Tomorrow's economic success depends on our ability to develop fledgling creative talents, says recently ennobled film producer David Puttnam. Aleks Sierz finds out how
David Puttnam has a vision of Britain's future. As the first patron of Skillset, which became the national training organisation for broadcast, film and video in December 1997, he believes "the key to our nation's success is the creative economy".
It's time, says the man who became Lord Puttnam of Queensgate last September, we saw ourselves as a nation of creators, rather than a land of whingers. To "take up the slack caused by traditional manufacturing's decline", he says, we must "invest in the creative skills we have in such abundance".
With 30 years' experience as a producer in film and television - Midnight Express, Chariots of Fire and The Killing Fields are just three of his projects - Lord Puttnam is well aware of the problems of training young people for work in the industry.
He has long supported Skillset, which aims to replace the ad hoc schemes once typical of training in film at the BBC and ITV with a nationwide system. Until recently, getting a job in film or broadcasting depended as much on meeting the right people as on having the right qualifications. Now, with expansion, technological advances and deregulation, a better system is desperately needed.
Two changes are needed, says Lord Puttnam. "People in the industry must understand we need systematic entry criteria. And young people should know they need qualifications."
Since 1995, national vocational qualifications have been available for those who already work in film and broadcasting - and about 600 new entrants are registered for NVQs. But what about those who don't have jobs?
The problem is that while media studies courses are booming, students often have no way of telling which courses, if any, will help them get a job.
In a 1996 survey, Skillset found the 400 courses available attracted a record 32,000 students. But it also found a huge disparity between what was on offer. Some courses were highly vocational - others purely academic.
Skillset also found a large middle ground - courses that were half practical and half academic. This could confuse students. It seems training in law or accountancy - well represented among producers and managers - may be a better bet than media studies.
The many young people who want to work in film and broadcasting need courses with lots of practical work and professional input. With rapidly changing technologies and work practices, only courses that have close contact with the industry can deliver the qualified people it needs.
To tackle the problem, Skillset has created a new qualification, provisionally called the related vocational qualification. RVQs will be broader than NVQs, and will cover more occupations to avoid locking people into specific jobs too early in their studies.
Skillset is finalising matters with the Department for Education and Employment and the industry. The advantage of RVQs is that the industry will be able to identify courses that deliver students with the skills it needs - and make it easier for them to get relevant work experience.
Another way of bringing further and higher education together with employers is the graduate apprenticeship scheme. Such partnerships are still at the feasibility study stage - a report to the DFEE is due in April. But if RVQs and graduate apprenticeships gain governmental approval, they will revolutionise entrance to the industry.
While Lord Puttnam supports Skillset's drive to turn what he calls "the extraordinary interest in media studies" into job opportunities, his views on education are not purely utilitarian. He sees media studies as central to general education. "A fundamental role of citizenship is a full understanding of the media," he says. He would like to see the subject on the school curriculum for 12-year-olds and over.
With a seat in the House of Lords - and on two government task forces (Standards in Schools and Creative Industries) - Lord Putt-nam has his finger on the political pulse. He wants Skillset to become "one of the two or three national training organisations with a strong record of job creation". But, he warns, if we don't invest "massively" in training, "all talk of the creative economy will be so much wasted breath".
'A Career in Broadcast, Film and Video' and 'Thinking About a Career in Television?' are available from Skillset Careers Information, 124 Horseferry Road, London SW1P 2TX