Tuesday, 21 February 2017

VFX Recruitment Panel - Where are the Jobs?

Careers and Recruitment Panel 2017
The Careers & Recruitment Panel at the recent Escape Studios VFX Festival is always well attended. Where are the jobs? Who is hiring? What skills are in demand right now?

This year we had Andy Brassington from Escape to host the panel.  Guests included (from left) Harriet Finney from the Creative Industries Federation, Amy Smith from Framestore, Tom Box from Blue Zoo, Paul Wilkes, recruiter for MPC advertising, Jill Wallace from Axis, Henry Bull from The Mill, and Clare Norman from Milk FX.

What kind of skills are in demand?
Jill Wallace from Axis said that they look for animators with a “technical as well as creative” background. Amy Smith said that one in six jobs in London is now in the creative industries - so there are many, many opportunities out there.

Should graduates work as runners?
Paul Wilkes from MPC emphasised the importance of considering the possibility of working as a runner. It can lead to a full-time position, and can be a great start to a career.

Blue Zoo
Tom Box from Blue explained that Blue Zoo don't employ runners - they employ juniors straight from university, and pay them a living wage.  Jill Wallace from Axis Animation agreed - they don't employ runners, rather they take on juniors and put them through a training program.

Clare Norman from Milk explained that they do employ runners - and they do their best to push their runners into production positions whenever possible. But, she added, do check before you take a running position - are runners getting promoted? What is the company's track record?  Henry Bull agreed - they employ around 25 runners a year at The Mill, and 25 runners get promoted. Youre doing the job for "five to seven months, you're paid, you're in London", and by the time you're on production "boom - you know what you're doing. It's a structure that works".

Creativity
Harriet Finney talked about the lack of creative teaching at schools - students aren't encouraged to think creatively enough. But she sees hope in the new Industrial Strategy being presented by the UK Government, which focuses on - among other sectors - the Creative Industries.

Milk FX
What does it mean to be "job-ready"?
Blue Zoo's Tom Box explained that one problem some graduates have is being able to work fast - the pace of life in a studio is much, much faster than it is at university. "Work Ready" also means getting along with other people, working in teams, and being able to give and receive feedback. Employees need to be able to "take feedback and incorporate it" into their work.

Clare Norman explained that it's important to remember that "this is a business". She would like students to understand that the bidding process (ie the process of getting a job from a client) really involves bidding people's time.  So, "it's great to be creative", but there is "only so much time to do the job".  Henry Bull agreed: "if you miss a delivery", producers "get stressed", not because they are nasty, but because "they're going to go over budget".

Part of being a good employee is "Problem solving". How do you solve problems you encounter on the floor? Employers like people who can solve problems - not create them.
The Mill

The trouble with Universities
Amy Smith argued that "the trouble with Universities" here in the UK is that they are "required to teach in an academic way", which doesn't necessarily prepare their students for a career which is essentially vocational. In Europe, the system works differently, and schools have "much more flexibility" to teach practical skills in a non-academic way. And this is why so many European students graduate with more practical skills than UK graduates. This "isn't the universities' fault, it's just how the system is set up" [of course, that's not how we do things at Escape Studios. We teach practical, not academic skills - Ed].

What skills shortages are there right now?
Paul Wilkes said that MPC want graduates with broad skills, who are well-rounded, and who have the most up-to-date skills. "We are running businesses", and "we need people who can hit the ground running". Paul Wilkes said "yes, their is a skills shortage, but we are all chasing the same highly qualified talent".  Tom Box highlighted the risk of Brexit, as 30-40% of their talent currently comes from Europe. So, the skills shortage is likely to get worse.

What jobs are there in London?
Clare Norman from Milk FX said that contracts tend to be project-based. So, the length of a contract "depend on the project". But, runner positions "tend to be more permanent". Right now, they are recruiting for "Cardiff and London".

Harriet Finney explained that the creative industries are "dominated by small businesses" - meaning companies with "fewer than 10 employees". London is dominant - but there are still many jobs outside London.
Axis Animation

Jill Wallace said that Axis Animation are "significantly expanding" in Glasgow, "ramping up to around 200 employees". They are also able to offer "longer contracts", giving a "bigger incentive" to move out of London.

Henry Bull of The Mill explained that their offices in the USA are an option for many. There are opportunities to live overseas.

Tom Box said that "business in London is booming". There are "hundreds of jobs" opening up right now.  New technologies - such as The Mill's new Bluebird VR project (being showcased upstairs) - is driving new opportunities for the business.

Finally....Career Advice in one sentence
  • Andy Brassington's advice was "be nice"
  • Clare Norman's advice was "don't take the first job just because it's the first"
  • Henry Bull said "Don't be a d*ck", and "always ask stupid questions".
  • Jill Wallace of Axis said "Stand out from the crowd", because they get a huge "volume of applications".
  • Paul Wilkes said "be confident, but also be humble". It's a hard balance to strike.
  • Tom Box said "meet as many people as possible", "be proactive" and "make your own luck".
  • Amy Smith said "be passionate about what you do". 
  • Harriet Finney said "make yourself indispensible" at the office - "you'll always be in demand".

The Escape Studios Animation Blog offers a personal view on the art of animation and visual effects. To apply for our new BA/MArt starting in September 2017, follow this link. And to sign up for our animation short course, starting at the end of february, click here.  We train all our animators with practical real-world skills, to give them the best possible chance of a career in industry. To see our success stories, follow this link.










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