30,000 backstage staff needed by 2017

Theatre and live music employers face a “damaging shortage” of trained technicians, unless the industry can recruit 30,000 new technical staff over the next decade.

According to research revealed to The Stage by Creative & Cultural Skills – the sector skills council for the creative industries – the projected growth in UK live entertainment will mean that 10,000 extra backstage staff will be needed over the next ten years.

A further 20,000 will be required to replace those who drop out of the industry before 2017 – the existing technical workforce numbers 40,000.

Officials at CC Skills have been left “stunned” by the scale of the estimated shortage and claim it underlines the need for a national academy for the creative industries.

The organisation says theatre employers already complain of “serious difficulties recruiting qualified and experienced professionals” and that further demand could make this even worse.

Rob Young, director of LAMDA’s stage management and technical theatre course, said the results were “thrilling” news for the training sector, as it showed that there would be improved job opportunities for his graduates. He added that the demand within the workplace for good trainees already contrasted favourably with that for acting students, who often find it hard to find work after graduation.

He said: “All the drama schools running technical courses already find that their graduates are going into work very fast. There are many more actors being turned out than stage technicians and the ratio is already more in the [technical] students’ favour in terms of finding a job.”

The Conference of Drama Schools are producing between 200 and 300 technical students annually, but Young said there was scope for expansion if extra funding was made available.

CC Skills has put forward proposals to government for a national training academy, which would combine a base in Thurrock with workplace training projects involving employers and organisations such as the CDS. The National Skills Academy has already been earmarked £7 million of public funding, but now needs to find £3 million from within the entertainment sector.

CC Skills chief executive Tom Bewick said: “It’s vital that everyone with a stake in the future of live music and theatre supports the fund-raising effort and helps make the National Skills Academy ready to start training people on schedule in 2009.”

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