Generational skills gap puts theatre on brink of crisis, warns SOLT chief

Julian Bird. Photo: Pamela Raith
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Chief executive of the Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre Julian Bird has said there are “major gaps” emerging in the industry due to a lack of new design and technical workers.

Speaking at a House of Lords inquiry into skills in the theatre industry, Bird said many set designers are of a “certain age” and there will be a “real problem” if we do not introduce more into the sector.

Bird said: “There are major gaps emerging in our industry. There are issues around a lack of IT and technical skills, especially in new areas like automation, as well as a real lack of bookkeeping skills.

“Also, there is a real problem in terms of back of house and the people who build our sets, such as carpenters, who are all of a certain age and generation.

“Are we going to bring enough carpenters into the industry, and if we don’t there is a problem.”

Bird added that he was also concerned about where the next generation of people who run theatres would come from.

He argued that it was essential to promote creative subjects in schools, to ensure people with technical abilities in other areas had their “eyes opened” to a potential career in the creative industries.

His comments were echoed by Bryan Raven, vice-chair of the National College of Creative and Cultural Industries, who also gave evidence at the inquiry.

Raven said: “Careers advice is woeful, there is a complete lack of awareness of the careers available in the creative industries.

“It is about making people aware there is a cool career out there in making sets.”

Designer Lez Brotherston has previously spoken about the lack of technical and design skills in the industry, which he claims has been affected by a boom in admin jobs.