Friday, 12 October 2018

Build your own engineers

Build your own engineers

We all know that a good sysadmin/engineer is very hard to find. At Escape Technology we’ve been lucky enough to employ industry engineers who have lived and breathed VFX and  post production for many years. However, it’s incredibly difficult to find people coming out of university with the right knowledge for this diverse and challenging job.

Back in April 2017 we decided to see if we could “build our own”. We looked at various options on the best approach –  agencies, universities, and the like – and eventually settled on the Apprenticeship Scheme.

The Business Benefits

With these schemes, in England, the government will help fund the apprenticeship. While our decision wasn’t really about the overall cost for us, it’s been useful to have that kind of support for investing in young people. There’s a significant gap in STEM disciplines – and the  visual effects industry itself – where school and college leavers could pursue an engaging and interesting career. And if you’re a business with less than 50 employees, the government will fund the total cost of the apprenticeship for 16-18 year olds. For apprentices aged 19 and over there’s 10% employer contribution.

All employers are eligible to receive a £1,000 incentive payment for each 16-18 year old apprentice. Payment will be made to employers by the training provider in two equal instalments at 3 and 12 months. This incentive also applies to 19-24 year olds who have previously been in care, or who have a Local Authority Education, Health and Care plan.

Investing in People

Escape Technology is in a constant state of growth. Our engineering team is now the second largest in the business, and we’re planning to increase its size even further to offer more support to our clients. But we’ve found that there’s no course offering a specific training for VFX/CG engineers. The apprenticeship scheme has given us the opportunity to work with bright young minds and share the knowledge we’ve gained over the years – crafting them into the ideal junior engineer or system administrator. 

As with most things in life, you generally only get out what you put in. So making sure you have a plan is essential to this process being a success. 

Our first apprentice was Joe. Since he joined Escape, under the guidance of seniors he’s probably swapped a graphics card for you, imaged a machine, added RAM, and moreover been on site to do a number of tasks along with answering some of our support tickets. In just a few short months he grew into a valued member of our technical staff.

Here’s what Joe had to say:

“I experienced more in my first week at Escape than a year in my previous role. Joining the company was a little shaky at first given that I had never worked in the VFX industry and I knew I would be dealing with very expensive and advanced kit. But despite my worries, I felt I was able to fit into the role thanks to the help of all the senior engineers who would patiently set aside some of their time to guide me through new and somewhat difficult processes (for a newbie).

“The engineers were very good at giving practical examples, allowing me to shadow them while they methodically went through troubleshooting steps when solving tickets (if the issue was not too complex). They would then ask me to try and solve a similar issue, answer any questions I might have, and correct mistakes I made. They also demonstrated the right way to solve the problem without causing other issues down the line. 

“The first time I went on site a senior engineer accompanied me and introduced me to everyone at the studio, which was a huge weight off my shoulders as he knew all the key artists and managers that I would be dealing with each time I went over. The first few times I went on site were to shadow an engineer or help transport gear. But after I proved that I was capable of going to a customer and either resolving an issue or installing a workstation on my own, I have been able to do so ever since without much guidance.

“Having worked here now for over a year I can perform all of my duties without much delineation from my peers. I also hope to become a permanent member of staff once my apprenticeship is finished as I have enjoyed my experience thoroughly and feel like part of the team now.” 

Following our success with Joe we’ve just taken on our second apprentice, Farhan, and are looking forward to seeing how he grows in the coming months.

This and other apprenticeship schemes are totally worth looking into. I’m glad we invested the time to research this topic and even happier at the results.