As the broadcast industry embraces new technology, the traditional long-term career is disappearing – replaced by short-term contracts and freelance roles. Is it right for employers to turn to graduates fresh from university with relevant qualifications in emerging technology, or should they look to re-skill and train existing staff? And what of the freelancer? In this episode of MediaRoad SkillBytes we hear from William Maunier, a technical manager at France Télévisions and President of the Media, Entertainment and Arts sector of UNI Europa, the European services workers union in Europe. In this episode, we learn the importance of remaining curious, ready to embrace new technology.
Eoghan: You’re listening to MediaRoad SkillBytes with me, Eoghan O’Sullivan. The MediaRoad Project is supporting the transformation of the European media sector by building an eco-system for innovation. SkillBytes is a podcast series where we’re exploring changing skill sets and career paths in today’s media technology environment. Our guest for this episode is William Maunier, who is a technical manager with France Télévisions and also President of the Media, Entertainment and Arts sector of UNI Europa, the European services workers union in Europe.
William: I’ve gone through maybe three digital revolutions. The first one was just to digitalise the way we were working as film editing. Then we digitalised the way we delivered the products to the consumers. But the digital revolution is the non-linear way of consuming television.
E: William, thanks for joining me…
W: You’re welcome.
E: So, at the start of every episode of SkillBytes we set our guest the challenge of summarising your career up to this point in 30 seconds.
W: So, I studied philosophy in France. And when I got my degree, I emigrated to New Zealand – it would take too long to explain to you why, but it’s to do with love! And I decided to re-orientate my career and I had the chance to be able to train as a film editor – cutting films. The film slowly disappeared and I decided to move to Australia, and I was lucky to get into a project which was to re-train film editors as videotape editors – and then computer editors. And then I decided to move back to France and I started at France Télévisions: first as a videotape editor – then videotape disappeared completely – and they’re now working with hard disk – and then I also became a union rep. – then a union leader – the General Secretary for the French union in Audio-Visual – and then the President of EURO-MEI.
E: William, as a guest here on SkillBytes, you’re a little bit different to the guests we’ve had so far because we’ve spoken only to people who have been working at public broadcasters in Europe (members of the European Broadcasting Union) – which you do also at France Télévisions – but you’re actually speaking to us more wearing a different hat here as President of the Media, Entertainment and Arts sector of UNI Europa. Do you think that this role that you have, gives you a perspective from outside the public broadcast environment?
W: Yes, I think so. And it’s really about the very fast changing trend in job contracts: because today, the traditional long-term contract is disappearing very fast. And we’ve witnessed a lot of new type of work relation – which is freelance – but also independent workers. And this is a real, real challenge for us: to make sure that these people are not used for jobs and then they have to look after themselves.
E: But what can UNI do about that?
W: Well, I think we have to try to get agreements so these people are not left aside: for example, in France, we have an agreement for freelance workers which means that part of the salary of every worker in the audio/visual media sector is used for training. But it’s a mutualisation of financing which, of course, is also available for freelance workers. So, in fact, we are financing freelance training with this scheme and I think it’s working very well.
E: So, is this the kind of policy that UNI might be pushing on a Europe-wide basis?
W: Well, I don’t know. I mean this would be probably a good thing, yes. We need a lot of mutualisation because of the problem for freelance – and even more, for independent workers – is that employers don’t necessarily want to pay for people they only contract for three months or a week.
E: Are you optimistic that the future will be okay for people working in the media?
W: Well, as a union leader I’m always optimistic – I think it’s part of the job – otherwise I’ll do something else! Yes, I’m optimistic, as long as we can work closely with employers and realise that it’s our joint interest to work on this matter – on training, on reskilling – because it’s the future of the industry which is at stake.
E: So, before I spoke to you today, I happened to see something that I thought was quite relevant on Twitter. It was from UNI Global union – so the Director of Platform and Agency Workers and Digitalisation there. And she Tweeted: “companies must be obliged to create a People Plan when investing in new, potentially disruptive technology”. Is that something that resonates with you?
W: Yes, it’s very important. In France, it’s framed by law. I mean, a company who plans to… for example, a redundancy plan… they have to negotiate with the unions and try to find a common way to find solutions for reskilling people inside the company. But of course it’s more difficult when we have freelance workers: you cannot just hire a freelance worker and then get rid of him when he’s not skilled enough and take a young one. I mean, this is not the agile way of dealing with this matter.
E: Is this something that France Télévisions is taking seriously?
W: Yes, of course, I don’t say that everything is a paradise, but we manage to have this sort of plan and we have signed an agreement which is dealing with all of these questions. For example, what are we doing with the jobs that are disappearing because of the new technology? And what are we doing about jobs appearing? So, we can reskill people, we can move from a job to another job. How can we do that? How much training do we need? All of these questions are in the agreement.
E: Where are you seeing the particular challenges there? What is the hardest part of that to solve?
W: The hardest part is to convince the employer that it’s worth putting their money in training and reskilling. And of course, as I say, the easiest way is just to get rid of the people and hire young ones coming out of schools and having already the right skills. But we know that we are going to have to work a lot longer – and we cannot just tell the people at 45 or 50 that their working life is over. This is not a solution. I think there are better solutions to prolong and have the life-long learning that we are all talking about.
E: From your point of view, do you see that there are distinct tribes in the media workplace? Are we seeing, let’s say, generational differences or, we often in this series of podcasts talk about bringing together the technical people and the editorial people – or you have the traditional broadcast engineers and the newer IP / IT engineers?
W: There is a historical tradition of having two big groups which are the technical and the editorial staff. But I think this is slowly becoming less and less relevant in the new technological world – because now, a journalist can do jobs which used to be done by technical people. But it’s the same in the other way. I mean, for the people who are providing archives for journalists, for example, some of them are becoming journalists because, with data mining and all the new technology, the distinction between a journalist trying to find the information they need to do their job and these people is slowly disappearing.
E: One of the areas that’s having an impact on exactly what you’re describing there is artificial intelligence and machine learning. Is that something that you and your colleagues at UNI-MEI worry about? Do you see that as something that’s going to put pressure on jobs?
W: Well, of course, it makes some pressure on some jobs, but I think this also means these jobs are changing. I mean, again, training is very important in this. We don’t really know what it’s going to be in 5- or 10-years’ time, but it’s going very quickly. Some technical jobs are replaced by robots and we know that. It doesn’t mean that these people are obsolete. We can reskill them in different areas where their skills, their experience is still needed in the new world.
E: When you look at younger people today, what kind of skill set do you think is going to be most adapted to careers in the media industry?
W: Well, I think it’s more what you call soft skills: the capacity of learning new skills is going to be very important because of the very, very fast-changing, technological world that we are in. I think the young people have to have really, really open minds… maybe I’ve talking about my own experience, but I think you have to really have a lot of capacity of learning very quickly new skills.
E: William Maunier, it’s been a pleasure speaking to you, but I don’t want to let you go without asking you the question that we ask all of our guests at the end of SkillBytes, which is: if you could give yourself a piece of advice from where you are now, but to yourself at the start of your career, is there some piece of advice that you would give yourself?
W: Well, my advice would be to keep an open mind to every new change, new technology. And going back to my philosophical background, I would say it like, “get older but learn everyday something new”.
E: Sounds like good advice! Thank you very much for joining me William.
E: You can find more information on the initiative that has inspired this series by heading to mediaroad.eu