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Friday 20 October 2017

On Thursday 19 October we were hosted by NEP Visions in Bracknell for their Student Open Day 2017. The open day, which has become an annual event, is organised by NEP’s Marketing and Communications Manager Kayte Burns. It showcases the many opportunities within the industry to inspire the next generations of engineers – this year was the most extravagant and exciting yet!

The event drew senior speakers and panellists from across the industry and also featured trade stands from leading technologists. The companies represented included Creative Technology, Bow Tie Television, the BBC, Sky, ITV, IMG, BT, Creative Broadcast Solutions, Wimbledon Broadcast Services, OBStv, Snell Advanced Media and EVS.

NEP had several of their articulated outside broadcast vehicles and uplink trucks on show and students were able to look around and chat to the engineers and operators. They had a large number of feeds setup from cameras and microphones around the site. Focal points were provided by a five-aside football pitch in their warehouse as well as a large stage with an impressive LED events display.

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Clockwise from top-left: OB Vehicle, Racking Positions, EVS Playout, the Pitch, Production and Graduate Alex Corbett

The formal proceedings were split into a number of sessions with industry panels and presentations.

Simon Jenkins, President for NEP UK and Ireland opened the day and described the range of services required to make productions for broadcast. He highlighted the importance of people and their ability to collaborate and form professional relationships. Simon expressed concern over the lack of people and skills needed for the future and described this as a dilemma and challenge facing the entire industry. This formed the motivation behind the open day; a desire amongst industry leaders to encourage budding engineers towards the industry and to help them to understand the pathways available.

Following this theme, Darren Long recounted his progression from an engineering graduate to Director of Sky production Services. He described the industry as “the biggest trainset in the world” and encouraged those present to immerse and apply themselves. Darren also highlighted the aging demographic within the sector and the severe skills shortages they are facing as a result. He emphasised the importance of diversity and mentioned routes into Sky including their work experience opportunities, apprenticeships, placement years and graduate scheme. His advice to graduates when applying for jobs was: to research the company, state all their applicable experience, to include examples of life experiences, to write concisely and to proof read carefully.  earlycareers@sky.co.uk  |  @skyearlycareers  |  Facebook: Sky early Careers

Following the introductions from Simon and Peter, we heard from the first industry panel. They discussed the desirable characteristics of an applicant and agreed on passion, aptitude and seizing opportunities as key factors. Interestingly qualifications weren’t a major factor and the panel mentioned the training opportunities available after employment including apprenticeships. Chris Bretnall, Founder of Creative Broadcast Solutions, advised that the skillset required was now so vast that you were unlikely to get pigeonholed into a role but that it was wise to find your own niche area and get better at it faster than anyone else so as to carve out a specialism. The panel thought that a blend of formal education and work experience was very desirable and wanted to see applicants demonstrate engagement with the industry. They all spoke passionately about the industry and agreed that it was a fantastic sector to work in due to the travel opportunities, team spirit and the legacy you leave behind.

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From left-right: Steve Jenkins, Darren Long and the first Industry Panel

Next we heard from Peter Taylor, Production Engineering Manager at the BBC. He spoke about the duality of broadcast engineering roles with a creative and technical aspect. He started out with a degree in music himself and migrated to engineering as his career progressed – his take away message was that you just have to be decisive when presented with a fork in the road. In his case the fork between music and engineering converged later anyway and Peter suggested this was a common scenario. He presented a range of anecdotes from outside broadcasts that he’s been involved with and was keen to show the creativity involved in problem solving.

After some lunch and a wander around the stands, we reconvened for the pathways panel. The panel was made up of a number of young engineers from NEP, including two Media Technology graduates Katie-Jayne Mills and Kath Grey. Kath had to Skype in from Poland as she was actually guaranteeing an event there at the time. Again there was quite some discussion around apprenticeships and several of the panel were completing them after joining as University graduates. They explained that they simply wanted to keep learning and found it especially valuable to get different perspectives and to keep up with rapidly changing technologies. They discussed the advantages and drawbacks of working in broadcast. They agreed that the long days and extended periods away from home could be challenging but that they’d seen some incredible places and beamed with pride over the events they’d helped to create. Their top tip was that it’s okay not to know everything and to ask questions and take every opportunity to learn.

Next Wimbledon Broadcast Services from the All England Lawn and Tennis Club spoke about their services as a case study of a broadcast environment. Wimbledon Broadcast Services provide feeds from up to 18 courts during the Tennis Championship with 28 cameras on the centre court alone. These must be distributed to many other broadcasters, with variant technical requirements and the need for clean feeds for them to top and tail. They described how newer technologies were allowing for more efficient delivery to a wider audience set. As concerns grow around the future of linear broadcast, they emphasised the continued popularity of live sport and described having 2000 people on site as part of broadcast services during the championship.

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Clockwise from top-left: Peter Taylor, Wimbledon Broadcast Services, Second Industry Panel and the Pathways Panel

Finally the second industry panel discussed potential solutions to the skillset shortages that had been raised earlier. Clare Popplewell, Editor of Ceremonial Events at the BBC explained how she went from being an administrative secretary on a short-term contract to a production assistant, then a director and finally editor of ceremonial events at the BBC. Her story highlights how unclear the pathways can be and shows how challenging it can be to find out about opportunities from the outside. The panel agreed that the broadcast industry needs to work together to raise awareness and to provide the training opportunities that have been lacking in recent decades. Brian Clarke also commented that we need to show that being an engineer is as exciting – if not more so – than being a cameraman. The Student Open Day was certainly one way of getting the message out and shining a light on potential pathways.

We were extremely well looked after with plentiful refreshments and opportunities to network. We bumped into several of our graduates who are now working at NEP and some of the other companies also mentioned how impressed they were with other Solent Media Technology graduates that they employ. It’s great to see Media Technology still thriving and impressing within the industry. We’d like to express our thanks to Kayte and NEP UK for hosting the event and to all those who gave up their time to make the day such a valuable and motivational experience.

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Clockwise from top-left: the Solent cohort, SAM's stand, EVS's stand and Playing with sports cameras!

Panel Members

Industry Panel 1: Chris Bretnall, Founder, Creative Broadcast Solutions  |  Tom Giles, Technical Broadcast Manage, All England Lawn and Tennis Club  |  Darren Long, Director of Sky production Services, Sky  |  Anna Ward, Head of Production Premiere League Productions, IMG  |  Steve Jenkins, President UK and Ireland, NEP UK. Moderated by Simon Moorhead, Managing Director, NEP UK

Pathways Panel: Anna Patching, Sound Engineer, OBStv  |  Katie-Jayne Mills, Vision Engineer, NEP UK  |  Paul Halliwell, Project Logistics Manager, NEP UK  |  Kath Grey, Guarantee Broadcast Engineer, NEP UK  |  James Starling, Guarantee Broadcast Engineer, NEP UK. Moderated by Kayte Burns, Marketing and Communications Manager, NEP UK.

Industry Panel 2: Roger Pearce, Technical Director Sport, ITV Sport Productions  |  Andy Beale, Chief Engineer, BT  |  Rob Newton, Chief Technical Officer, NEP UK  |  Clare Popplewell, Editor Ceremonial Events, BBC  |  Brian Clarke, Major Projects, NEP UK.  Moderated by Aoife Murphy, Operations Manager, OBStv.