HouseThere is a gathering realisation within the global concert production industry that it is facing a major skills gap. This is principally caused by the steady departure of a generation of people who, in many cases, could be considered to be the founding fathers of the industry, and who have never worked in any other sphere.

Without suitable people to step in, we have a critical problem...

This is not news, however, and numerous companies globally whose businesses are being affected by this generational shift are working proactively to develop their own future staff.

Back to School

In tandem with in-house development, the natural reaction to this loss of knowledge is to turn to formal education to provide people with the necessary skills to plug the gaps left by those who are leaving, and a recent article in L&SI magazine opened what may turn out to be an interesting debate on the current state of external education for the business. Its central points were that most graduates produced by existing Higher and Further Education establishments providing dedicated courses lacked the necessary technical knowledge, attitudes and inter-personal skills for employment. In many cases they were also unwilling to deal with the alternative lifestyle that is part and parcel of a career in concert production.

It also cited the disconnect between educators and potential employers that is caused by the production business being ʻfast and responsiveʼ, while the education business moves with ʻglacial slownessʼ. Thereʼs no doubt that education isnʼt the fastest-moving enterprise on earth but to describe the pro-audio business as ʻfast and responsiveʼ is disingenuous at best. Certainly it is characterised by a dogged and unbreakable determination to make amazing things happen in the face of sometimes insuperable odds, this being perhaps the single greatest contributor to its continued existence. But in terms of being responsive as a business as compared with mainstream industry? Hardly. The die-hard conservatism that runs like a seam of impermeable quartz through the business is arguably one of the factors that frightens young people away from it.

Dubai Jazz FestivalIf formal education isnʼt delivering what the business needs then buyer and seller must work together to create ʻproductsʼ that are useful to the buyer and deliverable for the seller, whatever that takes, because in the long run both will benefit enormously. In the L&SI article a rental company owner rightly points out that creating and delivering an appropriate curriculum is impractical for a busy company – after all it is neither their core business nor a revenue generator. However, the industry must recognise that without its input there is no chance that formal education will be able to deliver graduates that are genuinely useful and immediately employable. There may be a role here for the PSA – perhaps as a permanent liaison between the industry and education?

There is, unfortunately, another reason for the dwindling numbers, which is both more serious and harder to deal with since it will require a long-term cultural change within the production industry. That reason is quite simply, that as of today, the business does not offer a competitive long-term career path for entrants when compared to many (perhaps a majority) of other opportunities.

Alternative options

This situation is exacerbated by the fact that some core skills (notably digital/DSP and computer networking technology) required of many touring crew are now portable, in the sense that they are equally applicable in other, perhaps better-paid and more lifestyle-friendly industries. As production technology becomes ever more reliant on computer control and digital networking the business will need ever more computer specialists, thus the need to actively compete for them will grow.

This means that, in terms of providing employment as an industry, we need to grow up and soon. The old attitude of ʻitʼs rock ’n’ roll, manʼ, and its tacit acceptance of uncompetitive employment conditions simply doesnʼt attract enough new people any more. There will always be some who relish it and wouldnʼt do anything else but we need both quality and quantity. So, laughable as it may seem right now, in the not too distant future the industry as a whole is going to have to find ways of providing things like non-contributory pensions, structured career paths, ways of compensating for unsociable working hours, standardised pay structures, proper annual/maternity/paternity/sick leave, (inter)nationally recognised qualifications, performance-related bonuses, company cars, credit cards and other ʻbig companyʼ perks, certainly to key personnel.

Strangely, in the long term this might be the leveller the industry needs. A combination of the loss of current personnel, lack of new people coming in plus the fact that not all production companies will be able to offer competitive packages to skilled employees, is another factor that will gradually drive smaller businesses to close or merge with those who can. Over time, global production capacity would shrink to meet global production demand at which point the dramatically reduced competition will exponentially improve rental income. More income means more money to re-invest in training, both internal and external, and so the cycle continues.

It’s called The Domino Effect.

Our source, Audio Boy, is an audio industry insider, following the Fast-and-Wide brief.

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