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Lack of 'Skilled' workers in the Industry?

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Dear All.





I am a current Third Year Student on an NCDT approved BA(Hons) course in a CDS setting studying Stage Management and Technical Theatre. Its dissertation time and I would be very interested to hear the views of everyone on the topic of training and qualifications as there are many wide ranging questions to be asked in the course of this research project.


Specifically though, it would be great to hear from recent graduates of backstage degrees/courses and people in the industry who have at some point been one through the recruitment process, responsible for selecting employees.




So what’s the question/title? Well it’s largely about the publicised shortfall in skilled technicians etc that arose from a Creative and Cultural Skills ‘Footprint’ research into the creative and cultural workforce. (Results of which can be found here:








This it seems is where many of the headlines regarding the shortage of x amount of skilled workers (the number seems to vary in the press but is usually in tens of thousands) by 2012 and beyond. Investigating this has brought me to the current conclusion that despite the fact that there are all manner of courses out there being offered at further and higher education level employers are not happy with the results. There is a demand from some to bring back ‘on-the-job’ training and apprenticeships. The National Skills academy is setting many of these up across the country. But training costs and who pays for it, the individual or their employer?




The main things I would like to know are what you as members of the industry want from an employee and what problems you face in acquiring skilled workers. So help with any of the following is appreciated.




Is a degree desirable? Do the course contents vary so much that unless you are familiar with a certain course you’re not entirely sure what having a backstage degree entails? Or have you graduated from a degree course yourself – what weighting does that hold against those without paper qualifications but experience?





Who should pay for training? What portion of your budget is dedicated to training? How easy is it to get financial approval for sending someone on a first aid training course compared to new lighting/sound console training? What training/qualifications are desirable and how far do they go in your mind to proving competence? Are tickets for each element of the jobs we do the way forward despite their cost to freelancers etc?




This is just the tip of the iceberg and I would be very keen to hear from everyone. If you wish to discuss anything further please feel free to message me. I also have a significantly longer list of questions/musings that I would be greatful for some industry insight on.





DISCLAIMER – before replying to this thread/e-mailing me please be aware that you may say something so highly intelligent that I would wish to quote it in my dissertation and state the source. If you would rather not be quoted this is no problem at all but will limit how useful your views are in terms of my paper. Personally I am really interested so it won’t go to waste!




Many thanks



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I hope your also do some research into the validity of the entire 'shortage of skilled workers' claim..


In my experience (as a freelance lampy) its the complete opposite.. Every company I work for and every crew booker I know, say they get stack loads of emails every week from freelancers (admittedly of varying quality) wanting work. Same with jobs in west end and theatre in general, I've heard tales of some positions getting 20+ applicants and these weren't exactly high up in the pecking order jobs either.


I'm sure there was a topic not long ago (probably been a few recently in fairness) that centred on the fact that the general perception is that there's too much crew for the work around. I admit I'm making a slight generalisation there as the level of skill vary's a lot and a percentage of the UK crew pool could likely be classed as 'unskilled', but that depends how you define 'skilled'.


Sorry for the slight rant, but it seems the result of their research and the reality of how things are in the real world, don't quite match up!


Regards, Tom

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Just to clarify this project is about the issue of skills, training and education quality and the providers rather than quantity. I agree that the numbers are highly questionable and vary a great deal and, as I’m sure someone once said, 30.7483% of all statistics are made up on the spot!




There is the issue of the definition of skilled which is dangerously close to the can of worms opened by the word competence. How do we define skilled? Is it done on the basis of qualifications? If so, there are so many being offered NRC, H+S Passport, degrees, NVQs, City and Guilds and they are becoming more and more specialist as time goes by. How is this affecting employers and employees. What sort of pressures are employers under to ensure their staff are capable? They want skilled employees but what are their own provisions for training? Granted it is not always possible in all situations of employment, which is where training institutions come in. Are employers having trouble finding appropriately skilled people? Are employees with a wealth of experience being turned away because they haven’t taken time off and spent their wages acquiring the right paperwork? How far does certification go to being an ongoing guarantee of ability and competency?




The issue of ‘skilled’ technicians has become quite a big debate in all industries as in the seemingly increasingly ‘blame and claim’ era the necessity to prove competency and training through certification and ticketing is evident. Such concerns are expressed by Elkin “lighting technicians, sound experts, stage managers and the like, unless they are already working in the company are generally taken on trust, instinct and hope” which she calls “a pretty inexact and inefficient way of working when you think about it.” (Stage Website, January 2009). Has this been the situation? What is the situation now and do we foresee it changing?




This dissertation topic was sparked by those articles publicising the shortfall’s discussion of skills (and also the fact that despite my limited mathematical skills none of the figures seemed to match up resulting in me being slightly dubious of their claims!). What these articles did was to get me thinking about my own training and how it matches up – or doesn’t - to the industry requirements and what DO the industry want? People with analytical and management skills who may have to be trained in practical skills or people armed to the back teeth with practical skills who may have to be educated in research, analytical and management skills? Or….?

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That is exactly the point that CC Skills are making....loads of grads...lack of skills! They don't want more, they want better.

Over 90% of employers say that the qualifications are the right ones and yet over 50% say that this is not enough. There is both a skills shortage...whereby graduates are churned out with little or no hands-on experience, and a skills gap ...whereby graduates may know how to programme equipment very well but they can't get it off the truck and wired up. (TIC)

The above is all a gross simplification but ponder this scenario:

Man runs National Theatre and Royal Opera House...

Man has pick of best graduate technicians in UK...

Man sets up National Skills Academy to train technicians.... Why?


This paragraph in the report is also worth examining:

"The key issue, then, is that the future workforce of the performing arts industry is composed of a large pool of ‘qualified’ potential recruits who do not have the specific ‘associate professional and technical’ skills that nearly half of jobs require and that the sector is not particularly engaged with these areas when it comes to planning training. As such, the acquisition and retention of hands-on skills and the existence of specialist offstage and backstage training centres is absolutely crucial."


When 1000 employers are surveyed out of the 5,500 in the sector and come up with that it can't be ignored. IMHO graduate lampies, for example, should have NRC, MEWP, Forklift, PAT, and PASMA tickets at the very least, few do. Over to you guys.

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When 1000 employers are surveyed out of the 5,500 in the sector and come up with that it can't be ignored. IMHO graduate lampies, for example, should have NRC, MEWP, Forklift, PAT, and PASMA tickets at the very least, few do. Over to you guys.

Inclined to agree with this,

Would it be better to get these over a degree? (Would these be looked upon better by employers over a graduate with just a degree)

And if so ....surely its better to get these than a degree.



I've always thought that experience in the industry is worth more than a degree and I'm a student. Just feels that at the minute graduates are frowned upon by the industry? (or atleast thes impression I get)




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Graduates are frowned on because thay have no experience of real world work and expect to be paid more than the experienced people without degrees.


Now a graduate WITH some years real world experience, and several other aside tickets (access, WAH, PAT etc) may well have a golden CV. However many employers have to select incoming staff to fit the personalities of the existing team.

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IMHO graduate lampies, for example, should have NRC, MEWP, Forklift, PAT, and PASMA tickets at the very least, few do. Over to you guys.
Agree'd! I can't say I've ever been required or seen the need to have a forklift ticket as a freelancer, but.. If you 'graduate' from working in a companies warehouse to being a freelancer they use regularly, you'll probably have one from when you needed to drive one around their yard.


With regards to the other tickets, it would be interesting to see companies starting to send their full time staff on courses for the above, this would then lead onto them being able to get to go on occasional on-site work and be an asset to said companies when that staff member/warehouse tech decided to go freelance.


IMO, that way is the best way to train up new crew. Seems like the most traditional/time honoured way and from experience I think it works. Stick them in the warehouse where they get to be around the kit and learn what it does and how, without the pressures of being on site where there's rarely time to work. Then eventually after they've 'done their time' (will vary between each person as to exactly how long), start sending them out on jobs as warehouse schedule allows to give them some experience on site, following that, encourage them to go freelance (they'll probably realise anyway) and continue to use them so long as you see fit, knowing exactly what their like as a person and how good they are, skills wise.


Graduates are frowned on because thay have no experience of real world work and expect to be paid more than the experienced people without degrees.
Agree with you there on the first point Jivemaster, but not on the latter. Perhaps that's why loads end up in the west end and other places where the environments a bit more controlled than in the freelance world.
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Now a graduate WITH some years real world experience, and several other aside tickets (access, WAH, PAT etc) may well have a golden CV. However many employers have to select incoming staff to fit the personalities of the existing team.


And even with this 'golden cv' they get looked over anyway in favour of the people who they can train up from scratch and accept less wages, but also these people with the 'golden cv' are thought to be bulls****ing anyway.... ... even with good references

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Jo_anna: you may find that this becomes a very polarised issue ...

This reply is somewhat long and a little rambling. Feel free to contact me by PM to ask specific questions.


A little background on me first, I guess.


The traditional GCSE/A Level background, with a little volunteer work both for school and out of school. Realised that there were colleges and uni's who would train in backstage skills and (students grants still being the norm at that point) chose to do an Electrical Engineering HND in Theatre Lighting and Sound - this couse also provided the chance to get a C&G 2360.


While studying that HND become a Performing Arts HND in Theare Lighting and Sound and the 2360 was lost (which was a little annoying). Also while studying was working for the college theatre as a paid technician and casual work at nearby theatres.


Moved to London to a CDS approved college to study a BA (Hons) in Theatre Practice and again worked part-time for local theatres and west-end while studying.


Spent a couple of years freelance and managed to get some of the ABTT Bronze Award then accepted a full time post and since then, while employed, have managed to finished the Bronze Award, done the obligatory manual handling, working at height and electrics training but have also managed to get MEWP (1a and 3a), PASMA(towers), PAT (theory), Pyro (safety awareness) First Aid and a second manual handling course that's CIEH approved. That doesn't count the on the job training for first-line maintenance, show operation, admin or the in-house training on flies, etc.


So I tend to find the education fairly important. And yet one of my colleagues went straight from school into the industry and has no Higher Ed training but the same rough level of vocational training.


We do get a fair number of CV's through - any CV's with unaccounted for periods of time, or poor SPaG are the first to reach the recycling pile. Then anything that doesn't have at least a few years of experience. We prefer for this experience to be actually working but a fresh graduate, who shows that they have done more than the minimum of the course is still fine.


Crew work at several theatres/shows is more impressive than a 'better position' on shows that took place in the college theatre.


I would suggest that most people think that vocational training of some kind is going be (already is) the norm and I think this is where the NSA is trying to come in.

Yes the stats will be biased to the mission of the NSA - but that's not to say that there isn't a need for it.


For example I've covered PAT with both Higher Ed courses, with the ABTT and with a NAPIT approved course. It's surely easier for everyone if I only do that training once and then get top-ups if needed. But transferring skills from one company to another isn't easy. What I want is to be able to take the training I've got and have everyone know what level of training I've received, whether it's future employers, colleagues, incoming companies or my mum.


How do you accredit all the training that's going on so that you aren't wasting resources on getting someone a piece of paper that 'proves competency' when they've spent ten years doing it in the field?


This is what the NSA is trying to do - at least when I speak to them about it, that's what they tell me. There's no point in coming up with a brand new way of teaching something if somebody already teaches it - what you need to do is make sure that everything is on a parity and is transferable. PLASA spent a long time working on the NRC for this very reason.


You quote that skills are taken on faith - I don't think that's limited to our industry. In fact I think that's true everywhere. Until I see someone do a job, I don't know if they can. And I have to be able to job the job myself to know if they are doing it well. And I have to be prepared that how I do the job may not be the best way, just as I need to be prepared to assist in teaching someone how to do things a better* way.


(quicker, cheaper, safer - replace as applicable)


I certainly think the industry should be getting more involved with training - there's no point in whinging about the quality of graduates if you aren't assisting in making sure that they get the training that you deem necessary. That's why I talk to the NSA.


Finance is always an issue - if the student isn't going to then utilise their training directly for the company then why should the company pay for it? And why should companies pay to train workers if the work is then going to go to another company/ go freelance / go whatever.


The reverse applies and I quite like this statement (not mine):


What happens if you don't train your workforce and they stay?


Think about that for a moment.


In my opinion, I do think that all companies should have a training budget and that full-time, part-time and casual staff should all be able to utilise it. We do, for example, provide spaces for our casuals to attend manual handling or working at height courses if we are running them. We don't (yet) provide for ALL of our casuals to attend or require it of them. We will check that they deem themselves competent in manual handling when they start, or whether they require more training, as part of the health and safety briefing that every new worker gets when starting.


How does a freelancer pay for training? That's a whole grey area with some easy 'they should' that may not account for paying the food bill.


What problems do we face in getting skilled staff?


Ignoring those who apply because 'I like going to the theatre and think it would be an interesting career" - getting skilled staff basically comes back to finances again.


BECTU is currently trying to work out a framework of skills that tie into pay in the West End branch; the National, ATG and others have internal assessments that allow for pay bonuses based on skills competency. And most people would agree that linking skills regulation to the individual (unlike say Part P ...) is better.


I think we do, as an industry, need to be a little more pro-active in addressing skills needs (before any quango decides to join in ...) but I also think that we need to be a little more pro-active in supporting the industry on a wider level. There's been an awful lot of talk of spending cuts - but should we be taxing other industries more to allievate any demands on our industry (this isn't an invitation for a open debate on this particular thread BTW - just a reminder that on these sort of questions to not get caught looking just at the small picture.


I'm wrapping up there for now ... who's next for the soapbox?

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Guest lightnix
Is the problem as much to do with the number of people, who leave the business when they hit their late 30s / early 40s (when they should be at the peak of their abilities) as it is with a perceived shortage of new entrants?
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Where to start?


A year ago my venue took on a new technician. The successful candidate had a degree in Lighting Design. He also had experience of working with 2 high profile companies (in junior positions, but nevertheless...). Which had the most impact in his appointment? Clearly the latter. On the job training with well-known companies would have meant that he would be able to do basic tasks well. That means that on day one we could throw him onto a job and he would hold his own. Whether he knew about suitable styles of lighting for Brechtian drama, for instance, had very little impact on our appointment. The other thing that got him the job was one of the most useful aspects of our interview process: the practical test. All our candidates were given a rig plan and asked to generate a colour call. Then they were asked to look at LX1 and see what differed from the rig plan and fix it. There were other test too which I won't go into as we'll probably use them again in the future! After half an hour of testing we knew which candidates could do the job and which could not. We also knew which would be a pleasure to work with and which would not.


After a year in the job, the successful candidate has proven to be a perfectly decent techician who's just gone through the appraisal process with only the most minor of negative points to discuss and plently of positives: in other words, a success. I have to say, though, that after a year in the job I still have seen no evidence of his ability as a "lighting designer". He uses an existing rig well and hangs specials where needed, just as any "lighting technician" would. He doesn't seem driven to re-rig or re-colour to make things suit the we he personally wants a show to look, in the way I would expect an LD to do. That's fine as that sort of thing isn't required in the 'Technician' role he undertakes, but it does suggest that the degree isn't exactly what it "says on the tin".


Conclusions: I do throw away an awful lot of letters from people wanting to be sound engineers who have, alledgedly, terrific qualifications, as there just isn't the work for them. Equally, when we offer specific jobs for technicians I'd love to have more choice of decent candidates. Thus, the status quo doesn't work. The fix? No idea! Good luck! :angry:

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Even the nature of the industry, with large proportions of freelance staff, impacts on the skill set available. If you need staff NOW you have to take from the existing pool, if you need employees long term then you can invest in them having all the tickets and experience that you need.
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Guest lightnix
Where to start?

Tricky :unsure:


Colleges in general, continue to churn out graduates without the actual, manual skills that the business needs; while many of the BTEC Courses available, appear to offer only superficial content. Drama colleges generally only teach Theatre - a very narrow subset of a very large industry, with few transferrable skills. Such approaches that have been made to the drama colleges (e.g. by the PSA) to help revamp course content - with NRC, MEWP, Forklift, PAT, and PASMA tickets, etc. - have been cold-shouldered. To change now would be to admit shortcomings - of which there are none (of course), so why change? :huh:


The result is that many BA grads find themselves underqualified for what the business actually needs. I was at the ARC Show recently, chatting with some ILE chaps about what training to do. They told me about a recent Lighting Design BA graduate who, inspired by the architectural content of his course, had decided to pursue that path and not go into showbiz. He soon discovered that what he had been taught, didn't even scratch the surface and that he was faced with another 2-3 years part-time learning with possibly another year of full time study at the end of it.


Then again, many employers have been traditionally coy about what skills are actually required - often so they can make up job descriptions as they go along, gig by gig. As observed in a previous thread...

An all too frequent conversation has run something like this...


Employer: We find it really hard to get the right kind of crew these days.

Me: And who are the "right kind" of crew, in your opinion?

Employer: Well... people who can do the job, of course.

Me: Ah, but... what is "the job"?

Employer: Whatever we tell them it is!


So... the employers moan and whine about graduate quality, but do little to improve it - apart from offering a few token 'opportunities' for people to work for no pay, via so-called 'work experience' :angry:


My current advice to people wanting to enter showbiz these days is either to get into work as soon as possible and use short courses like PASMA, NRC, PAT, etc. to get the training that they (and the industry) need. If they really want to study to degree level, then study a conventional subject - e.g. Electrical / Mechanical Engineering, or something in IT - and maintain their interest in showbiz via the Student Union plus Summer work with local crewing companies. Then, when they leave, do PASMA, NRC, PAT, etc. as top-up courses.


You can't learn talent - you either have it or you don't :(

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I'm still in the process of acquiring and compiling all the opinions and information I've gathered so sorry I haven't thanked you all for your thoughts so far. I would love to explore every issue I've encountered in this topic further but unfortunately - (and I never thought I'd say this) - I only have 8000 words to come to some sort of conclusion. As part of my information gathering (mainly to add a bit of quantitative data) I have created a survey that shouldn't take too long to complete if anyone fancies 2 minutes of multiple choice based clicking. I'm aware that the questions may seem a little simple but its because I've tried to condense topics into their simplest issues. This is a way for me to gather data in a different format. Any help is greatly appreciated the survey can be found at the following address:




Many Thanks

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