BFI study identifies skills needed to support UK digital content production

By December 6, 2023 December 12th, 2023 Press Releases

The BFI has published a new in-depth report, Skills Scoping Study for the UK’s Digital Content Production Sectors, which identifies key skills gaps and shortages that translate into real opportunities for job creation UK-wide across the UK’s growing digital content production sectors.

UK animation, post-production, video games, VFX, and emerging tech all contribute to the creative and industrial success of the whole screen sector.

With digital and innovation at their core, they are also integral components identified by the Government in the wider UK Creative Industries Sector Vision1 as having the potential to generate an additional £50bn in GVA a year by 2030. 2 Last month, detail on the uplifts in tax relief through the new incoming Audio-Visual Expenditure Credit and proposed additional tax relief for VFX production in the UK were also announced as part of the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement.

Employment levels and production spend in the UK’s screen sectors and wider creative industries have experienced strong growth over the last decade, especially in meeting the significant demand created during and immediately following the COVID-19 pandemic. The UK spend on film was £2.2bn in 2017;3 in 2022 the combined spend on film and HETV production reached £6.27bn, accelerated by a strong return to production after the pandemic.

The digital content production sectors deliver considerable economic value, enabling cross- sector innovation, while also demonstrating strong potential for further growth. Based on the latest calculations for the respective UK sectors within the domestic market, immersive content generated £660m in sales in 2018; animation was valued at £1.5bn in direct GVA in 2019; VFX content generated £1.68bn in GVA in 2019; the video games consumer market was valued at £7bn in 2022; and post-production generated £2.2bn in revenue in 2022. (All UK market figures only.)

The study was undertaken by specialist consultants Olsberg•SPI and commissioned to better understand the range of pressures faced by the sectors. These include existing skills provision, identifying which skills and roles are likely to be in high demand in the future, the skills flow between the different digital content production sectors, the suitability of current training for these skills, and the opportunities and challenges around retaining skills. Each studied sector requires core technical skills which can be sector-specific, transferrable or overlapping with other sectors.

The study’s conclusions acknowledge the economic value generated by the UK’s digital content production sectors and confirm that they are at the forefront of innovation also benefitting other sectors beyond digital content production, with strong potential for further growth driven by global demand for digital content, as well as public and private investment.

However, despite the huge potential for growth, the sectors are experiencing a period of increased and complex uncertainty as a result of factors which include fluctuating commissioning production spend; increased international competition offering sizeable tax reliefs and beneficial working conditions; rapid technological advances requiring new skills; and difficulties establishing effective and sustainable training budgets alongside other development and production costs.

Rishi Coupland, BFI Director of Research and Industry Innovation, says: “The UK’s digital content production sectors are a major international success story and a crucible for R&D. Investing in skills for these high-potential creative companies is not only about supporting and driving economic success, it is also about improving routes into the industry, driving more inclusion, boosting the UK’s R&D capabilities both for the screen sector and for the wider UK high-tech sectors, and sharing the benefits of growth. Aardman Animations in Bristol and Gorilla Group in Cardiff are clear examples of both the ability of the sector to develop outside of London, and of the benefits in employee retention and innovation that investment in training can bring. However, success should not be taken for granted. With rapid changes in technology and an evolving international marketplace, this report comes at a pivotal time for the UK’s digital content production sectors. This report highlights the key areas, from alignment in ‘bridging’ training programmes to focus on AI impact, to support for SMEs, that can and should be the basis for forward-looking skills strategies for the sector.”

Sara Whybrew, BFI Director of Skills and Workforce Development, says: “This study provides new evidence of the sector-specific and shared issues facing the UK’s digital content production sectors in establishing effective and sustainable skills training programmes. It comes at a critical juncture for industry, training providers and policymakers in fully understanding where skills gaps and shortages are within our sectors and where they will be in the future. Making the right investments in skills and workforce development and designing programmes to ensure workers gain valuable skills for required roles will help to grow companies and ensure their competitiveness, and at the same time ensure individuals can build sustainable careers in these fast-moving sectors. We must also ensure our investment in and commitment to training are coupled with support that aids businesses to deploy best practice approaches in good work, so talent is also retained.”

Dr Richard Wilson OBE, CEO of TIGA, said: “The UK video games industry is a highly skilled, high technology, export focused sector that supports economic growth throughout the UK. Yet our sector faces significant challenges in the form of skill shortages and overseas government support for competitor games industries. The UK Government can enable our industry to achieve its potential by increasing the rate of Video Games Expenditure Credit, incentivising investment in training, resurrecting the Skills Investment Fund and maintaining the Shortage Occupation List.”

Neil Hatton, Chief Executive, UK Screen Alliance, says: “The UK’s excellence in creative and technical skills and worldwide reputation in innovation represent huge opportunities for the UK creative industries and the economy as a whole, demonstrated by the Government’s announcement for a consultation on tax relief for VFX. This detailed analysis provides the essential evidence that supports the business case for capitalising on our capabilities as businesses and the UK’s competitiveness in a global market.”

Georgia Brown, Chair of the Screen Skills Task Force, says: “We welcome the release of the study and the insight it gives us into digital production skills in the UK. The study will support the Task Force in delivering on its promise to find ways to join up sector skills strategy across physical and digital production.”

Kate O’Connor, Executive Chair of Animation UK, says: “This report underscores the skills gaps and shortages, the cross-sector mobility, and the competition from overseas for our skilled workforce and talent. Developing strategies to nurture and retain our skilled workforce is imperative, particularly as animation not only generates widespread employment across the UK but also bolsters high-quality jobs. With a workforce of over 16,000 based across the UK in hubs in every region and nation, animation craft, technical and creative skills are central to all digital production.

“The consequences of inaction are significant. The digital production sector overall, acting as the R&D hub for the screen industries and the broader virtual and immersive content, plays a key role. By positioning the UK as a global epicentre for cutting-edge computer-generated content and technologies, we can also extend our expertise to diverse fields such as industrial design, medicine, retail, education, and the evolution of the digital landscape. This report is a catalyst for developing strategies that support growth and will be thoroughly reviewed by the Industry Skills Task Force in the ensuing months.”

Daniel Wood, Ukie Co-CEO, says: “Access to the right skills and talent remains one of the biggest barriers games businesses face. This report underlines how vitally important it is we improve the talent pipeline of digital creative skills into games, adjacent digital production industries, and the wider UK economy. We look forward to working with partners to effectively address the persistent skills shortages and ensure the sectors’ continued growth.”


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