The industry is in danger of losing its talent to other sectors because it isn't investing in skills development. National Skills Day is a step in the right direction, writes Clive Jones.
The industry is in danger of losing its talent to other sectors because it isn't investing in skills development. National Skills Day is a step in the right direction, writes Clive Jones.

Skills are something we often talk about in this industry. They're a valuable commodity and crucial to the quality of our output. We expect and demand the highest level of skills from the people we work with. We applaud and credit the skills and talent behind successful projects, even those of our competitors. Yes, we're an industry that is very vocal on the subject of skills. But too often we fall silent when it comes to teaching those skills or providing opportunities for people to learn them.

Sadly, we readily acknowledge the importance of skills, but very rarely do we take the time to encourage and enable our workforce to develop their individual skills. But that's exactly what we are doing on Thursday 26 May, when the first ever National Skills Day for the audio-visual industries takes place. The concept is simple. A day devoted to improving the skills of the workforce. Its objective is two-fold. To learn something new and different, and to raise awareness of the importance of skills development and the very real business benefits it can deliver.

Launched last year by Skillset, sector skills council for the audio-visual industries, of which I am chairman, National Skills Day is a chance for the industry as a whole to turn its attention to skills.

It is an opportunity to step off the treadmill and focus on developing knowledge and experience. Individuals and companies across the UK are planning a variety of activities to stage on 26 May - from job swaps, workshops and career makeovers to bite-size tasters in everything from final-cut production and the art of networking to belly dancing and how to cook a squid.

The point behind National Skills Day is to do something that gives colleagues and staff a reminder of the need to learn. We all know how fast this industry moves. Be it technical, creative or cultural, we are constantly responding to change at breakneck speed.

These pressures, coupled with the fact that we depend greatly on an army of freelancers, means that we take little time or responsibility for updating people's skills. Luckily, we have a very highly skilled workforce - Skillset's Workforce Survey 2003 shows that 66% are qualified to degree level compared with a national average of 16% but, not surprisingly, in spite of a highly qualified workforce, almost two-thirds of the people surveyed reported training needs. Nine out of 10 who sought training reported barriers to receiving it, including lack of time and money.

It can't be denied that, as an industry, we place the onus to keep skills up-to-date firmly on the individual and take for granted that a pool of highly skilled and experienced workers will be at our disposable indefinitely. It's an assumption that we make at our own risk. And one that is having a negative effect on our ability to retain talent.

Skillset's research also flagged up retention-level figures that should give us all cause for concern. Only 39% of our workforce is aged 35 or over. Only 8% are aged over 50. This is compared with the national average for other industries, which have 53% aged 35 or over.

A significant attributing factor must surely be the rarity of development opportunities open to people in this industry. There are few structured entry routes into the industry and little in the way of development paths once you're here. It's very much a case of fending for yourself, especially if you are freelance. As a result, we are losing experienced, talented people who take their skills elsewhere to benefit other industries.

But so far no one seems too worried. There's a complacency that the queue of eager, young graduates waiting in the wings - many willing to work for free - will not only always be there, but that they will also be able to fill the gap left by the talent heading for the door. That we appear to think this position is tenable long term has got to be worrying for us all.

We need to stem the flow and National Skills Day is a very good way to start.

Staff morale is something very important to me and to many other employers. It can have a powerful impact on your business, both positive and negative. It may sound basic, but just by making the time and effort to plan something for your staff to learn and experience, be it job-related or not, can pay dividends for your business.

It's not easy sustaining career longevity in this industry. It takes a hell of a lot of commitment, determination and sacrifice. National Skills Day is an opportunity to offer a small helping hand to the people you work with and who work for you. It's not the finishing line by any means, but it certainly is a starting pistol. How are you going to take advantage of it?

To get involved in National Skills Day visit www.skillset.org/nationalskillsday or contact Jane Saunders for a planning pack on 01372 729 249/jane@janesaunderspr.co.uk.

Clive Jones is the chief executive of ITV News Group and the chairman of Skillset.