Broadcast engineers use their technical expertise to ensure that television and radio programmes are transmitted at the right time and to the highest technical standard. They build and install the systems that make broadcasting possible; take signals in all kinds of formats; ensure that equipment is maintained; and identify and fix faults with minimum disruption to output.
Broadcast engineers work for broadcast, cable and satellite companies across the whole range of programmes, including news operations, studio productions, outside broadcasts and webcasts. They may work in maintenance or have a more operational role. Broadcast engineers also work for facilities houses and for equipment manufacturers.
Depending on their role, broadcast engineers may:
Broadcast engineers use a range of specialised equipment, much of it computerised. They work as part of a team, liasing with and sometimes managing other engineers and technical colleagues, occasionally in remote locations. They may also work with production staff, including producers, studio managers and presenters, as well as management, administrative staff, and product suppliers.
Broadcasting is deadline driven. Live programmes and the demands of maintaining 24-hour output can make this a highly pressurised role.
Broadcast engineers typically work around 40 hours a week. Shift work is common, including nights, weekends and public holidays. Shifts may be 12 hours long, spread over a seven-day fortnight. Broadcast engineers may sometimes be expected to work longer hours, especially on news programmes or when technical problems arise.
Working conditions vary. Broadcast engineers may work in offices, maintenance workshops, machine rooms, studio galleries or on location. Conditions can sometimes be hot and uncomfortable.
Location work and outside broadcasts can involve travel in the UK and abroad, and may mean working away from home, sometimes for extended periods. Some broadcast engineers may be required to work in dangerous environments, such as war zones.
The salary of a trainee broadcast engineers may start at around £18,000.
Broadcast engineers work in television, radio and interactive media. The main employers are: the BBC; the terrestrial broadcasters (ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and S4C); satellite, cable and digital broadcasters; outside broadcast companies; facilities houses; and equipment manufacturers.
Jobs are available throughout the UK, but the broadcasting and facilities sectors are mostly based in and around London, with centres in other major cities, such as Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool and Bristol.
Competition for jobs in the industry is fierce, but there is a shortage of suitably qualified engineers. Most people working in broadcast engineering are employed on permanent or long-term contracts. There are also opportunities for short-term or freelance work for experienced engineers.
Vacancies may be advertised on companies' own websites, in national newspapers and the trade press, such as Broadcast and Televisual, and on specialist websites such as www.productionbase.co.uk, www.mandy.com and www.broadcastfreelancer.com.
Broadcast engineers usually start their careers as trainees. Most have a higher level qualification, such as a degree in electrical, electronic or broadcast engineering, or broadcast technology. Relevant courses are available at BTEC, HNC/HND, foundation degree and degree level. In some cases, qualifications in IT networking or computer programming may be appropriate.
An engineering degree normally requires a minimum of five GCSE's (A*-C), including maths and a science subject, plus two A levels, including maths or physics, or equivalent qualifications. Entry requirements for courses vary and applicants should check with the individual institutions.
It may be possible to enter the industry in a junior role, working as runner, and progressing through in-house training and showing the required technical aptitude.
The BBC and other broadcasters and large companies offer work experience placements. Some of the larger employers, such as the BBC and BSkyB, also run occasional graduate training schemes. Details are usually available on their websites.
Competition is fierce and all applicants need to demonstrate an interest in broadcasting, possess technical aptitude, and provide relevant practical experience. Valuable experience may be gained through local, student or community media, working in lighting and sound for amateur theatre, or mixing for a band.
Broadcasting is a fast-moving industry and major technological changes are taking place. This includes the digital switchover, the growing importance of broadband and the move towards tapeless production. Broadcast engineers are at the heart of these changes and must keep up to date with developments in technology. They usually train on the job and large employers also provide training courses.
Short courses are available, from training providers such as BBC Training and Development and Ravensbourne College of Design and Communication. Courses are also run by equipment and software manufacturers. Freelances normally have to fund their own training, but may be eligible for support from Skillset, the Sector Skills Council for Creative Media, to cover part of the fees.
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A broadcast engineer needs:
New entrants may spend up to two years as a trainee before progressing to the role of broadcast engineer. Most have an interest in and an aptitude for engineering and stay in engineering roles.
They may then choose to specialise in a particular area or work on specific projects. Some engineers progress to senior operational, supervisory or management roles.
With extensive experience, some broadcast engineers may choose to work on a freelance basis.
PO Box 48305, London W12 6YE
Tel: 0870 333 1330
BBC Training & Development,
35 Marylebone High Street, London W1U 4PX
Tel: 0370 010 0264
British Kinematograph Sound and Television Society (BKSTS) - The Moving Image Society, Pinewood Studios, Iver Heath,
Buckinghamshire SL0 0NH
Tel: 01753 656656
Broadcasting Entertainment Cinematograph and Theatre Union (BECTU),
373-377 Clapham Road, London SW9 9BT
Tel: 020 7346 0900
The Engineering Careers Information Service (ECIS),
14 Upton Road, Watford, Hertfordshire
Tel: 0800 282167
Independent Television Association,
ITV Network Centre, 200 Gray's Inn Road, London WC1X 8HF
Institute of Professional Sound (IPS),
IPS Secretariat, PO Box 208, Havant, Hampshire PO9 9BQ
Tel: 0300 400 8427
The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET),
Michael Faraday House, Six Hills Way, Stevenage, Hertfordshire SG1 2AY
Tel: 01438 313311
The Radio Academy,
5 Market Place, London W1W 8AE
Tel: 020 7927 9920
Skillset, Focus Point,
21 Caledonian Road, London N1 9GB
Free careers helpline: 0808 030 0900
UK Screen Association,
47 Beak Street, London W1F 9SE
Tel: 020 7734 6060
Additional resources for job seekers and those already in a job.