VMI helps launch UK’s first apprenticeship standard for camera technicians

Back in 2019, Barry Bassett, MD of GTC sponsor VMI, first contacted the TV industry body ScreenSkills to investigate whether it might be possible to set up a formal apprenticeship standard for UK camera rental companies. The idea was that this programme would include a high level of training to enable school-leavers to enter our industry and at the end of the programme become fully trained camera technicians with a full-time job.

Camera Tech Apprenticeship approved

After 18 months of work and planning, the new 'Camera Tech' Apprenticeship Standard was finally approved in February 2020 ready for its first intake in the spring of the same year... but then COVID struck.

Clearly, with the TV Industry so badly affected by a universal shutdown in shooting during spring and summer 2020, subsequent months have seen temporary recoveries followed by multiple setbacks, but at last the green shoots of recovery look in sight so, with some trepidation, it now looks likely that the first intake of apprentices will occur this year after all.

There's a lot riding on the success of the first cohort of apprentices as it is hoped this will become a regular path for school-leaver entry into the industry. As a result, it has not been rushed through to avoid risking it floundering due to weak interest from rental companies still concerned about the fallout from COVID – but now there is renewed confidence for a successful summer/autumn 2021 start.

Trailblazer Group of rental companies

The ‘Trailblazer Group’ comprising several rental companies has continued to be active and is now appraising four training providers in order to award the contract for the apprenticeship training during the next few months, allowing time for course materials to be prepared ahead of the formal course launch.

The first intake is likely to be in September 2021 and the camera rental industry is expected to recruit around 20 applicants in the first year. Apprentices will be paid and work/train 4 days of the week in a rental house and spend 1 day a week studying at a training provider/college on day-release during the 2-year course.

Aimed at school-leavers

The Apprenticeship training programme is specifically aimed at 16–19-year-old school-leavers, although will also be open to adults who have already received funding for high-level training. While in some situations sponsoring companies may need to fund training of older recruits, other options are also being explored.

A two-year training programme will take place while the apprentice is working, and will lead to a new Level 3 qualification recognised by the TV industry. Recruiting apprentices straight from school and training them whilst working over a two-year period should both ensure a steady stream of trained technicians and increase the likelihood they will stay in post when the training is completed.

The existing route into the industry sees graduates joining camera rental companies as interns and then receiving ad-hoc on-the-job training, after which new candidates often leave their jobs once they are trained – which is unsatisfactory for everyone.

Support from industry bodies

Many organisations have expressed support for this new venture, including ASPEC (Studio & Production Equipment Companies), which represents a number of UK rental companies, GTC (Guild of TV Camera Professionals), GBCT (Guild Of British Camera Technicians), Park Royal Business Group (PBRG) and a large number of camera rental companies.

Barry Bassett, VMI Managing Director, dreamt up the project after he discovered that both VMI and many other camera rental companies were finding it increasingly difficult to recruit and retain camera technicians. His idea was that vocational training (as opposed to university) could result in a formal recognised qualification and a full-time job which would suit local adults.

Designing the new standard

Barry persuaded the Institute for Apprenticeships that there was an industry skills shortage, after which they agreed to work with him to design a new standard. By working with SkillSkills, a group of rental companies creatively known as the Trailblazer Group was set up to design the full standard. This group initially included VMI, S+O Media, Panavision, MovieTech, ARRI Rental, Shoot Blue, Focus 24, Shift-4, Brownian Motion, Take-2, Luna Remote Systems and CVP, and later interest was expressed from Pro Motion, Aimimage, Visual Impact, 24-7, PixiPixel, No Drama and Provision from Manchester, and Progressive Broadcast in Scotland. Word continues to spread and several companies not originally involved are now keen to be involved but will only commit once they are confident that business will return to acceptable levels, hence the reason for the continued delay.

Most companies in the Trailblazer Group plan to take on two apprentices when the scheme formally launches in Summer/Autumn 2021 and the aim is that successful candidates will finish their 2-year apprenticeship by being awarded a Level 3 qualification once they have completed all the training and passed their assessment module in 2023.

By building an industry education before potentially moving out into the freelance world or another industry role, we can hopefully expect to generate both a higher quality of crew and also a tangible benefit to our entire industry.

Most importantly, at the end of the formal two-year training period, successful apprentices are guaranteed a full-time position with the company recruiting them as apprentices and by being fully trained, they can certainly expect to receive a good salary too.

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