How Channel 4 is Backing Young Britain: HR in practice

The business

Channel 4 is a broadcaster that embraces new ideas, risk-taking and presenting alternative points of view. Its key purposes include: nurturing talent, challenging people to see the world differently, inspiring change in people’s lives, and championing alternative voices and fresh perspectives.

The challenge

To create a programme of activity that not only spans online and on screen, but looks at specifically breaking down barriers to entry for people wanting to get into the media.

“The digital landscape is changing at such a pace that it is now more difficult and confusing for new entrants to know how to get into the creative sector,” explains Jo Taylor, head of learning and talent at Channel 4.

Previously, the broadcaster offered a hotchpotch of opportunities, but they were not streamlined in a specific programme.

The aim was to create a three-pronged Work-Related Learning Programme (WRLP) that not only signposts the routes in, but also builds aspiration and inspiration that anything is possible.

Five top tips for creating a work-related learning programme

  • Ensure a variety of opportunities are available for work experience placements and spread across the year rather than just in the summer.

  • Have a clear and robust recruitment process which is easily accessible.

  • Have a shared ethos and understanding across the business, not just through the HR team. 

  • Be clear and upfront when talking to schools, colleges and charities about what you can and can’t offer.

  • Spread the advertising across different mediums such as online, social networks etc.

The solution

Taylor, who joined Channel 4 just under three years ago, set about developing a package of opportunities for 14- to 19-year-olds to learn about the media and develop their skills, working alongside professionals from a variety of departments.

The programme, which launched in October 2008, is made up of three components: Work Experience, Inspiration Week and Generation Next, and is designed to encourage people to move through each element if they so wish.

Work experience: Up to 90 work experience placements are available and last between one and two weeks. Students find out more about working in the media industry and learn about the roles of different departments. This ranges from commissioning to support roles like finance, human resources, sales and marketing. The goal is to educate young people about the different but critical areas of the business and learn about the breadth of opportunities within the industry.

Inspiration Week: This is a four-day event held in London over Easter and provides an all-round view of the industry. It is geared towards showcasing the skills, experiences and attitudes needed to progress in the creative sector. Masterclasses and workshops on producing and directing, journalism, presenting and script writing are among the features. Talks with high-level media professionals, peer-to-peer learning and networking opportunities are also offered, and up to 160 places are available.

Generation Next: This arm of the programme gives six individuals the opportunity to take part in a 10-week paid placement in areas such as new media, film, advertising, law and commissioning. There is a mentor in each placement, as well as learning days, career development advice, and a week with an independent production company.

Taylor says: “The next generation is an important element of our business. Channel 4’s main audience is aged 16 to 35. It’s part of our DNA. Having relationships with the next generation of talent is critical to business growth and potential recruitment in the future.”

The outcome

The programme’s success speaks for itself. Channel 4 has recruited two of its Generation Next trainees into permanent positions. More than 1,000 young people have been involved in the 2009 programme, nominated by more than 160 schools, colleges, charities and community groups. Of those, 39% came from a diverse ethnic background.

There are also business benefits for the broadcaster, which can capitalise on fresh ideas and talent. One graphic design trainee, who worked on a Generation Next Placement, designed the new T4 website and the Big Brother site. This led to a marked increase in click-through and potential advertising income. He also developed the site for E4 show Rick and Steve and Channel 4 show Kevin Bishop. Another advertising trainee designed creative content which went into a major bid to rebrand a popular digital channel.

Taylor believes it is essential for employers to work together to break down barriers and demystify the routes into the creative industry. “We have worked with Bafta, Microsoft and the Guardian who have partnered with us to provide opportunities as part of the WRLP,” she says. “It’s important there’s a co-ordinated approach.”

Employee perspective: Carys Morgan, editorial administrator, education, Channel 4

“While I had undertaken a lot of media-related work experience after graduating from university, this entry-level scheme offered me the unique opportunity to have a three-month paid placement on a salary that enabled me to relocate from the Midlands and sustain myself in London.

“I was instantly immersed in the small Film4 development team, and given an equal voice in meetings. A large portion of the role was based around reading scripts that had been submitted and writing up short reports to see if they had any potential for development. Day-to-day tasks varied from reviewing talent across graduate show reels, recording all the latest theatre productions and attending them in the evenings, contacting talent agents, attending set visits, meeting with literary agents, as well as general administrative duties.

“On finishing the scheme, I was left with a real passion for the content Channel 4 commissions, and the strong, edgy, public service remit of the broadcaster. I looked for current vacancies within the commissioning department and successfully applied to the education commissioning department. I am fortunate enough to be a valued member of a small team that are turning round ambitious and award-winning projects aimed at 14- to 19-year-olds. I believe the skills I employ day to day were really refined during my time at Film4.”

If I could do it again…

Taylor says she is “incredibly proud” of this year’s programme and has plans to build on the success for next year.

The 2010 WRLP will be re-launched and aimed at 14- to 25-year-olds. “Our 2010 WRLP will still offer work experience placements and Inspiration week, but will also have an added dimension of an awards programme run by Unltd to give budding entrepreneurs their first funding opportunity,” explains Taylor.

“Our programme, I believe, is an important investment in the UK’s future talent which in the current climate is incredibly important in not only creating opportunities for people to understand the skills, experiences and attitudes they need to acquire in the world of work, but also the opportunities to create their own ideas as entrepreneurs. Our investment now and going forward can have a real impact on the creative economy, and I would encourage other companies to get involved.”

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