Building Capacity and Agility in the Workforce – a provocation

Pauline Burt on creative ways to maximize the potential of the creative industries in Wales

When I came back to Wales to start Ffilm Cymru Wales just over ten years ago, there had been very little in the way of sustained filmmaking activity in the nation in contrast to a thriving television business and strong writing and storytelling traditions borne out in literature and music, for example.  That storytelling tradition provided strong foundations for our offer of talent based support focused on the creators of intellectual property – writers, directors and producers.  From this a rich array of material developed, some of which was set and concerned with stories in Wales, whilst others were pitched elsewhere in the World including some 25% of the 52 feature films produced as international co-productions.  


Understandably, as creators draw from their own experiences, many of their stories were located in and focused on Wales.  As more projects gathered financial and market interest around them, the number of productions taking place in Wales grew, at the same time as other factors increased demands on local facilities, services and crew including:


  • The increased availability of finance including the broadening of UK tax credits (to animation, games, children’s programming, high-end drama and theatre); Welsh-spend based funding through Welsh Government and private equity;
  • The BBC’s focus on Cardiff for its drama output, including the development of Roath Lock and filming high-profile series in Wales such as the relaunched Dr Who and relocated Casualty and Sherlock;
  • Policymaking – with Welsh Government acknowledging the high-growth rate of the creative industries and placing them as a sector priority; and
  • Increased market profile – success begets success, with each project that is discovered by a UK and international audience, comes more interest, augmenting an already raised awareness amongst the profession with the high-profile Pinewood brand partnering with Welsh Government.


And with this we have the conditions for growth: talent, opportunity and demand.


However, this alone is not enough.  Growth is not a given.  And opportunity is so far not available for all.  


If we are to maximize the potential of the creative industries in Wales we need to be more inclusive, collaborative and flexible.  We need to adapt the way we work and change our working practices where they have created barriers to entry and progression.


To start with inclusion: the creative industries are not known for their openness.  In a sector heavily reliant on freelance and term-limited contracts, we have a tendency to rely too heavily on informal and closed recruitment practices, often not advertising posts and relying on existing networks to secure people we trust at short notice.   Many, particularly those living in deprived areas or in the working classes cannot even ‘get an in’, let alone sustain careers in our sector.  


That tendency to recruit on quick turnaround, usually within tight budgets, dissuades us as a sector from testing new approaches and ways of working.  We don’t pause often enough to consider whether we have to define job roles as we do; whether there could be more job shares, working different or more flexible hours; and how to support people who otherwise couldn’t align their lives with the creative industries, perhaps through challenges around childcare or transport.  How often do we have the seeming luxury to hold an open-casting, advertise in new places or connect with communities outside of our usual day-to-day practice?


Not often enough.  But we have the conditions for growth, which suggests that now is the time to test new ways of working and to adapt and open-up our processes to make it viable for people of all backgrounds and circumstances to be able to make and sustain their careers in the sector.   


Historically the creative industries and the broader arts have developed as distinct and separate disciplines, and they certainly each have their distinctive language and creative form, but this has also led to silos of working practice and crew focusing in distinct media or art forms that is worth revisiting.  


At a time of demand and opportunity taking a fresh look at the common roles and disciplines across film, television, games, theatre, dance, fashion and more besides makes sense.  If we look to the cross-cutting, transferable skill sets including carpentry, design, accountancy, electricians, costume and hairdressing, for example, there is terrific scope to scale up how we work if our sub-sectors work in collaboration.  This is starting to happen as the eight national arts companies have come together around common priorities, including developing skills and sector capacity, and have already started promising conversations around potential collaboration, including with BBC Cymru, for example.  


Moreover, these transferable skills go beyond our sectors and could, if thought of differently, offer opportunities for people to work in and out of the sector, as opportunities arise.  Why not have scaffolders and carpenters working on film one month and a construction site the next?   


We need a larger crew base and one that can provide consistently across Wales.  Meanwhile, there are many people in Wales without work who have or could acquire relevant transferable skills.  


We have become so accustomed to thinking as sectors or sub-sectors that there is a danger of overlooking the opportunities in front of us.  I’m excited to think what opportunities for growth and capacity there are if we take a more socially progressive approach.  Just imagine if we could take a production to any area in Wales and employ local people with relevant transferable skills.  And for those skilled individuals, just imagine being able to work within your area, see your family, and not always be ‘following the work’.


Maybe this is a utopian vision!  But, I like to think that industrial and socially progressive strategies do not have to be mutually exclusive.  Our sector could deliver jobs and opportunities for people across Wales if we’re willing to test and adapt our working practices to remove barriers that exclude people, and to be more flexible in how we think about roles and careers.  Everyone could gain.


For insight into Ffilm Cymru Wales’ current pilot for new entrants working in partnership with Charter Housing association please see here.  




Editorial note: This is part of Click on Wales’ week-long focus on media issues.  The Media Policy Group of the Institute of Welsh Affairs is holding the third Cardiff Media Summit on 29th March and booking information can be found here

Pauline Burt is Chief Executive of Ffilm Cymru Wales

3 thoughts on “Building Capacity and Agility in the Workforce – a provocation

  1. This is not really ‘provoking’ enough. I also don’t think expanding the workforce to untrained, untrusted people outside or in the margins of the industry in outlying ‘deprived’ areas of Wales would work at all. For one thing most of the time would be spent in training, overseeing, correcting work and not on getting on with a tightly budgeted, time limited media project. Going into battle requires trained soldiers and proper equipment – you can’t pick up anyone just anywhere on the way these days.

  2. This isn’t designed as the be all and end all of training. It’s entry level, designed to feed and broaden the pipeline pointing to further opportunities such as apprenticeships.

  3. Workers are already working cross sector e.g. prop makers, carpenters, make-up and hair, actors, musicians, writers, directors, stage managers etc. and have done so for many years. For craft grades this happens when large productions like Da Vinci’s Demons come into South Wales in particular – when demands for certain skills are high for a while. It can then cause friction as the Arts sector that historically pay less and find it difficult to get replacement staff as people leave for often better paid TV work, but may return when that work dries up.

    Unfortunately equality and diversity “initiatives” come and go – there’s a lack of strategic approach in Wales (and elsewhere). e.g. new entrants are encouraged into the industry from under-represented groups possibly via a trainee scheme, but once that is over there isn’t the support mechanism in place to keep those individuals in sustainable employment, as many will be released into the freelance/casual market once the scheme is over. Some will make-it but others, depending on their characteristics and contacts, may face challenges in surviving and thriving in TV and Film.

    Surely we must start with supporting/educating employers of the benefits of diversity, how it enriches both their workplace in terms of talent and different perspectives and ideas. It will also help them to reach a wider and more diverse audience. The next step would be learning how to meet the different needs of a diverse workforce. There’s a lot of good practice out there built over decades – but often lost e.g. Crimewatch a few years ago had a fantastic record for flexible working for parents and Pobl y Cwm Production Assistants developed working patterns that could meet their caring commitments. Surely by seeing tangible examples of good practice and engaging with their workforce (both staff and freelancers) employers can see that having a diverse workforce is not only possible but makes good business sense.

    BECTU has long argued that it is not only new entrants that need support. Women and people from BAME backgrounds are regularly told that they need more “training” and more “experience” to get on. Hence the “Move on Up” Project for BAME people was developed. It ran for over 10 years with great success We started something similar in Cardiff in 2002 with “The Colour of Welsh Media” that resulted in a great conference discussing with the industry and BAME communities gap in representation. It lead to progression for several BAME people but that was due to voluntary activity by a small group of people who shared knowledge and contacts – but we didn’t achieve the high profile, funded follow-up events with employers that happened in London then Salford.

    A significant amount of money is invested in the creative sector in Wales either via Public Sector Broadcasting or other funds e.g. Welsh Government, Creative Europe, Arts Council of Wales etc. Surely businesses and other organisations should only be supported if it leads to fair access to what can be a very rewarding industry – so a discussion must be had and solutions found including setting diversity targets and open and transparent monitoring.

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