What is the work like?
Broadcast engineers use their technical expertise to put shows on the air. They make sure programmes are broadcast at the right times, and at the highest quality level.
Engineers are involved in all kinds of production, including:
- studio-based radio and television programmes such as chat shows and panel games
- outside broadcasts - from debates in the Houses of Parliament to news reports from war zones
- increasingly, webcasts of live concerts and other events.
There are two types of broadcast engineer:
- those who manufacture and repair equipment
- those directly involved in broadcasts.
Depending on the role, tasks may include:
- designing and installing audio and visual circuits, hardware and software, and broadcast systems
- establishing audio and visual links between different units or for outside broadcasts
- servicing and testing equipment
- responding to technical faults and repairing them swiftly
- designing custom-made electronic solutions to meet the requirements of colleagues and customers.
A broadcast engineer uses a range of specialised equipment, much of it computerised.
Broadcast engineers work as part of a team. Besides technical colleagues, this may include producers, studio managers and presenters.
Limited studio time and the intense nature of live broadcasting can make this a highly pressurised role.
Salaries may start at around £17,000 a year.
Hours and environment
Broadcast engineers typically work 37 hours a week. They often work shifts, which can include nights, weekends and public holidays.
Long and irregular hours are common, especially in news broadcasting. Where recording time overruns or technical difficulties arise, broadcast engineers are expected to stay until the job is completed.
The work may be based in an office or workshop, or in recording studios. Television studios can become very warm due to the lighting required. Engineers involved in outside broadcasts are required to work in a variety of locations. This may involve uncomfortable conditions.
There may be travel within the UK or internationally, possibly for extended periods.
Salary and other benefits
These figures are only a guide, as actual rates of pay may vary, depending on the employer and where people live.
Salaries may start at around £17,000 for apprentices, and £21,000 for graduate trainees.
With experience, earnings may rise to around £30,000 a year.
The most senior broadcast engineers, with project management responsibilities, may earn up to £50,000 a year.
Skills and personal qualities
A broadcast engineer needs:
- a thorough knowledge of broadcasting technology
- an understanding of analogue and digital electronic systems
- excellent IT skills
- a creative approach to problem solving
- to be calm under pressure
- the judgment to juggle competing priorities
- good teamworking skills
- to be able to work from diagrams
- to be able to explain technical subjects in a non-technical way
- a good grounding in the health and safety aspects of the job.
It is important for a broadcast engineer to have an interest in:
- the content of the programmes they work on.
Around 2,000 engineers work in broadcasting in the UK. The main employers are:
- the BBC
- independent radio stations across the UK
- terrestrial television networks - ITV, Channel 4, Five and S4C (Wales)
- satellite, cable and digital broadcasters
- outside broadcast companies
- independent production companies.
Employers are based all over the UK, but there is a concentration of producers in London. The BBC has a presence in all regions, and major bases in London and Manchester.
The growth of digital broadcasting has led to increased opportunities. There is currently a shortage of qualified engineers, so prospects are good for well-qualified and experienced candidates.
Vacancies are found in the national press and specialist publications, such as Broadcast.
Entry for young people
Most entrants are taken on as trainees. Work experience with a local station or in student radio is highly valuable.
There are several possible routes into the industry:
Most entrants have a degree, usually in engineering. Candidates with a degree in an unrelated subject may be taken on if they can show experience and aptitude for the work.
It is possible to enter as a trainee with a BTEC higher national certificate or higher national diploma (HNC/HND) in electrical, electronic or broadcast engineering.
It may be possible to enter broadcasting in a junior role, eg as a runner, and progress through an internal training scheme.
Some large employers run Apprenticeship schemes.
For an engineering degree, entry requirements are normally at least five GCSEs/S grades (A-C/1-3), including maths and a science subject, plus two A levels/three H grades, including maths or physics, or equivalent qualifications.
The BBC runs a graduate training scheme for technologists. However, intake is not on a regular basis and competition is keen.
Apprenticeships which may be available in England are Young Apprenticeships, Pre-Apprenticeships, Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships. To find out which one is most appropriate log onto www.apprenticeships.org.uk or contact your local Connexions Partnership.
It is important to bear in mind that pay rates for Apprenticeships do vary from area to area and between industry sectors.
There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. For further information contact Careers Scotland www.careers-scotland.org.uk, Careers Wales www.careerswales.com; and for Northern Ireland contact COIU www.delni.gov.uk.
Entry for adults
There are opportunities in this field for adults with relevant experience in electronics.
Applicants may be accepted onto degree courses without the usual entry qualifications.
Broadcast engineers generally train on the job. They must keep up to date with new developments in technology.
FT2 - Film and Television Freelance Training runs training for young people seeking to work on a freelance basis in film or television.
Broadcast engineers may move on to specialise in particular types of technology.
After gaining experience, they may advance by taking on a supervisory role. In some companies it may be possible to move into management.
Some broadcast engineers may work freelance. They need a strong reputation and contacts in the industry in order to gain fixed-term contracts.
BBC Recruitment, PO Box 48305, London W12 6YE.
BKSTS - The Moving Image Society, Pinewood Studios, Iver Heath, Buckinghamshire SL0 0NH. 01753 656656.
Engineering Technology Board (etb). Weston House, 246 High Holborn, London, WC1V 7EX. 020 3206 0400
The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), Education 5-19, Michael Faraday House, Six Hills Way, Stevenage, Hertfordshire SG1 2AY. 01438 313311.
FT2 - Film and Television Freelance Training, 3rd Floor, 18-20 Southwark Street, London SE1 1TJ. 020 7407 0344.
The Institute of Broadcast Sound, Po Box 208, Havant, Hampshire, PO9 9BQ. 0300 400 8427.
The Radio Academy, 5 Market Place, London W1W 8AE. 020 7255 2010.
Skillset, Prospect House, Focus Point, 21 Caledonian Road, London, N1 9GB. 020 7713 9800.