The WASD Careers Dream Team

Before the coaches pull up in Farnborough this November, Richie Shoemaker grills the WASD Careers organisers working to ultimately narrow the skills gap and widen diversity in gaming.

There are two months to go until the doors of the Farnborough International open for the inaugural WASD Careers fair, a two-day event intended to bring future job seekers, industry recruiters and policy makers together like never before. In so doing, the hope is that equality, diversity and inclusion will be widened at the expense of a persistent skills gap.

Of course, its aims won’t be fulfilled overnight, but if the efforts going into the first WASD Careers are any indication and the event endures for as long as the desire exists to meet its goals, there’s every reason to believe that that a great leap forward is about to be taken.

How did you come to be involved with WASD Careers?

I was seeking funders for a research project I am working on looking at the current skills crisis in the UK games industry. Everyone I spoke to said I should also speak with David [Lilley] from Roucan, as he was planning something for later in the year and we had very similar interests and views. When we did catch up, I had already been lucky enough to do a panel at WASD on leadership, so I knew the kind of event that WASD could be.

I was really excited to get involved as so much of what WASD Careers links to are things that I have spent years working on from games education with NextGen Skills Academy; diversity work (including the top 100 women in games that started with MCV) and mental health through my connections with Safe in our World.

What is your focus as the event heaves into view?

My focus is to ensure that the event is as inclusive and relevant as possible: I was delighted when Dom Shaw [EDI coordinator] at Ukie agreed to be our advisor on this. As Dom has demonstrated with #raisethegame and his events, he is considerate and understanding of many of the different communities we want and need to be embracing.

Then it’s making sure we are talking to all the different parts of the talent pipeline; from schools, FE colleges and universities through to apprenticeships, mentoring programmes and accelerators – as well as games publishers, developers and service providers. As you can see, that is a huge number of interested parties. We have a place where they can come together with local and national government – with access to different skills and education budgets.

What are your hopes and fears for the event?

As I am seeing from my research project, the games industry has been been trying to recruit around 10,000 roles over the last 12 months. That’s about 50% of the size of the UK games industry. We have real opportunity for significant growth – this is a time when the UK can come to the fore of the global industry – but we are being held back by our access to talent. I am working across the sector, bringing groups and ideas together to solve this.

You’ve talked in the past about the UK games industry lacking a single-minded approach to tackling skills issues or being too inward-looking in attracting talent. How might WASD Careers work to evolve things?

It’s the time and place for us to come together and share best practice and to work out how to collaborate to accelerate solutions. We did this after the NextGen Skills report, creating huge changes in education and leaving long term legacies like the NextGen Skills Academy. We need to do it again now with the issues we face today.

Games careers aren’t just for WASD, of course, they’re for life. How does the industry – collectively or at the organisation level – best follow up on initiatives like WASD Careers?

We must give people a moment to step back from the huge recruitment drives to look at longer term skills planning. We have current initiatives like apprenticeships and bootcamps that have been developed by industry that can come with massive government funding. Apprenticeship can be utilised for upskilling current staff to fill existing industry roles.

We are hugely reliant on the people we know or look like us, but there is a massive pool of talent on the edges of our sector knocking on the door. We need to let them in with the support of bootcamps and mentoring programmes to allow them to be impactful. I am so proud and delighted that the first cohort from the producers bootcamp I ran last year are seeing themselves in the credits of games within twelve months of completing it.

How did you come to be involved in WASD Careers?

Into Games programmed the careers stage at the inaugural WASD in June this year as part of our on-going partnership with Ukie. We managed to pull together a really impressive line up with speakers from 20 different studios – from AAA to small indies – and talking about every aspect of the game design process. We were really excited when the Roucan team asked us to support WASD Careers on a bigger scale and jumped at the chance to get in front of thousands of career seekers.

How is the list of speakers and exhibitors coming along?

We are focussing our time on bringing in speakers from studios in the Surrey region, as it’s so local to Farnborough. Expect speakers from nDreams, Glowmade, EA, and Criterion. We’re focussing on bringing a really great range of speakers, many of whom will be very early in their own career journey, giving WASD attendees a clear idea of what they need to do to get that first position. We have a clear commitment to diversity and will be ensuring that more than 60% of speakers will be women or from underrepresented groups.

November is a busy time for the industry. Are you expecting to receive as much support as you would during the traditional events season?

So far we haven’t had any problem with this. As the event is so well located to so many great studios there hasn’t been any issues with speakers not being able to attend. We believe that WASD Careers will become a key date for recruitment for the games sector as a whole as the event grows, drawing in talent from across the country for advice and support.

Games Careers Week is massive undertaking for you. How does WASD Careers differ and what are its specific challenges?

Games Careers Week is a national event with lots of different organisations that take part. It’s also mostly online. WASD Careers is a chance for people to get up close and personal to studios and recruiters and there really is no comparison for face-to-face networking. In terms of challenges, in addition to programming speakers, Into Games is running a one-to-one career coaching booth on the show floor, offering advice for participants on practical next steps in their career journey and we’re hoping to provide 250 people with advice over the two days which will be a big challenge for our tiny team. That said, we are extremely excited to be part of it all and look forward to growing with the event.

How do the two events compliment one another?

They both have exactly the same aim, and not everyone is going to be able to come down to Farnborough for WASD Careers, especially those in the north of England, so having an predominantly online event like Games Careers Week, which also has small hubs in different parts of the country, makes sense. If Games Careers Week offers a taster of the games sector, then WASD Careers is a full three course meal!

For those organisations who’ve been hanging back or otherwise distracted, is it too late to get involved?

Absolutely not, we still have speaker spaces to fill and I’m sure there are still recruitment areas on the floor too. This is a first ever event that needs as much support as possible to grow and become a real fixture for games careers seekers across the UK, ensuring studios get the best, most diverse talent possible.

How are things coming together?

Support has been strong to this point and we’re just reaching the moment where universities are starting the new term so it’s ramping up. We’ve sold a significant number of tickets already which shows there’s demand for the event.

How important is it that WASD Careers is a compelling proposition in and of itself, while also being complimentary to similar efforts elsewhere (such as Games Careers Week)?

It’s important that we welcome everyone who is working to fit students into a career in video games, be it coding or design, art, audio, QA or marketing. And that we appeal to as diverse a range of candidates as possible, making the agenda welcoming to all. There are great organisations doing great things for students and we want to bring them all together. And yes, it needs to be a fun and entertaining event, but we really want anyone wanting to go further in games to have a chance to network and show off.

What are you looking forward to most about WASD Careers?

It’s either going to be the students showing their work on the showfloor, or having a brilliant line-up of those who have made a success in the games business.

Are you confident that this year’s event will be the first of many?

We – the broad group of people putting the event together – aren’t driven by short term profit. All of our partners are invested in games for the long term and we all believe this event is a long term requirement to fill the skills gap. It’s a long game.

About Richie Shoemaker

Prior to taking the editorial helm of MCV/DEVELOP Richie spent 20 years shovelling word-coal into the engines of numerous gaming magazines and websites, many of which are now lost beneath the churning waves of progress. If not already obvious, he is partial to the odd nautical metaphor.

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