Ask the mentor: should I worry about lack of formal training?

Media Mentor Esther Coleman-Hawkins answers your career questions with brisk no-nonsense advice for screen professionals.
Ask the mentor: should I worry about lack of formal training? There's more than one way to keep your eye on the ball. Image via shutterstock. 

Esther Coleman-Hawkins

Friday 12 June, 2020

The Question

Ms I writes, 'I’m 29 and work as a freelance Producer / Production Manager with 7 years’ experience managing creative studios, delivering digital media content, brand activations, experiences and most recently TVC productions. 

I have not had any formal training or had a mentor within our field, and I find at times that I have a lot of gaps within in my knowledge. Everything I have learned has been on the field and I feel uncomfortable and hesitant going into each project. 

I am open to a short course, volunteering my time, getting involved with networking groups, but a nudge in the right direction would be greatly appreciated.' 

The Answer

Ahh 29. You’re both too old to have the joyful blind arrogance of 21, and too young to realise that everyone feels like you do.

First of all, let’s put some things in perspective and then we can talk about specific fixes.

You’re 29. Now take a deep breath for this next bit. Unless you’ve got a private income or are incredible at investing money you are going to be working until you’re 70. Possibly 75. That’s another, wait for it, 41 years! You do not want to know everything after just seven years of work – imagine how dull the next 40 would be if you never learned another thing.

The lack of training these days reflects a cultural change in almost every industry. Thirty years ago, all training was organised and paid for by companies because it made sense for them to invest in their long-term staff.  

Today, particularly in TV, we’re all freelance. Maybe we need a shift in our own thinking? Maybe we should start investing in ourselves – thinking about ourselves as our own long-term staff? AFTRS, amongst many organisations, has all manner of courses to help you upskill. And check out the tax deductions!

'Courses and training are fantastic, but you talk about learning in the field like that isn’t a valid form of training.'

Courses and training are fantastic, but you talk about learning in the field like that isn’t a valid form of training. For most of us in the creative industries some of our most valuable learning has been in the field, often from those around us.

One of the few COVID-19 wins is that thousands of talented people worldwide have created free online workshops, tutorials and courses. There’s literally a course for anything you can imagine. Even before COVID-19, I firmly believed I could learn anything on YouTube… knee replacement anyone??

There are Facebook and LinkedIn groups galore, packed with underemployed people just dying to share their knowledge. Don’t understand something? Post the question. Most people feel proud to be able to share their knowledge – it’s validation of their work experience.

And, of course, there’s Google. Don’t understand a marketing term, delivery format or technical equipment?  Google it.

You keep getting rehired, you’re clearly good. So, reframe your thinking about what constitutes learning, don’t worry about not knowing things and focus on enjoying your work.     

And, if you encounter jerks who sneer about you not knowing something, then they’re just jerks full stop. 

Got a question for the mentor? Send it to us at editor@screenhub.com.au with the subject line 'Media Mentor Question' and we'll pass it onto Esther.

Media Mentors are currently partnering with ACMI to produce the free twice-weekly Running Free online skills workshops for screen industry professionals and enthusiasts. The next event, 'Sponsorship and Product Placement with Sonia Harding' goes live on Friday 12 June at 10am AEST. See full sessions on ACMI's YouTube channel.

About the author

Co-founder of Media Mentors, Esther Coleman-Hawkins, is an experienced TV producer, conference organiser and career mentor. She’s made factual series for public service broadcasters around the world. She has also had the dubious honour of developing or producing 13 series about obesity… She’s developed numerous ideas for Australian production companies including 'Secrets of Our Streets' for SBS and 'Luke Warm Sex' for ABC1; she has an electric google search history. With Media Mentors she is building on her passion for helping people to develop their careers in the creative field.