Granada Television has always been an attention grabber. Ever since the 1950s when Sidney Bernstein chose Britain’s wettest city as the site for a new broadcasting company (believing that the infamous rain would encourage Mancunians to stay at home, glued to the box) and obtusely called the new venture after his favourite Spanish holiday hot-spot, it has maintained a high profile. It has grown into an international company, Granada Media, encompassing four separate business units and a legendary programme output, including the most famous terraced street in the world. Its parent, the hotels-to-technology Granada Group is one of Britain’s largest companies.
But now its training department is also winning recognition, hailed by press and industry rivals as “The University of British Television” for its work with young people on a start-up project for satellite broadcasting.
“There was a lot of pride among the personnel and training functions when we won a National Training Award,” says head of training and development Granada Media, Felicity Bridgewater, “because in this industry, quite rightly, what matters are the programme awards, and although the support services are valued, they don’t usually get public recognition.”
The department is also now making a name for itself in its handling of career management issues and in promoting equal opportunities – both difficult subjects in a cut-throat industry peopled by fluid editorial talent on the one hand and technical specialists locked into traditional on the other.
“The needs of business”
Phrases like “the needs of the business” are a mantra for Bridgewater, who has a hotline to the Granada Media board via her director of personnel Philippa Hird.
Bridgewater makes sure that the business tells her what it needs. “Line managers tell me on an annual basis what their priorities are, and rank them in terms of business need. So if there is a difficult conversation to have with somebody who can’t be trained on the latest kit, their ultimate line management has to have decided that is not the priority,” she says.
When Bridgewater was appointed to set up a training function at Granada Television in 1995 from a consultancy role at Pilkington subsidiary Lakeside Training she immersed herself in the culture for three months. “Learning the language of this place is the best way to be effective,” she says.
This experience was to stand her in good stead a year later when a joint venture company called Granada Sky Broadcasting (GSkyB) was formed and Granada Television was commissioned to produce the lifestyle programming on two new channels: Granada Breeze and Granada Men & Motors.
Tough budgetary decisions had to be made. New channels win small audiences so the typical funding for the new programmes would be between five and 10 per cent of the cost of producing similar material for daytime terrestrial television.
Bridgewater and her training department were part of a team with controller of lifestyle programmes for Granada Television James Hunt and programme manager for Granada Satellite David Buckley to resource and launch the project.
Hunt explains the demands: “We had to make 28 hours of original programming a week which was more than any other production team had ever been asked to do, and to do it on budgets of around £4,000 an hour, which was lower than any other production team had been asked to do.
“The big story is that we are three years down the line and we are still producing the 28 hours a week and this is a business that has now been valued at £200m from nothing.”
Success came from a meld of creative thinking and new practices.
“It is a classic story about how training and the business are integrated,” says Bridgewater. They decided to recruit a new team of people from outside the business who would follow an unusual structured training.
Hunt adds “You had to have people working on it who were not constrained by ideas of how you make traditional programming because as soon as you look at those two figures and say, “28 hours a week, £4,000 an hour”, you don’t believe it can be done. So we wanted to employ people who had not worked in television before, or if they had, had not worked in mainstream television.
Hunt operated simple recruitment processes – he would find people he liked, who would have potential to make programmes. Some were from media courses, but others had more varied backgrounds including an estate agent and a supermarket shelf-stacker.
“The second thing we realised was that there was a benefit in keeping the project away from the main building,” he says. The satellite offices are sited five minutes’ walk away from Granada’s monolithic Manchester base. Advice, mentors and sometimes extra resources were brought over from the main building, but the trainees were deliberately placed at a distance to help them develop their own skills and career paths.
Bridgewater explains: “The main building had much more traditional practices, and was much more regulated, it is quite strongly unionised in pockets. We could bring in expertise from the main building, but it was important to start something totally fresh and as close to a greenfield site as you could get.”
A total of 64 newcomers were given an intensive period of three-months’ training as part of a 12-month contract with salary. The package led media watchers to apply the “university” label to distinguish it from many other production companies which offer raw recruits unpaid training or expect them to pay for the privilege.
The team decided that programmes would be made in a way that reflected the level of skills and abilities of the trainees, whereas conventional production sets out what it wants to do and then employs the talent it needs to do it.
David Buckley believes the scheme gave the young people “time to grow”. He explains: “This is an industry where people really don’t understand what the jobs and the roles are. We had people coming in thinking they wanted to be camera operators and finding a natural aptitude for things like floor management that we would never have discovered otherwise.”
Bridgewater is enthusiastic about the scheme, but honest about the ripples it has sent into the business.
“As the individuals move on in their careers and away from the family of trainees, they can hit the more traditional demarcation environment of terrestrial television. When a young, multi-skilled person meets someone who has been a camera operator for 25 years it is hard.”
The good news is that the training scheme broadened the mix of Granada’s workforce she says. “We didn’t have any preconceived ideas where the trainees must come from so only 63 per cent of trainees were graduates and we ended up with two-thirds women and 12 per cent from ethnic communities, which is fantastic.”
Bridgewater is keen to use training schemes to lever in diversity. She set up a Positive Action scheme to achieve this and saw it scoop a regional training award in 1998.
“It is an industry problem that ethnic minorities are very poorly represented and I wanted to do something to open the door for people from different communities,” she says.
There were also business drivers behind the Positive Action scheme. “We’ve looked at research that shows that some families in the North-West switch off to watch Asian channels,” says Bridgewater. “The proportion of young people in black communities is growing faster than in white communities – we are going to miss this business opportunity unless we crack this.”
Bridgewater set up a partnership with a college in Liverpool that gave a 12-month grounding in television skills to 10 black people. Granada put £60,000 into the scheme which was matched by funding from the European Social Fund. The college invested £30,000 of in-kind support, by seconding a tutor for a year. Trainees also received work placements at Granada.
The scheme was a success, leading to jobs at Granada or places on further advanced training scheme in freelance skills run jointly by Granada, the BBC and the trade union Bectu.
Bridgewater is currently appraising what to do next.
“I think it is a better use of my time now to focus my efforts on making sure that those people from the satellite start-up move through into mainstream businesses and that it all starts to happen naturally, rather than having special schemes for people because it does label them. Now we’ve got a talent base coming through the satellite television route I’d rather we concentrate on nurturing that.”
Her new focus is to coach all employees to manage their careers. In the past five years the company has acquired other regional broadcasters from LWT to Tyne Tees TV and has become a major production company abroad. It contributed 27 per cent of parent company Granada Group’s £970 million operating profits in 1997/98.
“What I was looking for,” says Bridgewater, “was something that made this new, big Granada a positive and showed that there are a lot of opportunities out there.” She was also concerned that people should understand the “portfolio career”, she adds.
Career workshops were successful in reaching some people but a career handbook seemed a more cost-effective option. Launched in October 1999, with the backing of the personnel director, it illustrates what Granada Media expects, how to make the most of networking and appraisals and how to sell personal skills. She shied away from dispatching it to 3,000 staff as a corporate diktat, preferring to invite them to apply for a copy. Within the first two months 1,600 employees had filled in a request form for the ring binder.
The next step is to evaluate it in the spring, and intranet access is on the cards.
“We will also give out as part of the induction process because we want people to see that it is part of the psychological contract,” she says.
CV Felicity Bridgewater
1989 Bsc (Hons) Psychology and Organisation Behaviour, University of Lancaster
1989 Personnel assistant, Pilkington Insulation
1990 Recruitment and resourcing Officer, Pilkington plc
1991 Assessment and training consultant, Lakeside Training & Development (a subsidiary of Pilkington plc)
1995 Training and development manager, Granada Television Ltd
1996 Seconded to work with new group chief executive on organisation restructure, Granada Media Group
1996 Head of training and development, Granada Television and London Weekend Television
1997 Head of training and development, Granada Media
By Stephanie Sparrow