HBS Training Program Produces Local TV Experts

When Host Broadcast Services (HBS) starts to implement operations in a host country to produce coverage for a major soccer event like a FIFA World Cup, the company always seeks local support. Luckily for local students, HBS chooses to recruit from local universities to beef up its workforce of engineers, communications staff, and every other position needed to broadcast major events worldwide.

“A training program has existed quite a while for the host broadcaster, but I started getting involved in 2000 when I set up a training program for the 2002 Korea-Japan World Cup,” says Tania Pellegrini, senior manager of training for Host Broadcast Services, the company charged with producing the World Cup every four years, among other major events on behalf of FIFA. “The program involves finding a way to invite local students in the host country to participate in the World Cup in areas that are not the typical volunteer positions. It’s far more in depth than taking tickets or guiding VIPs.”

Indeed, the paid, contractual internships that HBS offers allow students to get hands-on experience in an area that will boost their résumés.

“We’re looking to enhance the students’ CV,” Pellegrini says. “If I’m an electrical engineer, it would be of great benefit to me to fill an internship position in the engineering department, not the language department. We want them to be able to say, ‘I’ve participated in one of the largest events in the world, I’ve worked with an international company, and the work I did has something to do with what I’m studying.’ It’s really a big plus for these students.”

A Constant Research Project
The training program begins three years before a given event, when Pellegrini begins researching universities within reasonable traveling distance from each of the host stadiums. Using the list of available HBS positions that can be filled with non-experts, Pellegrini matches job needs with top universities and opens up applications to those schools.

“If we have a position in our engineering department, I might look for a university that offers an electrical-engineering degree,” Pellegrini says. “I look at what the universities offer as well as their location in accordance with host cities.”

HBS student interns at the International Broadcast Center in South Africa

Unlike other entities, such as the Local Organizing Committee, which has thousands of volunteer positions available, HBS might have 500 for a given event, and the company does not have the labor to sift through tens of thousands of applications for those 500 positions.

“The question is how to minimize the number of applicants but still have enough students who are not just people off the street,” Pellegrini says. “We approach the universities; we research which would be the most interested and which students would benefit the most. We like to keep the application number quite low, so, for 500 positions, we’d only like to have 1,500 applicants. We target the departments and the faculties that should apply.”

Hands-On Evaluation
The first step in the application process is a short interview with the HBS staff to test the students’ language skills. The official language of the host broadcaster is English, so the students must be fluent in English, but, because they will be working with broadcasters from around the world, it is helpful if the students know a second language as well. Based on those interviews, HBS selects twice as many students as positions available to participate in a three-day workshop, held at a local university in each of the event’s host cities.

“It is over these three days that we really teach the students the basics of what they need to know to fulfill their position during the World Cup,” Pellegrini says. “We teach them about the host broadcaster, about television production, event management, how the FIFA World Cup gets put together with different entities involved. And then, we go into details of what they would need to learn to fulfill their selected position.”

The HBS team sets up all the necessary equipment at the university, so that students applying to be commentary assistants, for example, can practice hands-on with controlling commentator audio levels. HBS professionals also spend a great deal of time with the students over the course of three days to learn their personalities and interpersonal skills. At the end of the workshop, HBS sends out contracts to the students who are offered internships. Depending on the positions, internships can last anywhere from three weeks to four months.

“Unfortunately, we’ve found that, students being students, if they don’t feel like turning up, they just don’t turn up. So we create an official contract,” Pellegrini says. “We make a point of explaining to them that this is not a volunteer position. Students do receive payment, and we treat them as professionals, so we expect them to behave as professionals during the event.”

Full Student Integration
Students selected for the internships continue their workshop training on-site, working under a mentor who ensures that the student not only does the job properly but is learning as much as possible along the way. The interns work hand-in-hand with the HBS team, filling multiple roles from the broadcast-information office to the construction help desk and master-control room at the International Broadcast Center.

Student interns filled multiple positions at the IBC in South Africa

“We integrate every single department of the HBS team,” Pellegrini says. “The local students feel that they are part of this enormous event taking place in their country. They feel as though they are hosting the event and that they are welcoming personally the people coming to their country.”

HBS created this program not only to fulfill a need during the four weeks of a given tournament but also to leave valuable expertise behind in the host country. HBS tends to fly professionals into a country to produce its events, so the training program allows the company to integrate some locals into the production.

“The main point is to leave a legacy behind,” Pellegrini says. “We are training them and giving them the expertise that they will need to work in their country and then bring what we’ve taught them to others in their country. It’s what we consider to be true legacy.”

A selected few former interns do go on to work for HBS full time, and past interns have been known to be called upon when HBS returns to a given location to deliver another event.

Unknowns in Russia and Qatar
With the 2014 World Cup in Brazil next on HBS’s big-event agenda, Pellegrini already has a list of universities in Brazil to visit. Russia and Qatar, however, may pose more of a challenge.

“Russia I know very little about, but there is great opportunity there,” Pellegrini says. “We’ve had experience in Qatar before, so the universities do know us, as we offered an internship program for the Asian Games in 2006. Qatar is really promoting education a lot, and they are open to anything new.”

A Life-Changing Opportunity
While this internship program is a chance for students to get involved with television production and broadcast services and facilities at the highest levels, because of the extended timeframe, students sometimes withdraw at the last minute.

“When you’re 21 years old, it’s hard to understand what commitment means,” Pellegrini says. “If we want to hire 500 people, we train double that amount, so that, if 50 people withdraw a few weeks before the event, we hopefully have a waiting list where 50 people can come in quickly. The hardest part is trying to keep the students committed.”

For those students who do stick with the program, however, spending more than a month working on the production of the World Cup can be a life-changing experience.

“By the time the World Cup is up and running, you see students gain so much self-confidence,” Pellegrini says. “You really see the way their life has changed over the month of the World Cup, and it’s just amazing to watch.”

For HBS and the interns who join the company at event time, it is a win-win situation for all involved.

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