How to be an “Attractive” Employer in the Audiovisual Industry
Labour shortage plagues all economic sectors, including the audiovisual industry. It is uncertain, however, that current HR solutions—remote work, flexible working hours, unlimited vacations—can fully apply to audiovisual creation. Here is a rapid overview on how employers in this sector can become more attractive in the labour market.
A big writing rush followed by a period of uncertainty waiting for answers on projects in development. An intense few weeks of filming activity followed by a year of unemployment. The audiovisual industry is known for freelancing, but this often results in job insecurity. This reality does not appeal to the new generation, warns Christian Lemay, president of the Association québécoise des techniciens et techniciennes de l'image et du son (Quebec’s Association of Image and Sound Technicians, AQTIS).
“Last year, I witnessed a team of young technicians quit the audiovisual industry after finishing their first film. They even asked for a refund of their contributions. They were passionate people, who all wanted to pursue a career in the industry, but they just didn’t want to spend their lives working 14 hours a day.”
This situation is unique, Lemay concedes. According to the Étude macrosectorielle des besoins de formation du secteur de l’audiovisuel (Macro Sector Assessment of the Training Needs in the Audiovisual Industry), published by the Institut national de l'image et du son (National Institute of Image and Sound, INIS) last May, only 16 per cent of workers in the audiovisual sector seriously consider changing jobs. Nonetheless, frustration about working conditions is noticeable. Of the 1,334 workers surveyed by INIS, the average rating for “production pace” was 5/10.
As a union leader and former cameraman, Lemay recommends that production companies increase the number of filming days in order to reduce the number of working hours per day. “By making this change, production companies will be able to reduce job-related insecurity by offering their teams more normal working hours.”
Brigitte Lemonde, president of Zone3, acknowledges the issue, but also notes that Canadian productions often run on limited budgets. “Everyone is caught in the same system, wanting to shoot faster and in a more condensed way. Sometimes, you have to put your foot down and refuse a project with an inadequate budget.”
Beyond filming conditions, Zone3 relies on job stability to keep and retain its production teams. “Given our high number of filming projects, we can afford to hire in-house teams. And by scheduling our teams well in advance, we can counteract the American studios, which offer better pay, but often as one-offs,” says Lemonde.
Between shoots, Zone3 keeps its collaborators busy by assigning them to projects being developed or by offering them more training. Throughout the pandemic, the company has also been more flexible in hiring conditions (a person can choose to remain freelance, if they wish) and working remotely is allowed pre- and post- production, “even if our teams very much like to meet at the office,” says Lemonde.
Cautioning against non-work related incentives
Brigitte Monneau, executive director of SYNTHÈSE – Pôle Image Québec, is wary of recruitment strategies solely targeting aspects that are “extrinsic” to work. She mentions the generous six-week vacation policy implemented by Ubisoft Saguenay last November to encourage employee retention.
“Is having a lot of vacation days enough to make sense of what we do? I am not so sure. What connects people to their jobs in the long run is more about the nature of what they do.”
According to Monneau, employers should instead think about a way to help their employers develop professionally. “One thing that we highlighted in our sector survey [Travailler en création numérique : évolution des métiers graphiques 2D et 3D et enjeux de formation (Working in Digital Creation: Evolution of 2D and 3D Graphic Professions and Training Challenges), December 2021] is the need for ongoing training. Technology evolves very quickly, and college and university courses do not always stay up to date in this respect.”
Employers should take note of this advice, which is also found in the INIS study. When asked about their level of satisfaction in the workplace, audiovisual professionals gave low ratings to “learning and development opportunities” (5.6/10) and “career or growth possibilities” (5.7/10).
“Canadian production companies have the opportunity to improve access to training not only for their permanent employees, but also for freelancers that are part of their teams,” suggests Christian Lemay.
Another attraction strategy is to provide a safe, harassment-free work environment. Yet, employers in the audiovisual industry need to do better in this area as well. Workers surveyed by INIS gave an average grade of 6.3/10 when assessing their employer’s ability to “prevent psychological harassment in the workplace.”
“There is no HR department in our field,” explains Christian Lemay. “Nobody comes to the studio to settle a conflict or deal with a behavioural problem.” The union leader advocates raising awareness on the very concept of harassment. “There are people facing psychological harassment and they don’t recognise it as such.”
Developing interpersonal skills
Ultimately, employers face the challenge of accommodating five generations (Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, Millennials, Generation Z, and—to a lesser extent—the Silent Generation), which all have different values and work ethics.
"My guess is that we should work on interpersonal skills,” says Lemay. “Employers can help their managers and their employees develop skills in listening, collaboration, and inclusion to improve the vibe on set, facilitate knowledge transfer, and foster better understanding between generations. Production companies that can achieve these goals will earn the reputation of dream employers!”