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Replacing Runners with Apprentices: How MPC London Are Breaking the Industry Career Mould



Moving Picture Company London talk to LBB about breaking education stigmas and the business and career implications of using apprentices

Replacing Runners with Apprentices: How MPC London Are Breaking the Industry Career Mould
Earlier this year, managing director at Moving Picture Company London and Amsterdam, Jonathan Davies, made the bold decision to change the way one of London’s oldest VFX and production companies nurtures new talent - he got rid of the runner scheme. To many in our industry, running has been the go to entry point for production and post production careers for decades but with the UK’s education system undergoing huge changes, with thousands of over-qualified and under-experienced graduates pouring out from university, is it time to revisit the age-old system? MPC London certainly thinks so.

LBB’s Sunna Naseer sits down with Jonathan Davies, London Head of HR Ryan Harding and Junior 2D Apprentice Emma Tyler, to find out what makes this new system tick at MPC London.

Arriving at the MPC London building, it has been beautifully updated from what it once was. This year, the London HQ underwent a sleek new refit across all floors to match its new brand identity. Heading up to the aptly named Sky Bar with its enviable views of Soho, its classic yet modern aesthetic is made up of earthy tones, glints of copper, flourishes of greenery, and nordic grey-blue leather furnishings. Settling down in a corner of the bar, Jonathan explains that this is just one small part of a big overhaul at the London HQ.

On some of the company’s biggest changes, he says: “Over the past 18 months we’ve looked into how we can improve the effectiveness of every facet of the business here. So much is changing in the industry, alongside what we offer as a business. Runners have always been a big part of what we do here but when the apprenticeship scheme came to our attention, we realised it would not only be more beneficial for us but for the young people applying to work with us.” 

In the industry of consumer brands, apprenticeships are nothing new. With everyone’s eyes scrutinising not only what a brand sells but what it stands for, how it runs, and who it associates with, brands now expect agencies to adopt the highest levels of practise too. It’s becoming more and more important for client service companies to move forward alongside these brands.

"Apprenticeship schemes can help you draw from a far more diverse pool of talent, making apprenticeships more accessible to people of every background."

To encourage the use of apprentices, an apprenticeship levy was introduced in the UK in 2017 for companies with an annual pay bill of over £3 million. Ryan Harding, London head of HR at MPC explains: “The fund is formed through 0.5% of an employer’s annual pay bill which is deposited into the levy and can then be used to reinvest into the business through apprenticeship schemes.”

Additionally, with the extra funding available, apprenticeship schemes can help you draw from a far more diverse pool of talent, making apprenticeships more accessible to people of every background. “We were really pleased that our final three candidates during the assessment process were female,” Ryan adds. “We’re really keen to push for opportunities for strong female talent - not because we’re trying to hit a quota, but because we feel it’s important to tackle how they’re currently under-represented in the industry.”

For the past few decades, a university degree has been viewed as the number one way to guarantee landing a lucrative job in the UK. With a high level qualification on your CV, you could be one in a few that stood out against the hundreds of other applicants for a job. With this nation-wide thinking, the popularity of heading to university skyrocketed and with it, its fees too. 

Since their introduction in 1998, tuition fees have twice tripled in price: going from £1000 a year to £3000 a year in 2006, and up to £9000 a year in 2012. According to the Institute of Fiscal Studies (an economic research centre based in London) in 2017, the average student in England graduated with debts of over £50,000 – with those from poorer backgrounds incurring more. With debts this horrifyingly high, many have begun to question whether university is still the best way to kick start the career of your dreams.

“When I was a teenager, apprenticeships got abolished. There was a sudden change of approach in that everyone was made to feel like they had to go to uni because to get a job you had to have a degree,” says Jonathan. “I’ve advised my kids to have a real think about what they would like to do. You hear about so many students who studied something completely different to the career that they’ve ended up pursuing. Going to university to do a random degree, only to come out with enormous debt is a bit pointless, isn’t it?” 

Ryan and Jonathan tell us that it was seeing the sheer quality of talent at apprenticeship assessment days that was the catalyst for replacing the old system. “We have always centred our business around employing and working with the best talent and it was attending one of the apprentice assessment days that showed us what exceptional young people were out there - it was here that we found Emma, our junior 2D artist.”

In the age of the internet and with the ease of access to cameras and editing software through smartphones and other affordable tech, young people no longer need to wait to have a work placement to start making and working with film. “These young people came prepped with such impressive portfolios. You could see how passionate they were about becoming a 2D artist, they spent every waking moment doing it for fun. It made more sense to start looking at young talent who really were passionate about the roles on offer,” Ryan explains.

"Apprenticeships are a more targeted approach that gives you real life experience to help you reach the next level of your career."

Jonathan pertinently adds: “Having runners has been a tradition for decades, yet the way in which people develop their careers has altered drastically. When I started as a runner, you couldn’t get on the kit unless you were in a place like MPC. It didn’t exist anywhere else as it was too expensive. The post world was almost shrouded in secrecy as a result. As a runner you were able to gain hands on experience; going on shoot, running round to suppliers and contractors and understanding how machines physically worked. With digital advances, you can get this experience before ever setting foot in a studio.”

The team explain that apprenticeships help to change this. “Apprenticeships are a more targeted approach that gives you real life experience to help you reach the next level of your career.” 

For Emma Tyler, choosing to go down the apprenticeship route was a no brainer: “I knew that I wanted to be involved in 2D and I am passionate about becoming a 2D artist. The apprenticeship offers me the chance to learn from senior compositors and others who have years of experience. I also liked the idea of one-to-one mentoring with professionals rather than being sat in a large classroom.” 

At the point of receiving an offer from MPC, Emma had already received three others from prominent VFX houses. But the process was no walk in the park. 

“We held an assessment day for the role with NextGen Skills Academy. In two days we interviewed over 60 applicants,” says Ryan. But Emma’s passion for the role at MPC along with her impressive portfolio got her the gig.”

Emma recommends applying for an apprenticeship to those who like a challenge and aren't afraid to ask questions. “I am constantly learning new techniques and skills and my confidence has improved drastically. The industry can appear daunting but now that I'm a part of it, I find it exciting and I am very grateful for being given the opportunity.”

In January Emma will be joined by another apprentice in post production tech ops. “Having apprentices has solved a few problems for us,” Jonathan reveals. “We weren’t just doing it because it was a hot topic - there’s a real business reason behind it.”
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The Mill London, Tue, 19 Nov 2019 14:45:25 GMT