Job sharing: Is it one of the answers to equity, diversity, and the skills shortage?

I don’t know about you, but I am tired. And according to the recently released BFI Skills Review, so are 78 per cent of the scripted film and high-end television production sector workforce in the UK. Who can blame them when one in six people in the industry report working over 60+ hours a week (almost 10 times the UK national average of 1 in 50 people)?

In Australia, the situation is much the same, with the MEAA reporting members regularly work more than 50 hours a week.

Addressing the training of new and emerging creatives, and the upskilling of experienced professionals is an important goal. It is the driving force behind my own PhD research. But what is the point of recruiting more and more people into an industry that is seeing people burn out?

While the BFI Skills Review is UK-based, many of the issues it raises are relevant to Australia, which faces skill shortages in similar skill areas

It highlights an industry need to address retention issues that tend to more acutely impact women in their mid-30s onwards and people of diverse backgrounds. With a growing sector that is already feeling a scarcity of experienced talent, we cannot ignore the talented and skilled people that want to work, if only accommodations could be made for their personal circumstances. I would be hard pressed to find someone who hasn’t had a death, carer responsibilities, stress, disability, pregnancy, or other life event that shifts their priorities about work. Perhaps we can bring a little more of our humanity into the hiring process. 

The BFI Skills Review highlights a UK community interest company, Share My Telly Job, which promotes job sharing as a solution to hiring and retaining talent. Their case studies show that professionals who team up with a similarly skilled partner in their field have been successful, and they even suggest there are extra benefits to job sharing such as “having two sets of experience in one role, an occasional extra pair of hands on deck, or cover at short notice if needed”.

The BFI makes a key observation that “further work is also needed to expand job sharing models into more technical roles and onto film productions where it is currently less common”. Technical roles are also where a great deal of the skills shortages and lack of diversity are most prevalent. So why don’t we hit a few nails on the head with one swing of the hammer?

Many graduates leave film school, university or a traineeship with all the skills but little industry experience. Enter job sharing as a potential method of giving industry experience to new talent while also easing the burden on overworked and exhausted existing talent.

For those of you working in the industry right now, would working three days a week instead of five (or more), or maybe only working half days instead of full days help with your work/life balance? Could you have more time to get the kids off to school in the morning? Would you have more time to help out your family ? Could you finally book that dentist or doctor’s appointment? What about just having a good time slot for regular brunch with friends you haven’t seen in months? Or to catch that art exhibition that’s always closed by the time you clock off?

Consider a job share, teamed up with a talented but less experienced person working as your junior in the office or on set when you aren’t, ticking off tasks from your massive to do list. Meanwhile, they get into the industry, the experience of working in a professional environment, and a knowledgeable mentorship.

But you can already do that right? There are no shortage of fresh graduates asking to shadow a producer, or a director, or an executive whose career they want to emulate.

Sure, but what about people who can’t work for free because they have bills, rent, and families? What about those that don’t have the family support networks? What about the people who can’t leverage their parents’ old uni friendships because they are the first generation to graduate from university in their family? These are hard-working, talented, amazing people who are being left behind.

Job sharing might mean your income may take a cut. For some people that’s a non-starter; they can’t accept the idea of working less or giving up potential income. But that doesn’t mean we are all built the same way. If I had the opportunity after a year of long days and nights working in the industry on back-to-back projects to drop a day and take a few hundred dollars pay hit for a day off so I could rest, read, relax, buy groceries, or just go somewhere other than my apartment and the office, I might not have left.

Besides, when tax comes into it, the take home hit may not be that bad, or better yet, could free up your partner to return to work a few days a week, potentially leading to a better overall household income and balance of family duties.

It’s not just the new talent or the overworked who stand to benefit from job sharing. There are thousands of talented and skilled workers out there with years of experience, who would love to step back in for one or two days a week, but for whom current industry jobs are too inflexible with the hours they ask.

Brad Nisbet.

Re-entering the industry in a job share arrangement with part-time hours will likely be of most benefit to equity target groups such as women, those with a disability, and people from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds.

Using myself as an example, I am a Caucasian male in my 30s and my specialty is in the tech-y side of things. If I was to sign up for a job-share then HR or whoever was hiring me could look at me and go, “You know what, we should definitely preference a female or Indigenous person for the job share with Brad”. After all, the BFI said “a formalised, more inclusive, approach to hiring is likely to be easier to implement at more junior levels – recognising the creative and artistic choices that factor into recruiting for the most senior positions.”

If you are a HOD or work in recruiting, you might be wondering about all the extra work this could lead to. Once the initial huff is put aside, consider that the job description is pretty much a copy-paste for the additional role. And remember all those amazing applicants that you reluctantly had to put aside because they didn’t have the necessary broadcast credits or experience? Email them the part-time job description. 

And better yet, what about when you suddenly you need seven more FTE equivalent roles filled ASAP on temporary contracts to meet the needs of production? Well, if you already have a dozen junior job sharers working part time, they may be available to uptake more hours temporarily (without onboarding!).

Never mind when the company or the scale of projects you’re working on grows, and there is a need to increase capacity for full-time positions. You have a pool of perfect candidates that have basically done a trial period already. You know they fit the culture, and can talk to the people they worked with about their strengths and weaknesses when considering them. 

Talking with a producer who recently went through this process, she suggested the key to everything is flexibility. Employees should feel valued and comfortable asking for what they need. If you are reading this and you work in HR, as a team leader, or as a HOD then workshop a simple email blast to remind employees that they are valued, what is important to them is also important to the company and production, and that you want to support their work/life balance. Tell them you are open to appointments to discuss job sharing arrangements and flexible working hours. Encourage them to see the positive aspects. 

Some of your colleagues are struggling, and that extra day or two could be the difference between whether they stay in the industry or not. Be open and listen to their circumstances. Perhaps they don’t want to reduce to three days a week; maybe they want to do half days from 12 noon onwards so they can get the kids off to school in the morning. Don’t worry about filling junior part-time positions; there is a lot of interest in the flexibility and income amongst freelancers and emerging talent.

Sometimes, they need to hear it come from you, because they are fearful of losing the job they love, or they are terrified that they are weak or not good enough, and if they expose that, they will be tossed aside. Trust, empathy, and understanding are the goals. If we want a diverse and creative workforce, we need to foster that creativity and embrace that diversity. 

And finally, if you read this and thought, “That sounds great. I would love a junior to come in and take some of my workload for a bit so I can catch up”, that it sounds really good to have that extra time at home with the kids, or maybe you just feel isolated and want to have Thursdays off for 12 weeks so you can do that cooking class your mum invited you to, then have a chat with your manager or your team leader (or link this article).

Brad Nisbet is a PhD candidate and sessional academic lecturer at Edith Cowan University, specialising in virtual reality, immersive media, and virtual production. He is currently developing a framework for university-industry collaborations in technology-enhanced production skills training. His background is in production/post-production, having worked professionally as an engineer, supervisor, producer, and creative consultant.