How the BBC, ITV, Sky and Channel 4 work together to develop skills

Leaders from across the broadcast sector, including Sky, ITV, Channel 4 and various independent radio and television agencies, gathered at the BBC in London on Monday to kick start National Apprentice week 2014.

BBC Director General Tony Hall opened the conference by announcing new apprenticeship schemes in the business, journalism and legal departments at the corporation, which will see 170 apprentices working at the broadcaster by October this year.

The media is hailed as a trailblazer for the spread of apprenticeship schemes across the UK, with Sky’s very own Academy training more than 100 apprentices this year and several independent broadcasters ‘loaning’ their apprentices to the big firms.

So what can HR learn from the success of the media industry’s approach to apprenticeships?

Spread the word

Channel 4’s industry talent specialist Priscilla Baffour believes it’s up to employers to raise awareness of apprenticeships and break down the stigma around vocational learning. This means going into schools and colleges, running careers fairs and open days for prospective apprentices.

“We identified three barriers to young people taking on an apprenticeship – financial, network and information barriers,” she explains. “Channel 4 is actively going into schools and holding open days to provide networking opportunities. We also pay all our apprentices £16,000 a year, which is higher than the current minimum wage.”

Matthew Hancock, Minister for Skills and Enterprise emphasised the government’s desire to make apprenticeships a “new norm” for young people finishing full time education. This will be assisted by a government scheme to create 20,000 Higher Apprenticeships.

“Our job in government is not to push people towards a university degree or an apprenticeship, but to ensure there are good choices for both,” he says. “To make social mobility a reality - and to allow young people from every background an equal chance to reach the top, we need to break down the routes into professions and drive up the standards of qualifications.”

Collaborate

“We are deeply competitive with our broadcast neighbours when it comes to content, but the reality of finding apprentices and the best talent for the industry means collaboration is key,” says Claire Paul, head of entry-level talent for the BBC Academy. “It’s about working with like-minded organisations and getting the best talent into the industry regardless of competition.”

Resource sharing already takes place across the industry, especially since the BBC’s headquarters moved to Salford in 2011. The organisation often relies on ITV’s broadcast and a production engineers to conduct much of its London-based filming on short notice.

“When we’re talking to schools and potential recruits, we’re not just promoting the opportunities within our organisation,” says Channel 4’s Baffour. “We’ll happily promote the possible career paths at our neighbours Sky, ITV and the BBC at the same time.”

Harness existing talent

Bringing in new talent needn’t be a worry for existing employees, says Nicola Hart, head of future talent at Sky, and in fact long-standing employees may offer the key to making apprenticeship schemes a success.

“Typically across the industry, we have an ageing population in our broadcast facilities,” Hart says. “If we don’t harness their expertise now by bringing them into an apprenticeship scheme, to act as a mentor or coach for the next generation, we are going to lose much of what has already made this industry successful.”

Recognise diversity benefits

"The BBC is owned by every licence fee payer. And, to excel at what we do, it's really important that we look and feel like modern Britain,” Hall explained in his opening address to the conference.

This means regionalising the apprenticeship schemes and collaborating with local academic intuitions to ensure every young person is reached, regardless of history and educational background.

The BBC is already going some way to assist this by joining forces with the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust, to take on up to 25 people from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds.

Aaqil Ahmed, the BBC’s head of religion, said it was a very different picture to the workforce pre-911 and world events have reinforced the need for greater diversity in our programming.

“If we had the same workforce as we had prior to 911 or the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we wouldn’t be able to make the programmes we do today,” he says. “As a public service broadcaster, it is essential that we represent the public by giving a voice to all of the UK.”