When does work experience become exploitation in the TV industry? And when have you done enough work experience in television to warrant applying for your first paying job as runner, or any other entry-level position? This article contains important information for experienced producers and production managers not just for those trying to get into the TV world so the more experienced among you should listen up too!
It was production manager Jude Winstanley of The Unit List (http://www.theunitlist.com) who clarified the crucial difference between work experience and unpaid/low-paid running work for me. It is all too easy as a producer in television to blur those lines and I’ll admit that with all my years experience I did occasionally do just that. There are bound to be very many more employers in television who might not stop long enough to think about the definition of work experience. So let’s start right there:
Work experience is just that – an opportunity to experience the work place. It is not a job although you may be given tasks to do as part of that experience and it is always for limited period of time. Skillset suggests a maximum of four weeks. Skillset’s guidance to TV employers also states:
“Work experience is a learning activity. It is essential to agree specific learning objectives for the individual at the outset and never rely on individuals on work experience placements to fulfil real jobs which are necessary to the organisation or to a production”.
If you’d like to read official guidelines for work experience and employers then the following are two useful resources:
The Pact guidelines as found on Endemol’s site: http://www.endemoluk.com/static/pact-work-experience-guidelines.pdf
What would you do to get a foot in the door?
Now of course the reality is that you will take anything you can get to add relevant experience to your CV and if it is unpaid you may accept that as the cost of getting your foot in the door.
Producers on tight budget and tight deadlines may be tempted to take on a work experience, discover they are really quite useful and keep them on the production as a glorified unpaid runner, sometimes paying travel expenses and very little else. So where do you draw the line?
Well, there are legal lines but ultimately no television employer should be using a ‘work experience’ person to do what would otherwise be a proper paying job. As a work experience you are not obliged to do any tasks – you are there to watch and learn and get some hands-on experience. But are you going to say no to those tasks? Of course not. And if you are learning then why not do them willingly.
If you are doing work experience and wondering where to draw the line then ask yourself what you are getting out of your placements. If you are getting benefit from different placements, if you are still learning then by all means take on another work experience role. But once you have got the basics, once you know the ropes and understand how the job works in the real world of work then you are ready for a paid entry-level job.
The real question is – does it feel fair? If you feel that the amount of jobs you are doing in a work experience placement doesn’t feel fair, then you should talk to the production manger or person who took you onboard about a paid role.
We are not talking work experience during school years here but the sort of work experience that well qualified university students and graduates are undertaking as a way of getting a foot in the door of television production.
People desperate for a foot in the door are open to exploitation. We constantly advise aspiring TV people to get whatever experience they can – but learn the difference between experience and exploitation. Work experience is a short-term learning opportunity – everything else is a job!
Work Experience v Shadowing
Shadowing is getting an opportunity to follow someone at work to learn what they do and how.
Work experience is only available for those still in full-time education. The ITV work experience site explains that you can’t get work experience over the age of 18 if you are not in full-time education due to the laws on minimum wage. Work experience being seen as part of the education process. They do say you can do shadowing work but that it is more limited. This is what they say on their site: http://www.itvjobs.com/working-here
“Unfortunately, due to legislation around minimum wage guidelines you are not eligible to participate in unpaid work experience. This also applies to you if you are studying an unrelated topic or are on a gap year. You can, however, apply for work shadowing opportunities. These are completely voluntary and although you won’t be able to participate in the team’s activities, you will be able to observe what they’re doing. We do need to make you aware however that these placements are more limited than for work experience”.
Get The Money!
Information is power so do your research and know your rights. If you are on to a good thing, have got a placement in a TV company, learning lots and making great contacts then you may not want to start banging the table and demanding things but just make sure you are not being ripped off!
For advice and information on the minimum wage and unpaid work experience check out this link: http://www.freelanceadvisor.co.uk/getting-a-job/the-minimum-wage-tvfilm-industry-rates-agency-workers-and-unpaid-work-experience
We have but scratched the surface of this tricky subject – exploitation in television is not just confined to the work experience but hopefully this article will at least give you some definition and information to consider how you enter the media and how you employ people once you’re in it! If you have a story to tell or a question or professional advice please help others here by leaving a comment or saying your bit on our Facebook page.
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