In the old days, if you wanted to work in video production you either applied for an apprenticeship with one of the broadcasters or entered into glorified slavery as a runner. Either way you learnt “on the job”, and what you learnt was dependant on the knowledge base of the person or people who took you under their wing.
Fast forward a couple of decades – roles within creative industries like ours have been accepted as professional careers and hopeful entrants can now learn about “the industry” at just about every educational facility, from top universities to local adult education centres.
I’m guessing that one of the intentions in formalising video production education was to provide work-ready entrants to the job market – perhaps with a broader perspective than apprenticeships could provide. So whereas a school-leaver joining a production company as a runner might learn a lot about producing scripted content but very little about live OB’s, a formal qualification could ensure that students learnt all the different aspects of the industry and were prepared to enter into any part of it.
So why then are so many graduates still starting at the bottom – carrying kit or cups of coffee?
A lot of respected people and organisations have spent a lot of time trying to figure out why – despite investing huge amounts of time and money into developing curriculums, setting up enviable infrastructure and employing industry experts – education providers don’t seem able to provide the industry with capable graduates. One school of thought is that we have merely exchanged one set of problems for another – swapping deep knowledge of a limited sector (apprentices) for a broader but shallower understanding of the overall industry (graduates). Another suggestion is that the pace at which technology is being developed and the effect this has on how we produce content, means that courses are outdated almost as quickly as their curriculums are developed.
But I believe that we’re trying to solve the wrong problem.
Hands-on, practical experience is still the most critical part of your education if you want to work in TV. And experience takes time. Just as doctors, solicitors and countless other professionals have to complete (often extensive) periods of on-site training, so should video production professionals – regardless of whether they’ve had formal training or not. The problem is not that graduates don’t know everything about the industry. It’s that we expect them to.
No matter how comprehensive the course or how much practical experience it includes, students still need to learn how to apply what they’ve learnt at school in the real world. As an industry we need to make sure we’re providing space for them to learn the industry from the inside. Graduates, in turn, need to realise that a degree doesn’t mean they’ll be offered the director’s chair on their first day on the job.
And for those that can’t or don’t want to invest years in academia, you’ll be surprised how many doors open to people armed with nothing more than a positive attitude and eagerness to learn. Because in an industry that changes as quickly as this one – you never know it all.
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