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‘It’s opened my eyes to other career options’: Inspiring the next generation at Rise Up Academy Summer School

TVBEurope hears from the co-founder, volunteers and students taking part in Rise's inaugural summer school

This week, advocacy group Rise is running its inaugural Rise Up Academy Summer School, with over 500 students set to walk through the doors over four days.

TVBEurope visited Global Academy in Hayes to hear from the organisers, volunteers and students taking part.

The co-founder

Rise Academy was co-founded by BT Sport’s chief engineer Andy Beale and Rise managing director Carrie Wootten in 2019.

The decision to launch the event was taken following a review of Rise’s work in mentoring, as well as encouraging, developing and promoting women who are already working in the media tech industry.

We saw this massive skill shortage coming,” explains Beale. “Broadcast engineering skills, both in vision and sound, and media engineering, like all the post production and workflowy stuff, were just disappearing. That was either because people were moving on to other careers, or they were retiring.”

As well as the lack of skills, Beale and Wootten also wanted to tackle the issue of diversity. “We want to attract more people who would never normally have seen this as an opportunity or career for them, particularly more females, and also socially economically challenged young people who just wouldn’t ever think about this industry being for them,” continues Beale. “We asked, can we make this a more inclusive and diverse industry at the same time as fixing the skill shortage? And that’s where the Academy was born. We ran a pilot scheme at a school in Reading where we went into Year 6, so kids who were turning 11, and we just tried it.”

Following a pause brought about by the pandemic, Rise staged smaller events around the UK earlier this year but they wanted to be able to reach a much bigger audience. “Carrie’s idea was to have this intense period of trying to bring as many people as we could through the door, be really efficient with the volunteer time and with the equipment we’ve been loaned.”

The team reached out to Global Academy in West London, a university technical college (UTC), which is a publicly funded secondary school sponsored by radio company Global. “We’ve had a cohort of people coming in from all over London, as far away as Surbiton, Bromley and Finchley who want to see what it’s about,” adds Beale.

The scheme is welcoming two sets of students: 2nd-3rd August was exclusively for students in years 7 to 9; followed by students in years 10 to 13 on 4th-5th August.

“They get to experience how to build a little studio, which is a programme we run in schools where you plug up a full camera studio and replays and graphics VT,” explains Beale. “There’s an OB truck very kindly provided by Cloudbass. We’ve got a cohort of post companies from Soho here, VFX companies looking at things like metahumans and visual design, virtual production with Mo-sys, graphics with AE Live and Singular. We’re doing cloud production with AWS and Grass Valley.

“The students are seeing a bit of everything from the whole industry. I’m hoping they leave really excited and and we can follow up them afterwards about where to go next if they’re looking for next step.”

In fact, Beale and the team have had almost instant feedback from both the students and their parents. “We’ve had some lovely emails from parents saying how much their kids enjoyed it,” he says. “We had an email from a parent of a young child who’s autistic saying, normally, they might struggle in this environment given the complications and learning strategies, but actually, they found it really welcoming, inclusive, and they had the most amazing day. That’s really, really cool.”

Asked if there are already plans to repeat the success of Rise Up Academy in 2023, Beale says the team always need help and support from the media tech industry. “I must thank all the sponsors and all the volunteers. Some of them have been released by their employers and some have come because they believe in Rise and it resonates. That resonance is for me is affirmation that the problem that we believe exists, does exist and that it needs fixing.”

The volunteer

Niki Whittle, head of broadcast at disguise, has been involved with Rise since its launch. Like Beale, she is concerned about the lack of skills impact on the industry. “The talent crisis is a big problem, especially with my area, which is virtual production and Unreal graphics,” she says. “It’s new technology that probably is better for the next generation anyway, because they’re gamers. It’s new skills that haven’t been taught yet. We’re trying to inspire the next generation into TV, because TV isn’t cool anymore.”

Whittle is always keen to stress to the students that they’re already content creators, especially if they’re posting videos on TikTok or YouTube. “They’re stitching together highlights, adding graphics, and sound. All of that is storytelling, the only difference to what we do is that we get paid for it, and we get to travel around the world!”

She has also seen first hand how much the students have been enjoying their time at the Rise Up Academy, citing a young girl who arrived on Monday who she describes as extremely timid. “By the end of the session she was skipping around the room, grabbing cables off others and putting the fronts on the equipment when we closed things down. She just had a massive smile on her face, she was absolutely loving it. I heard one girl say to her friend, oh my god, this is so much fun I’m definitely coming back tomorrow!”

The students

Erin Donnelly (14) and Mille-Jayne Evans (13) are among the 500 students taking part in Rise Up Academy. Having spent two days learning about the opportunities within the media industry, they’re both now keen to find out more.

It’s been really good, it’s opened my eyes to other careers that I want to get involved in,” says Evans. “I’m an actress and I still want to do acting 100 per cent, but this has opened my eyes and made me think about post production and directing.

“My highlight has probably been learning how to use different software, especially in post production. I was looking at using DaVinci Resolve for my acting tapes, and they actually taught us how to use it. I thought that was a really good insight because now I can just go home and I’m able to use it and I know what to do.”

Erin Donnelly (left) and Millie-Jayne Evans

For Donnelly, the highlight has been learning about sports graphics and how they find their way to the TV screen. Already interested in a career in TV (she’ll be attending Global Academy from September), she now feels sport is the area she wants to focus on. “I like sports a lot, but I wasn’t actually thinking about as a career,” she adds. “Over these two days I’ve thought, actually this is really interesting and I want to get involved. It’s opened my eyes to more career options.”

Asked if they would recommend the experience to other students they both answer “100 per cent!”

I feel like this is really good for kids who don’t know what they want to do, but they’re quite creative,” says Evans “There’s so many job opportunities just in broadcasting, and they’re constantly looking for young kids to get involved with these things because obviously there’s a gap in the industry. If you don’t know what you want to do, you’re creative and you enjoy watching TV and looking behind the scenes, this is really good.”

Also there’s a lot of opportunities and different types of jobs available,” adds Donnelly, “some of them are more computer-based, it just depends on what you want to do.”