Apprenticeships – The Way Forward in Audio Post? by Dennis Weinreich

Recruiting entry level talent in audio post can be a costly and frustrating process. Dennis Weinreich, UK Screen Director and industry legend, looks at options and says that companies should not be daunted by the prospect of taking on apprentices.

Skills and Training continues to be a hot topic across the whole film and television industry, and particularly in my area of Audio Post. When we are comfortable with our staff levels and are able to find the right freelancers at the right times we tend to put the topic low down the priority list. But when a big job comes in and you can’t staff it, the reality of skills shortages becomes a major concern.

Of course, to maintain a healthy critical mass of freelancers in the sector it is necessary for companies to bring in new entry-level talent. I have found many advantages over the years in hiring at entry level and training staff in house. This requires taking a long-term view, but the quality of the people you get coming through is often higher than hiring from outside. An additional upside is that these people are always compatible with your company structure and work processes. Although it can seen as a costly way to meet staff requirements there are sources of support out there.

 One of the key decisions for a company to make when hiring entry level staff is ‘should we employ graduates or would apprentices be a better option?’

Recruiting Graduates...

University course graduates will generally have a broader skills range than apprentices, with a more developed ability to be self sufficient and better problem solving attributes. The majority come ready to learn how to apply the skills they have gained and how those skills fit in the wider process. However, in my experience, not all graduates are ‘oven ready’ – many do not realise that they have much to learn and assume that their degree has prepared them for all they need to know.

With so many universities now offering courses in creative technologies audio employers need to know which courses are teaching the skills they are seeking. JAMES (Joint Audio Media Educational Support), of which UK Screen is an associate member, has been working with Higher and Further Education institutes for many years to accredit courses. There are currently JAMES accredited courses in 28 Universities and Colleges in the UK.

In the past I have had success in taking on University Graduates that did not study anything to do with creative technology. They have demonstrated an ability to start something and finish it by completing their degree. They may have great potential but need to learn from the same point as an apprentice. Unfortunately, as they are graduates, there are no subsidised apprentice programmes they could qualify for and this can prove a barrier for some recruiters.

 ... or Apprentices

Apprentices often arrive without any formal qualifications other than the necessary foundations for their course, but can be more focused on the area they have decided to pursue. They are not ‘oven-ready’. They are a blank canvas that we employers need to fill in. Doing so is hard work but can also create your perfect employee, where the skills they have learned and how they are applied fit exactly with how the facility works. Organisations like The BBC, EMI and ITV used to train hundreds of apprentices every year which fed the wider industry. However, these organisations have generally stepped back from running such specific in-house apprentice training programmes, relying on universities and colleges to do the job instead. Smaller companies now need to get involved themselves, rather than recruiting from these larger organisations.

Recently JAMES launched a government-backed Apprentice scheme in collaboration with City and Guilds and Creative and Cultural Skills. This was made possible in the first instance by writing National Occupational Standards for audio engineers. (NOS). Once these standards were accepted, it was possible to work with training colleges to establish a curriculum for delivering these in a learning environment that was compatible with training at a facility.

In simple terms, an employer agrees to take on an apprentice (actually up to 10 in a 12 month period) and to allow him/her to do one day a week in an approved training college. Other learning takes place on the job. The scheme allows the employer to claim an Apprenticeship AGE Grant (£3,000 for London Employers) for each apprentice to offset much of the cost of employing an apprentice.

Also, employers can apply to the Creative Employment Programme for an additional contribution towards the salary of an apprentice. They can apply for £1500 per apprentice if they are paying them £2.65 per hour or £2000 per apprentice if they are paid at least national minimum wage (differs according to age but 18-20 year olds is £4.98ph). For more information see The Creative Employment Programme

 Depending on circumstances an employer can claim £3000 or £5000 towards the cost of employing and training an apprentice. There are other possible funding contributions.

 This scheme is targeting training in sound recording, engineering and studio facilities. It has been shown that it can apply to audio post for film and broadcast, as the skills base is almost identical.

 In Conclusion...

Being able to hire entry-level people that develop into successful employees is a skill many employers learn through trial and error. We have all hired someone who was available, but not necessarily equipped for any long-term role in our company. Any hire is a commitment and a short-term fix can lead to a long-term headache. I am sure we all have had people in our development pool effectively stopping more capable staff from realising their potential. A poor hiring decision can lead to someone hanging around for much longer than they should.

 Not all companies want to develop and train staff. It does not fit for every business. However, an apprentice scheme is a good way to find out if it fits with yours without committing yourself to a permanent member of staff. Surely well worth a try?

For more information on JAMES Accreditation and the JAMES apprentice scheme visit the JAMES website