Taking the long view…. preparing for the future of work in the UK screen industries

By Heather Carey, Interim Director, Work Foundation

In a climate where there is so much focus on the short-term – fluctuations in the financial markets, Brexit, the election – it’s always refreshing to take the long view. To consider not how things might change next month or year, but rather what the world might look like in ten or more years’ time. To reflect on what this means for policy-makers and industry. To think about the actions we need to be taking now to prepare for this future.

This was the focus of our recently published Skills Foresighting report for the UK screen industries: one of three workstrands that comprise the Skills Forecasting Service we developed in partnership with Screenskills funded through the BFI Future Film Skills programme. The research sought to explore how the screen industries workforce might change over the next five to ten years; identifying the likely areas of disruption and seeking to understand how these will impact job roles, skill needs and working practices.

Skills foresighting is an inherently difficult process. Even individual businesses can find it challenging to accurately forecast the size of their own future workforce, its make-up and skill needs. At an industry level this becomes more challenging still, and is complicated further by limitations of official data sources in adequately capturing specific parts of the Screen industries and its workforce. To address this, most foresighting exercises tend to blend a range of techniques – from quantitative forecasting and economic modelling, to trend analysis and horizon scanning – and for this work we took a mixed-method approach, including data analysis, a literature review, and multiple rounds of consultation with a Delphi Panel comprised of 23 industry experts.

While foresighting exercises can never provide definitive answers, they serve to provoke reflection and debate as part of the process of preparing for the challenges and opportunities presented by the labour market of the future. So what did we find?

We identify 13 major trends driving significant shift in the UK screen industries, falling within five categories of megatrends and comprising over forty individual drivers of change. These range from the ageing of the population, to the shift to non-broadcast non-linear viewing; the rise of global streaming giants and to opportunities in foreign markets; the increase used of VR/AR and new digital interfaces, to growing concerns about a lack of diversity within the industry.

These trends have important implications for the skill needs and working practices of the sector. Indeed, while the sector is expected to be less at risk of automation we identify a number of areas of shift, in particular with a growing demand for advanced digital skills; ‘fusion’ skills that blend creative, technological and entrepreneurial skills; ‘global’ skills needed to exploit market opportunities and broker cross-border deals; and management and leadership capability that will prove vital to respond to ongoing shifts in business, commercial and revenue models. So what do the findings from the foresighting exercise mean for the sector?

Against a backdrop of existing skills and diversity challenges and in the face of these significant shifts in skill needs; it is clear that there is a need for definitive action to prepare the sector for the future of work. There is a need to ‘future proof’ the skills system, including embedding creativity within the curriculum and re-prioritising creative education, strengthening careers IAG, enhancing alignment between education and industry needs, investing further in shifting the dial on diversity, and developing strong local ecosystems underpinned by creative talent. Many of the initiatives outlined in the BFI Future Film Skills Programme and Creative Industries Sector Deal take strides towards achieving these aims.

Given the value of international skills, it will also be important to continue to review the picture of skill shortages and engage in ongoing dialogue with the Migration Advisory Committee, to shape the future of our immigration system post-Brexit in a way that works for film, TV and games.

Finally, it is vital that the industry looks to build agility and resilience to future change amongst the existing workforce, through professional development and lifelong learning. In particular, there is a need for much greater focus on skills development among freelancers – this is of course relevant to the wider growing platform economy, but imperative to the screen industries – to tackle skill gaps and ensure the workforce is equipped with the skills needed to respond to the megatrends we’ve outlined, and support ongoing success of the UK screen industries in the future.