Camera Technicians Apprentice Scheme Builds on Successful First Year

The new Apprenticeship Standard for Camera Prep Technicians is looking to expand after a successful first season launch.

Last summer, nine trainees became the first cohort of apprentices to participate in a two-year programme during which they will be trained to Senior Technician standard.

They will emerge in August 2023 with a formal level 3 NVQ qualification recognised across the industry. Most are guaranteed a job at the camera rental company that currently employs them as part of successfully completing the scheme.

The next intake, due to start this August, is expected to recruit at least 20 applicants into the camera rental industry giving a boost to the industry-wide skills shortage.

“Every apprentice has had glowing reviews from their employers,” reports Mik Nelson, Assistant Principal at the training and facilities provider London Screen Academy (LSA).

VMI, PixiPixel, Movietech, CVP, Cineark, Pro Motion Hire and Brownian Motion are currently signed up as employers for 2022.

“We are hoping to engage many more companies to build on the successes of the current cohort for the 2022 entry,” Nelson says.

Why the scheme is needed

The project was instigated in 2019 when Barry Bassett, Managing Director of VMI discovered that he was not alone among camera rental companies in finding it increasingly difficult to recruit and retain camera technicians.

“The prevailing entry route to the TV industry sees university graduates joining as interns and then receiving ad-hoc on-the-job training,” Bassett explains. “This process often sees new candidates leaving their jobs once they are trained, which is unsatisfactory for everyone.

“The idea was to see if we could offer an alternative entry path by setting up formal vocational training that would result in a recognised qualification and a full-time job.”

ScreenSkills and The Institute of Apprenticeships (IoC) agreed to investigate further and worked with training programme developer SkillSet to design and approve the new standard. Several rental companies also collaborated to design and formalise the standard which was approved in 2020.  However, progress was hit by Covid when the planned 2020 launch was postponed and student numbers on the 2021 course had to be reduced.

Nonetheless, the venture has the support of other organisations including ASPEC (Studio & Production Equipment Companies) who represents a number of UK rental companies, GTC (Guild of TV Cameramen), GBCT (Guild of British Camera Technicians) and Park Royal Business Group (PBRG).

Camera rental companies are going to be key to the scheme’s success and many have joined in sponsoring apprentices. Aside from those previously listed, other companies in the sector have signalled their backing and include Luna Remote, Alan Wells, Shoot Blue and DV Talent.

Sponsoring companies for 2022 will commit to taking students in March. A selection event planned for this Spring will filter applicants. Interest in the scheme is high, which was demonstrated when the inaugural year attracted over 200 applicants.

“What is key to employers is that a low first year salary plus a £2K Government grant helps to offset the training cost,” explains Bassett. VMI has three apprentices working at its London and Bristol sites as part of the scheme.  “The £11K training course is 95% paid by the Government or from the Levy fund of levy-paying companies.  Either way, the employers pay very little towards the apprentice training but have everything to gain.”

The sponsoring companies play an active role in the scheme and are planning further collaboration in order to add value to the training process.  Initiatives such as providing training to the group to use specialist equipment and structured job-shares will widen the experience of the trainees. After feedback from other rental companies, LSA is investigating reducing the training period from two years to 18 months, to increase the speed of full-trained technicians entering the industry.

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Course design and education

 The camera technician’s role, as formalised in the programme, is to prepare camera equipment that is complete, works effectively, is correctly maintained and is appropriately configured and accessorised to be suitable for a given production.

A great deal of thought had to go into designing the best method to test technical knowledge (multiple-choice questions), camera prep-tech skills (observation) and troubleshooting, specialist knowledge and approach (discussion), as well as grade boundaries and definitions.

“The core objective of the role is to ensure that customers are provided with the equipment and support they require, at the time and place they require it, so they are able to make full use of the equipment package,” Nelson explains. “Their knowledge and skills can equally be applied to whatever means and methods are used in the workplace to prepare related equipment ready for use.”

Core duties include (but are not limited to) resource planning and allocation for own work, equipment preparation to meet specification and deadline; routine maintenance to ensure working order and the cleanliness of accessories. Lenses not only need to be blemish-free but are delivered correctly to scale. Kit needs to be quality assessed and tested.

“Client liaison is a key part of the role as is learning from colleagues so that apprentices are up to date with developments and component compatibility,” says Nelson.

Trainees also learn about booking kit in and out; the importance of keeping accurate equipment lists and records and the return of equipment to suitable specification after use.

A talent pipe for the industry

Not only does this formal training provide greater incentive for apprentices to remain in employment with their company for longer it will be of tangible benefit to the industry as a whole.

“By training them straight from school whilst they are in full-time paid employment ought to ensure a steady stream of trained technicians at the end of the process,” Bassett says.

Most importantly, at the end of the formal training period, successful apprentices can expect to receive full employment on a good salary. VMI, recognised as the UK’s first certified living wage camera rental company employer, pays newly qualified apprentices a minimum starting salary of £22,500 which will rise over time.

“Young talent are more likely to stay in post before potentially moving out into the freelance world or another industry role. Moreover, by delivering such a practical grounding we can hopefully ensure a higher quality of crew for the future of UK TV and film.”