BBC News recruits technical trainees

Trainees in studio The new trainees will spend a year working on BBC news programmes

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At a time when young people struggle to get their foot through the employment door, any traineeship is a highly sought after opportunity.

But, simultaneously, employers need to "skill up" new entrants, if they want to succeed and not stagnate.

In an attempt to remedy a skills shortage in news broadcasts, the BBC has just recruited six trainee technical operators.

The scheme is tailor made to ensure the apprentices can eventually work on live output; that is, they learn to "do it right the first time and get it on air with a minimum of fuss", according to Phil Smith, who is assistant operations editor in Salford.

This is because, he says, college media courses often can be too broad, where students learn to make feature films - shooting over and over again until it's right - or develop a single skill, such as camera or sound.

Not sexy

But the BBC's news output requires multi-skilled people who can work across many specialisms and deliver the goods for that one live hit.

"In a college course, news isn't seen as particularly sexy, so there isn't stuff being taught at the level and bespokeness we need," explains Smith.

Start Quote

It's an exciting opportunity for us all”

End Quote Amelia Hayward BBC technical trainee

It was a problem he came across when recruiting people for Salford operations.

Prior to the move to MediaCityUK, there were 25 technical operators working for regional output at BBC Manchester. But the news operations team had to treble once BBC Breakfast and Newsround relocated.

"What happened was that I was taking somebody from Hull, who was then taking someone from Leeds - it was a bit like musical chairs so we needed to bring more people in.

"The dual-running operations for the moves to Salford and New Broadcasting House in London also showed the skills gap."

In other words, there aren't enough people with the required experience coming through, which is why the BBC News board decided to fund their own traineeships, where the apprentices work in programming for English Regions and network in Salford and London.

However there were 850 applications for the BBC scheme - that's 142 candidates per post, so there is no shortage of interest.

Fewer prima donnas?

Six trainees aren't going to solve the problem but Smith reckons it's a start and hopes the scheme will be expanded in the future.

The trainees

  • Anthony Burke (Leeds) - was a runner for BBC Breakfast and has a masters degree in acting. Currently at BBC Look North (Yorkshire)
  • Joe Darlow (Norwich) - previously taught arts and ICT courses and now at BBC Look East
  • Jack Slater (Bristol) - worked as a camera operator with Silverstream TV and at various small indies. He will be based at BBC Points West
  • Amelia Hayward (London) - The only internal BBC intake, she swaps BBC South East Today for NBH
  • Ryan Jervis (Salford) - at 19, he is the youngest trainee and has already done short unpaid work experience. He will work on network output
  • Steve Groves-Kirby (Hull) - has a masters in audio production and worked at University of Salford and BBC Research & Development. He has also been a runner at the BBC Proms and will work on Look North (East Yorkshire & Lincolnshire)

He adds that the 12-month apprenticeship isn't just work experience, but has a training plan, where the apprentices work across different specialisms in their respective regions before focusing on two or three fields in their last months.

There is no guarantee of a job at the end but the trainees will also learn skills in writing CVs and doing job interviews.

However, despite the uncertainty that often goes with working in the media, the opportunity was good enough to tempt Leeds-based trainee Anthony Burke away from being an acting coach.

"It's a world I want to leave, it's a very precarious industry and there are a lot of prima donnas. I'm sure there are prima donnas in news but it's not as heightened as the acting world."

Like the other trainees, he has previously done a few stints in the media, including shifts at BBC Breakfast.

"I shadowed everything in loads of departments, from producing to writing, but the one I enjoyed the most was the technical operations side - luckily this came up once I realised that."

Former teacher Joe Darlow also made a career change to join the BBC, but he had always wanted to work in the media - it was just that the right opportunity had never turned up.

He'll be juggling being father to a five-month-old baby with working at Look East, where he has already spent a few uncomfortable days out in the satellite truck.

Pride in work

Having taught media studies at school, his observations support the view that news isn't the most attractive field for teenagers. Instead, he has noticed students prefer making programmes or films rather than journalism.

"It's gone from being interest in print media to interest in new media, particularly online... they watch television by using laptops, not a TV set," he adds.

Amelia Hayward has swapped broadcast assistant shifts at South East Today and BBC Sussex and Surrey to train at NBH. A fifth of the final shortlist was female and she was the only woman to win a traineeship this time.

A self-confessed geek who was given a Tardis-esque bag as a leaving present by colleagues, she says there was an even gender split among technical operators in her previous workplaces.

"Some of them, especially the women, really inspired me. I feel kind of proud to be the only female trainee selected from 850 applicants.

"There were many people who had a lot of experience but hopefully I'm not here because I'm female, it's because I'm good at what I do and have the potential to be a good tech ops.

"It's an exciting opportunity for us all and I would not be here without help from my colleagues at South East Today - I need to make them proud over the next year."

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