What employers are looking for in technical staff

 5 May 2016

Working in technical theatre and live events is fun, fast-paced and rewarding. If you're curious about careers in this area, there's good news: we need more skilled technicians in lighting, sound and stage, and available routes in are changing for the better. Here are 4 things employers in the industry are actually looking for.

"People with the appropriate attitude make great members of staff – whatever the role or area of the industry they work in."

1. We need technical skills...

The live events and theatre industry is worried about getting talent through the door and trained up in the technical skills it needs for lighting, sound and stage. Some are predicting that, of an extra 30,000 skilled workers forecast to be needed in offstage and backstage roles, we'll be down by about 6,000.

If you're deciding what to do with your career, choosing this route could lead to you being in high demand. 

So what kind of jobs are we actually talking about in practice? You could end up in any (or many) of the following areas that are looking for skills and talent:

Employers are starting to get behind new qualifications, so now is a great time to take a step into the industry.​

The list could go on!

2. ...and there are new ways to train in them

The entertainment industry is currently full of people who do not possess the qualifications that are technically required for the job they are doing. That means it has talented people who are doing great work, but do not necessarily have a formal qualification to fulfil a particular role.

Until recently, the only formal qualification was a three-year degree-level course, which for a variety of reasons doesn’t suit everyone.

But things are rapidly changing and employers are starting to get behind new qualifications, so now is a great time to take a step into the industry. In particular, we're seeing the reintroduction of apprenticeships and other occupational/vocational pathways into backstage and offstage areas.

Professional diplomas

Employers have got together to create a new Level 4 Professional Diploma in Technical and Production, which will be delivered by the prestigious National College for the Creative and Cultural Industries.

This diploma genuinely responds to industry need, ensuring that those who graduate will have the skills to hit the ground running when they start work. Importantly, it will only train people when there are real jobs available, so if you commit to the course you will be in the best place possible to find work at the end. When you leave, you should be able to get a job as a technician in any theatre, music and live events venue in the UK.

For one year, it will train you in a professional environment, working on real live projects and helping you build up experience. Plus, at £4,500 it won't place you in huge amounts of debt, which means that if you have the talent and drive needed, you can apply – regardless of your background.

Trailblazer apprenticeships

Apprenticeships are another way in, offered in areas such as Technical Theatre. Check out the Government's Find an Apprenticeship service to see who is recruiting. 

Over the last few years there has been a lot of great work by employers such as Royal Opera House, the National Theatre, Southbank Centre, White Light, Fairfield Halls and many more who offer backstage apprenticeships. But in my view there's more to be done to make them more appropriate for what employers are looking for.

The solution should come when Trailblazer Apprenticeships are introduced, which are ‘employer-led’ rather than ‘college-led’. So employers will be responsible for setting the standards required to complete the apprenticeship.

There are three of these Trailblazer apprenticeships planned for our industry:

  • one for riggers
  • one for venue-based technicians
  • one for production-based technicians.

They are in varying stage of development, so watch this space.

3. Your attitude is important

One mantra that came from our industry is: “The show must go on!” This could easily be rephrased to: "It doesn’t matter whose job it is. If it needs doing, just do it.”

Inhabiting this attitude, both as individuals but also as companies, makes this industry one of the few I have come across where we are capable of hitting deadlines even when set years in advance. More often than not, we deliver on budget as well. If only the construction industry could boast the same achievements!

People with the appropriate attitude make great members of staff – whatever the role or area of the industry they work in.

White Light is full of people who have been to one of the various drama schools, which offer technical training. Equally we have people with degrees in English Literature, Biochemistry, Metallurgy, Political Science and Physics, with even more people who never went to university (or in the author’s case, went to university but spent too much time up ladders to satisfy the requirements of the examiners). 

What makes all these people great employees and members of the team is their attitude and work ethic. We say to everyone who joins us: “Work hard, turn up on time and care about doing a good job – the company will do the rest.”  

4. We want you to be 'T-shaped' and flexible

Yes, we need people who understand the business, have sufficient technical knowledge of the technology and working practices, and commercial acumen. But we also need people who are happy working within a corporate entity as project managers, looking after clients and their projects from behind a desk, or site-based where they can meet clients and look after their projects. 

It doesn’t matter whose job it is. If it needs doing, just do it.

Essentially, we want you to be 'T-shaped' with a deep understanding of your field (whether that's lighting, sound or stage or a specific area that covers all three), but with broad skills covering things like customer service, management and marketing. 

Finally, for anyone considering a career in this sector, you must be flexible about when you how you work, as the working week for theatre and live events simply isn't your normal nine to five. Instead, we operate seasonally and in intense bursts of activity – often late night and overnight.

For that reason, there are a huge number of freelancers in the sector who do not operate normal hours and may be working on more than one project at a time, so factor this kind of working lifestyle in when making your career decision. 

Apply now to study at the National College for the Creative and Cultural Industries. 

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