November 21th, 2023
Pearle* Conversations: Randell Greenlee from VPLT on skills
Education & skills
Pearle* Conversations

In this series of interviews, we turn our focus to the Pearle* members to find out more about their work at the national level.

2023 being the European Year of Skills, a greater focus has been put on lifelong learning and vocational training, but it is also necessary to highlight the current shortage of skilled workers that the performing arts sector faces. To delve deeper into the issue and get an insight into the German situation, we had a talk with Randell Greenlee, EU Policy Officer at VPLT. With almost 700 members, VPLT represents small and large companies as well as self-employed technicians.

Covid had a big impact on skilled technical positions, what is the current state of skills availability in the technical field in Germany? Which occupations have been most affected by the shortage?

In general, all occupations have been affected. As far as we can see by speaking with our members and looking at the statistics from the German government, many employees and freelancers left the sector during the pandemic.

I think one of the major problems is the demographic situation: around 400,000 fewer young people were born 18 years ago and now they're not coming into the job market at a time when a lot of the baby boomers are getting ready to leave the industry. That’s a phenomenon that’s true for all sectors.

There is also a new emphasis on work-life balance within the workforce in general. The Corona crisis also made some young people wonder how long-term is the live performance sector, how stable is such a career. And for this new generation, the general idea of what work means is different. So, we're concentrating not only on trying to get people from other countries to work in Germany but also continuing to try to get young people to be interested in our industry and our sector.

In a nutshell, that’s the situation in Germany, and it’s very different from Spain or other Southern European countries because we don't have a lot of young people, it's simply demographics.

What initiatives or programs are you working on to address the skills shortage in the technical field?

The German government does not have a good track record in terms of recognising skills from other countries. Some of that has to do with the fact that the educational, and especially vocational training in Germany is really good. The backbone of our system is a three-year apprenticeship where you're working on the job and going to school at the same time. So, the Chamber of Commerce and other certification agencies see foreign certificates as less qualitative than German ones. However, the German system is strongly based on knowledge and not so much on competencies. And that's something we're trying to change because since there are no training systems in many European countries, technicians get a lot of on-the-job training. Now, they may not have certain certificates like the Germans have, and they may not have taken a three-year apprenticeship, but we know that there are a lot of European young people who have the qualifications to work in our sector who struggle to get a certification in Germany.

Of course, every employer can decide who they hire, even if they don't have certificates. But it becomes a problem when we get to health and safety regulations. For example, the technical manager of a small stage up to 200 m² can be the event technology specialist, but if it's larger than that, then it even has to be a senior event technology specialist – and of course, there's a state certification for that. So a technical director coming from De Munt in Brussels, who knows everything about the job, would not officially be able to be responsible for a stage in Germany because they don’t have the German qualification.

So we try to put pressure on the Chambers of Commerce to accept foreign certifications, but it's a very uphill battle because they control the process and don’t want to open it. The Chamber of Commerce comes from a law from the 1950s and in our sector, it is responsible for certifying certain qualifications such as the event technology specialist and the senior event technology specialist. They are not a state-run organisation, they are run by the industry itself.

We also worked with the Chamber of Commerce and the Federal Ministry of Education and Research on the “Valikom” project which was launched to increase skill visibility and thus increase opportunities for applicants on the job market. We were directly involved in the implementation of the “Event Technology Specialist (Europass)“into the program. This is aimed at third-country nationals who even if they only have 20 out of the 100 competencies needed for an event technology specialist, at least they can get these certified.

We are currently a partner in the Erasmus+ project “PACE-VET”, which centres on the validation and recognition of prior, non-formal and informal learning in our sector on a European level via micro-credentials. We’re trying to get a European validation system, where the assessors can simply look at a simulated environment and see if the technicians are capable of doing what they’re supposed to be able to do. The implementation of such assessment processes would contribute to a more inclusive, resilient, mobile, and sustainable labour market.

We have joined other associations (EVVC, BDKV, LiveKOMM, ISDV) and companies in the sector in Germany to stage an event series: “Future Talents Day” where young people and students can have a “hands-on” look at the occupational and professional development opportunities in the sector and where employers can talk to future employees about their mutual expectations and wishes in a working situation. To document these, we created an “educational” cosmos illustrating the many occupations available in our sector.


Looking towards the future, are there specific policy changes or practices to implement you believe will be necessary to ensure a sustainable and skilled technical workforce?

I think skills are one thing: life-long learning will be the prerequisite for long-term employment. Technological advances and changing formats will demand continual skills acquisition on a sustained basis through micro-credential learning processes.

Another important element is the aspect of social sustainability. We see there are a lot of administrative difficulties in getting people to move across borders in the EU, although it’s written in the law, it’s sometimes difficult to get the paperwork done. Worker mobility within the EU will be essential to meet demand. A European consensus on skills and skill quality must be achieved as soon as possible and the impacts of “brain drain” within the EU should be studied and discussed.

But I also think within our sector, there needs to be discussions about what we want in the future. We believe that employers will have to make major efforts to tailor the work experience to individuals interested in working in technical positions in our sector. We will have to reflect on how demanding working in the live performance sector can be.

There is this idea that if you want to work in this sector, everything else in your life falls in the background. There are good things to say about that because I think it's important people are passionate about what they do, but I simply don’t think that the next generation is willing to sacrifice as much as the previous generations did. It’s important to have that conversation because when young people look at our sector, they see a lot of unhealthy work/life balance.

And of course, we need a discourse on important topics such as digitalisation, human and machine creativity, and the defining values of our sector.

Shortages of skills in technical, production and administrative functions in the live performance need to be urgently addressed as part of the European Year of Skills
Education & Training
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