit of a double-whammy that we we've lost very highly skilled people at one end and then we don't have enough people coming in at the other end to even learn those skills because of the way things have worked out?
CL: Absolutely, and there's very little time for anyone to teach people the skills. And as you said, some of the high skills people have left, and therefore they're the teachers aren't even there even if there was the time, and I think something that I'm passionate about focusing on as well is that the people that are coming into our industry, it's not a sexy industry at the moment for individuals to want to enter TV. Kids think we're dull because they don't watch TV, they watch streamers. They want to get into gaming, they want to get into films. And so actually poor old TV is a bit of a poor substitute for them. But actually once you engage with them and start to show them what opportunities there are available and the kind of salaries that they might be able to aspire to and the travel that it might involve, etcetera, then they start to get really focused on “Actually, yeah, this is a great industry for me to get excited about and there are actually all sorts of roles. I don't necessarily have to be a camera person or a technical person or a creative person. I could be in finance in this industry. I could be in legal in this industry. , I could be a spark in this industry.”
CW: Is it the case that there's lots of media schools that are out there, lots of media courses that that exist, but do you think people are getting enough of the practical side of what's actually involved in in the industry? And I think this is something that's always very very difficult because you have got that kind of intellectual educational side of things and you want people to come through the are keen, enthusiastic, and have got great ideas, but it has to be rooted in this is actually what the industry does and these are the skill sets that the industry needs. Do you think there is a gap at the moment?
CL: I genuinely do and I think, and no disrespect to anyone in the education system because I take my hats off to any teachers, but I do think that the curriculums that they're being followed aren't necessarily setting students or graduates up with real life, working skill sets that we actually need and/or the expectations of what a career might look like and how long a career might take to achieve and to move along, and what the salary brackets that sit around that are too.
Looking at post, the way in traditionally has always been as a runner. Now, post-COVID, the runner opportunities are less because a lot of buildings have rethought how they operate and people have consolidated buildings so there's less requirement. But equally, as a graduate or a student leaver, you think “I don't think I want to make tea and coffee for people for two years. That's not what I joined the industry for,” and again, that sends them away into other avenues.
So yeah, I think one of the things we really need to address is making sure that if a student is going to enter the industry and has done a media-related course, that what they're learning in that media-related course is actually fit for purpose in our industry. They're learning skills that they can come ready to work on day one.
CW: Is some of it also soft skills? Like actual understanding of the world of work. Is there enough of that being done?
CL: Oh absolutely. It's a real… but I think this isn't specific to our industry, I think this is very much generic across the board which is I think young people now find it very hard to engage even just eye-to-eye contact and just understanding how to socialize inside a workplace, and of course that's been expedited in terms of problem in that often it's very difficult to get work experience on-prem because obviously the post-COVID world means that a lot of work is taking place remotely nowadays. So now I totally agree. It's just, it's that understanding of how to interact with other humans, it's that how to listen, learn to listen, because actually if you don't listen you often find it difficult to engage, but it's also having the confidence to have opinions in a forum where other humans are sitting and it is about having confidence. And you're right, soft skills are as important as the technical skills.
CW: So if these are some of the issues, what are some of the solutions? Let’s move to the United States now to hear from Jay Welk and find out from him how they are bringing media education to a new generation of students at the Davis Catalyst Center, but I’ll let him explain what that is.
Jay Welk: The Catalyst Center is located in Kaysville, Utah, which is about 20 miles north of Salt Lake City… we're not a comprehensive high school. We're what's called a magnet high school. So students go to their own high school and then they magnet, we call it magnet to the catalyst Center for a career choice that they might have and what we offer at the Catalyst, but they come there where they normally have one period that's 90 minutes long of instruction at their home high school, they come to the Catalyst and we call it double blocks—so they have two periods that they're working on their career interests, they're working in their career interests and they're actually working with business partners, industry partners.
CW: So what kind of age are the children who are coming there and how do they make that choice? How do they get into the programs that you're able to offer?
JW: Well, they are 10 through 12th grade. So sophomore, junior, senior. We have CTE programs throughout our district. Our district is the second largest district in the state of Utah. We have a K12 enrollment of approximately 73,000 students, 11 high schools, 17 junior high school, middle schools, and so on. So we really are trying to take at least the exposure to different types or sectors of industry all the way down into the elementary school. I mean, like we were talking about earlier, what used to be maybe a 9 through 12, it's really become almost a [inaudible] if you're talking about lifelong learning, that goes on with the students. So we're not asking them to necessarily choose a career in elementary school, but we want to expose them to different things so they might start thinking a little bit about—it could be computer science or whatever it might be. We want them to know that there are options out there for them. And again, this school is a different model.
CW: So, tell us how the kind of thinking behind the Catalyst Center came up and why going down this kind of route—because people might think it's unusual in a relatively rural part of America to have this kind of facility.
JW: Well, I'm a career educator, I just retired from education after 40 years in education, and looking at the traditional model of education here in the United States, it just doesn't work for everybody. The binary model of a teacher and a student and pretty much that's it, is teacher-student interaction, we really felt like we needed to make it a triangular model rather than this binary model.
So we really felt industry needed to do more to inform education and it's pretty much been education informing education. I was in meetings where we would have industry there, we would have secondary education, would have post-secondary education, would have government—they would all be together and we would start talking about the things—we call them strands and standards—that are being taught to students and in a different content area. And it was interesting because we'd have industry people say “That's not how we're doing it anymore,” but that's what we were teaching. So it really made sense to us that industry has to do more to inform what we're doing in education. And really our students come out prepared for what industry needs are, so that's really why we kind of went to this model.
Industry has a presence in the building. We ended the year last year with 53 industry partners across the content areas that we offered in the building. So it was really great—and if you talk to the students, that say this is just different, “I mean I feel respected as a student. I've never been to a college, but I imagine this is what college would be like,” but even college a little bit is still that binary model. It's mostly content knowledge that the students are learning. They're really not learning necessarily application of that knowledge or they don't have authentic learning experiences in the course of their learning.
So we're trying to create that for students and I think it's a model that's kind of catching on a little bit. One thing we did have to do is we visited several schools throughout the United States and looked at different designs and models, and we took up kind of a little bit of everyone—our school isn't like any one of them, but we took a little piece from the different places we visited.
CW: So tell us a little bit about the media courses that students can do at the at the center.
JW: So, Avid played a huge role. We were in a meeting with our architects and I had reached out to the Utah Film Commission and a lot of films like the series Yellowstone, I don't know if you've ever seen that before, but there's a studio up in Park City that a lot of the episodes were filmed, here in Utah, so, and things like that—Utah does more with film than people probably realize. So I reached out to the Utah Film Commission and asked them as we were going into the design of the studio what we might need to have and they referred me… We had a great conversation and they were very helpful, but I ended up being connected with a professor at the local university. His name is Ash Stone, he's done some documentary film, and we got talking about things and so I invited him to come into our planning meetings with the architects and with Ford AV, who did the design and build with our staff, our local staff. So we had a pretty big team in there. And I still remember in one of the meetings, one of the architects asked Professor Stone, “Should we have a green screen or a white screen in the studio?” And he said “I wouldn't use either one.” He said industries moving to LED walls, and so that's what we ended up doing. We ended up putting an LED wall in the in the studio, which like the Mandalorian series was filmed with an LED wall, it's a digital environment, it ooks like they're in the desert or they're in the forest or whatever, but it's just a digital environment and use epic games, Unreal Engine software. So our kids are learning those types of things, the Avid tools. We had to tie all of that together.
And then we when we came back to Avid, we looked at really what's kind of the industry standard that our kids would need to know in terms of Post production and editing software and what skills would they come out, Xould they get a certification there.
CW: Is it the case that you're trying to prepare students to go directly into work, or prepare them for college, or for both? Are both pathways available?
JW: Well I think not all students, not all people have to do for your university or college—so we say it's one, two, four, or more. That's kind of what we say. What we're hearing from employers are “We can teach them the skills but one thing we can't teach them is the professional skills. We can't teach them to be to work every day, to be to work on time, to communicate clearly, to look someone in the eye when they're talking to them, to engage them in a conversation, or work in a team, you know what I mean? Be able to work in a team and take their part of whatever the project is.
Those are the skill sets that industry is telling us they need as much as technical skills because we can teach them the technical skills. But if they don't come out with those other things, it's really, really tough.
CW: Another aspect of this, though, is the pool of people who are considering jobs in the industry. Back to Charlotte now to discuss how the issue may be addressed and the need for a more diverse approach to recruitment.
CL: We have historically, probably just out of not laziness exactly, but just because it's easier to look amongst ourselves for when we're looking to recruit. So we end up with people very similar to ourselves that we know already, very city-centric, very white middle class, as we know. And I think we're all actively trying to change that. And I think that's one of the reasons that reaching out to students from as young as 11, it's really important to try and show them. Like we said, let's show them that TV is a great industry to be involved in, and actually TV doesn't mean TV—TV means making content and we're making content for all sorts of outputs. And yes, I think one of the things that we're passionate about Racoon and that we're also working with people like Carrie at Rise, it's to level that playing field.
It shouldn't matter where you come from, what your background is, where you go to school, what access to technology you have at home. Because let's face it, it's not the normal that you've got a whizzy-bang MacBook there and all the latest software. That's not the standard. And actually in this modern age, though, we should be able through the schools and through suppliers like ourselves, we should be able to give every kid access to the toolset so that they are measured equally.
CW: We had a bit of a chat before, Charlotte, and one thing we spoke about is that talent is equally spread but opportunity is not.
One of the things about obviously post-COVID is people are looking at remote technologies, they are looking at much more remote workflows. So do you think we're actually in a position now where some of the jobs which are going to be available would be as available for someone who's perhaps living in in Shetland on an island as they could be if they're living in Salford and Manchester?
CL: Absolutely. And I would just ask what Shetland's internet connectivity looks like…
CW: You actually find some of the Scottish islands, It's not too bad.
CL: There you go! That would be my only barrier to entry. Seriously, because actually, yes, and I think this goes really much wider than just geolocation in terms of “I may not live in a city center, I might live in the Shetland. Do I still have the same opportunities as the person that's living in London?” Yes, you absolutely should do. But it also goes wider than that. It's looking at individuals that for whatever reason may be housebound. But that doesn't mean or shouldn't mean that they don't have the same opportunities to take on some of the roles that our industry offers. Because actually if you look at some of the data wrangling and we're just thinking about it from the post entry level point of view, there's no reason why a media technician couldn't work in this modern world from home. We will find some brilliant minds I'm sure but for whatever reason those brilliant minds are trapped inside their homes. But why shouldn't they have the same opportunities to come and work inside our industry? That that's something we really need to focus on.
CW: One aspect that is being looked at here in the UK is the growth of what are called T levels. So if you able to explain a little bit about what T levels are and how they could perhaps have a positive impact on this at the moment.
CL: I mean, I think the T level is a brilliant introduction, and actually I, alongside one of my business partners, Cliff, sat on the Advisory Board with the NFCE who have designed the media broadcast and production T level which will launch Autumn 2023
CW: …and the NCFE? Just for people who don't know what that is.
CL: They are the organization that won the tender from the government to actually create the T level syllabus. They've created many other T levels in many other sectors and they're very experienced at putting a really compelling course together.
The T level is designed to… as an alternative to an A level. So a level, academic levels, T level, technical level, and we'll replace B tech and apprenticeships. The idea of at level is that it is equitable to 3A levels. So if a student chooses to, they can still apply for university and take that study path, or the hope is that the majority of students take a T level and then be ready for entry into the industry.
The first year of the T level is a generic course, which frankly I'd fail. It's really, it covers a huge amount of knowledge that I think is so vital for entr- level graduates to understand how businesses operate, how businesses run, it covers a very broad base, it's so useful in terms of the information it's imparting.
In the second year, the students get to specialize, and one of the specialisms is a media technician, which is the one that I've been focused on. And that media technician role then becomes a much more practical second year of learning where the skill sets, bearing in mind that these kids will graduate in 2025, some are off. We've had to be really mindful of making sure that the skill sets that they're being trained for will be relevant in that later-2025 when they want to enter the industry. And one of the major components of the second year of the T level course is work experience. And the students have to undertake each 315 hours minimum, which is a huge amount of work experience. You're talking 35-40 days worth of your work experience there and that is a massive ask of the industry. And at the moment, I'm working with people like Carrie to figure out and be ambassadors for and go into the business sector and say, “Right, come on business, we have a skills crisis. We all know there's a skills crisis going on in our industry at the moment. And we have to be active and responsible in helping to change that. And a way to change that is to offer these students that work experience. And that work experience needs to be considered. It needs to be meaningful. It needs to be not sitting in a kitchen in a corner making tea and coffee for people. And it needs to be, to certain extent, standardized so that it doesn't matter whether you're that student in the Shetlands or you're a student in London. You need to have the same level of exposure to skills, processes, et cetera.” So I'm very excited about it but it is daunting.
CW: Yes. I mean I was going to say that amount of work experience is a huge ask. But I think the other thing that I certainly found and benefited through my career was actually people in the industry were incredibly willing to give of their time because they liked seeing younger people coming in and they love to see people go in and progress. So I think one thing I was going to ask you about was if you are speaking to someone who is a student at school at the moment, what would you be saying to them about saying “Look, this is a positive course to do. It's a great industry to get into.” How would you kind of enthuse them about getting into the industry?
CW: You're so right as well and I think this is one of the dynamics that we really have to focus on when we're trying to attract people in this world where a lot of conversation is, is as we are now is remote, and there is nothing you can't be…physical connection, when you're actually in the same room as someone—which is a weird thing for me to say saying is I'm actively promoting as I’m remote working.
But I think what I would say to any youngster that was contemplating coming into our industry is “I'm 25 years-plus in and I wake up every morning and I'm still excited by what I do, and every day is different and you can genuinely follow so many different paths. And as you said, it's such a supportive—even though yes, we haven't been terribly kind to ourselves generically, we're actually very kind to each other from a supportive, caring point of view, and we do like to encourage success, and I think that's what I would say to any youngster is, “You might not know quite yet exactly what avenue you want to take, but as a whole, our industry is an incredibly exciting one, has a huge amount of diverse paths within it and we're very good at helping people to go on a path and not get stuck. We're very good at enabling career paths to bend and mold and flex as we work through our our work-life.” And that I think is one of the most exciting things. It could be very fluid and flexible.
CW: You mentioned there about T levels and the first such students doing them graduating effectively in two to three years time. What about between now and then? How do we get through the next, the next couple of years because I guess that's what's pressing a lot of people's minds at the moment.
CL: Yeah, a really good point, and there is no quick fix to this, there just isn't. But I think what we can do is just be very open to spreading our wings a lot wider. As you said, we're not… this country is not lacking individuals who are talented. We're just not necessarily going out and finding them all. So I think we need to be much more open in how we go and find people and how we try and attract people. I think businesses have to take responsibility for some training somehow or another, and that's supported training and not throwing people in at the deep end and sink or swim and seeing what happens.
And I also think that we need to actively support each other in enabling new talent in, and by that I mean, for example, when we're looking for editors and we're all desperate for editors, we're always looking at credit lists. But credit lists by default only become a credit list by allowing someone to have a credit on something. We have to be more supportive of bringing new names, new talent in, and giving them opportunities, supported opportunities, where they might be the second editor on something with a more experienced editor. That if we don't offer people these opportunities, we're never going to expand the resource group.
CW: Charlotte, really really interesting to talk to you about all of this. I think it's really interesting what Racoon are doing generally and I think it's an interesting approach that's taken and I think there are things in place that hopefully will address the issue.
But there is one question I ask everyone who is on the podcast, and that is what is it, if anything, that keeps you up at night?
CL: Apart from too much wine!
CW: Apart from too much wine.
CL: I think genuinely it is this need, as you said, I can see long-term how we are going to open the doors and how we are going to bring people into the industry, but it's that short time, it's the next couple of years when we are trying to crew-up for any specific jobs, whether it be inside our facility or going out on location to Dominican Republic. It's where are we finding the resource from? And then how do I make sure that we don't break that resource and that we put them in positions that are ultimately untenable, and we as we said earlier, make them lose their confidence and then they run away from the industry. So that that's what keeps me awake at night at the moment is just how do we short term fix this skills crisis.
CW: And a final thought from Jay as he heads into retirement on what's keeping him awake at night.
JW: Well we've kind of touched on it right now, and it's the capacity for us to have students—the number of students that are able to come into the center like that. Our number-one thing is creating student opportunities and equity access. People think about equity and access and they think access is just having like a computer. That's access. Well, access is access to industry partners. It's access to a school like this. We even bus students into the school that aren't able to drive or don't have a car of their own. So we bus them from their home school to the to the site, the Catalyst Center, and then bus them back after they're done. We didn't want transportation to be an issue for them to be able to access the Catalyst. So that's the thing that kind of keeps me up at night or would at the time kept me up at night is not all students can get the same opportunities.
CW: Great to have views from both sides of the Atlantic on this crucial issue for our industry.
Both Charlotte and Jay make such important points for all of us to consider about who is going to make up the workforce of the future, so please make sure to share the podcast with your friends and colleagues, and of course, subscribe on your podcast platform of choice to get notified when the next episode is out. We usually release a fresh episode every two weeks.
Check out the show notes for previous podcast episodes looking at the role of education and the issue of diversity and inclusion.
And there you can also find out more information about Avid’s work in education, including the Avid Learning Partner program and much more.
What’s your own take on what is happening right now? Let us know—via email we are [email protected], or on social I am @CraigAW1969 on both Twitter and Instagram.
Many thanks to Charlotte and Jay—but most of all, thanks to you for listening, and thanks as always to the production team behind the podcast. That is all for this episode! Join me, Craig Wilson, next time for more behind-the-scenes discussion on the issues which matter most for those making the media.