USITT Working to Define Essential Skills

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J.R. Clancy RiggingLet’s say you’re a technical director at a regional theatre. You’re looking to fill an entry-level electrician position on your staff, and you receive two resumes from recent college graduates. Each of these resumes shows that the applicant has a theatre degree, and they’ve each had some hands-on experience as electricians for campus productions.

Does that give you enough information to select one over the other?

It’s not nearly enough, notes David Grindle, executive director of the United States Institute for Theatre Technology (USITT), and it’s time to do something about that.

USITT has taken over an initiative begun by the ESTA Foundation, with the goal of defining the essential skills new theatre technicians need to perform their jobs safely and effectively. “USITT is a great bridge over the creek between the working professional in the industry and the academic side,” Grindle says. “We’re moving the initiative forward to bring together groups of professionals and academics, to establish the essential skills that all theatre technicians should have.”

Defining essential skills

The new initiative—Essential Skills for Entertainment Technicians (ESET)—includes four working groups, each focused on a specific area: rigging, electrics, health and safety, and costuming. “These groups are establishing the baseline skills that everyone should know,” says Grindle.

For example, someone hiring an entry-level rigging professional probably would expect that person to be trained to use counterweight rigging, and to have a working familiarity with motorized rigging. These would be considered essential skills. On the other hand, an employer would not expect an entry-level person to arrive ready to run a top-of-the-line rigging controller, or to know how to rig speaker clusters and other heavy equipment. Such skills would be more advanced—the kind of thing a young person would learn on the job.

Rigging, J.R. Clancy“We hope to have the lists of essential skills out for public comment by the time we get to Cincinnati in March 2015 [for the USITT annual conference],” says Grindle. “Then we will develop an exam for people at the entry level.”

So far, just the fact that USITT has taken up this challenge has generated excitement among key groups, Grindle says. “ Our academic partners are extremely excited, because they are often pushed for third-party evaluation to be sure their students are ready,” he says. “The cruise line industry is really excited, because they often use people with low skill levels. They will pick up a room attendant to run a follow spot, because he needs an extra few bucks. Now they will have a way to know if that person can really do the job.”

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