Becoming a Production Assistant: Salary Info & Job Description

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The median salary for a production assistant is about $29,000. Is this worth the various job duties required? Learn the truth about different types of production assistant jobs and see postings from real employers to decide if this position is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Being a Production Assistant

As a production assistant, your job duties are usually specific to the industry you work in, whether it's film, radio or news. Consider the following pros and cons to determine if starting a career as a production assistant is best for you.

PROS of Being a Production Assistant
Can gain a wide variety of job skills related to production, budgeting, editing and reporting*
Often requires little or no prior work experience (42% of production assistants had one year of experience or less in 2015)**
Opportunity for career advancement in a variety of positions, such as camera operation, graphic design or sound engineering*
Production assistants often gain both technical and creative skills in their particular field of interest*

CONS of Being a Production Assistant
Wages are typically low (most production assistants made between $27,000 and $31,000 in 2015)**
Usually must work long hours, including weekends and nights*
Work schedules can vary significantly*
May involve tight deadlines and high pressure*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Salary.com.

Career Information

Job Description

Typically, production assistants work in the radio, television broadcast, film or interactive media industries. Some sectors that are closely related may share some of the same job functions. For example, video production assistants in the television or film industry can perform technical tasks, such as setting up cameras, teleprompters and lighting equipment. They also might fulfill more creative tasks like reading, editing and delivering scripts or helping develop news stories.

For a position in interactive media and radio, you may work as a graphic, media, visual or Web design production assistant. Common duties in these roles usually include creating and editing audio, video, digital images and Web pages. For instance, you may assist in the design and maintenance of websites, back up and secure files, design brochures, help record audio for radio broadcasts, upload content to company websites and set up microphones or video projectors.

Job Outlook and Salary

Salary.com reported that all types of production assistants earned a median annual wage of almost $29,000 as of 2015. However, since production assistant positions are not specific to one particular job field, your career outlook and salary can vary in respect to the industry. For instance, a video production assistant position might lead to jobs as a television, video and motion picture camera operator or editor. Employment for these occupations was projected to grow about three percent from 2012-2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which was well below average (www.bls.gov).

If your interest is in radio, you may consider a job assisting broadcast or sound engineering technicians. Employment of broadcast and sound engineering technicians was expected to increase by nine percent from 2012-2022, which was about average compared to other job sectors. For both the radio and television broadcast industries, advancement in technology and the consolidation of stations were major factors contributing to the limited growth of jobs. However, the increase of mobile devices was likely to spark more employment opportunities, according to the BLS.

If you're more interested in interactive media careers involving graphic or Web design, you can also expect average job growth. The BLS projected a 7% employment growth through 2022 for graphic designers. Additionally, competition for jobs was also expected to be fierce. Despite this, there is a demand for websites and mobile phones with more advanced interactive graphics, which should increase the need for graphic designers who are skilled in animation and Web design, according to the BLS.

What Are the Requirements?

Although completion of a bachelor's degree program can help you secure a production assistant job, data from Salary.com shows that it's not always a requirement. Depending on the industry you want to work in, you may choose an associate's or bachelor's degree program in broadcast technology, electronics, fine arts, graphic design, journalism or mass communications. Usually, employers look for applicants who have knowledge of audio visual devices and editing techniques, as well as computer programming languages and multimedia software.

For example, video and radio production assistants may be required to have some familiarity with using equipment like audio visual cables, microphones, mixing boards, sound boards, speakers and video cameras. Additionally, knowledge of non-linear editing, sound recording, video color correcting and regulations mandated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) might be needed. If you plan on working in the interactive media or Web development field, you may need to use software like Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, Apple Final Cut Pro and Adobe Flash, as well as programming languages like HTML and JavaScript.

You might also need certain qualities that help enable you to follow directions, produce quality work and collaborate well with others. You should possess good analytical, creative and interpersonal skills. Other important traits that employers look for include:

  • Close attention to detail
  • Good organization and time management skills
  • Poise under pressure
  • Minimal supervision needed

Job Postings from Real Employers

Most job postings for production assistants request practical experience over a particular degree. Typically, applicants are required to have at least a year of relevant experience and a high school diploma. Below is a list of real job postings for production assistant positions that can give you an overview of what skills employers were looking for as of March 2012.

  • A Spanish television network in Phoenix, AZ, seeks a production assistant with experience in the video production or broadcasting industry. Other requirements include knowledge of news writing, editing, production, live studio and remote programming operations. Applicants must also speak both English and Spanish. This employer prefers candidates with a relevant certificate or degree.
  • A television network in Buffalo, NY, is looking for a production assistant to set up camera and lighting equipment, perform non-linear editing and work with graphics and Web content. Additional qualifications include at least one year of experience, preferably in television broadcasting, and a valid New York driver's license. Candidates must be available to work overnight, weekend and holiday shifts.
  • A New Jersey food retailer wants to hire a graphics production assistant who has 1-3 years of experience to design templates for signs, create promotional materials and operate printing equipment. This position involves being on your feet for long hours and moderate lifting.
  • A laboratory in California seeks a production assistant to manage e-mail marketing lists, code websites using HTML and assist with social media websites. Candidates must be knowledgeable in software like Adobe Photoshop, InDesign and Illustrator, as well as computer applications like Adobe QuarkXPress and Microsoft Word.

How to Beat the Competition

Volunteer in High School or College

Although a production assistant is an entry-level position, employers still require that applicants have some software knowledge and skills relevant to the job. To beat the competition, you can begin developing your skills while in high school. Many high schools have photography and film clubs, as well as yearbook, newspaper and prom committees. You could help take photos of school events, interview your classmates or edit profiles for the yearbook or newspaper. The BLS also reported that you can gain practice with audiovisual equipment at college. Many colleges and universities have their own campus radio station, film studio or theatre. You might gain production experience by volunteering to help the radio disc jockey or take on a position as a stagehand.

Volunteer in Your Community

To strengthen your resume as a production assistant, you might volunteer or intern at a local community arts center, religious organization, radio station or television network. Your town or county library can be a good resource to find out what community-sponsored activities are going on in the area. Also, you can check out the jobs section in your local newspaper to see if any internship opportunities are listed.

Alternative Career Paths

Photography Assistant

If you're interested in telling stories through pictures and want to pursue an entry-level position, you could become a photography assistant. In this role, you might work in fine arts, news, portrait or scientific photography, according to the BLS. Some basic duties you would have as a photography assistant include operating cameras, lenses, tripods and lighting equipment, capturing photos at events and editing images using programs like Adobe Photoshop. Typically, a college degree is required for jobs in technical fields like industrial, news or scientific photography, but you might be able to forgo a degree if you start as an assistant and advance through work experience. The median salary you can expect to earn as a photographer was about $29,000, according to a BLS wage report from May 2011.

Editorial Assistant

If writing for the news, radio or TV is your passion, then a job as an editorial assistant may be ideal for you. By taking this job, you can learn both the creative and business sides of the field. For example, you may assist editors with editing and fact-checking articles and manuscripts, gathering biographical information from authors, reviewing book proposals, delivering contracts and processing payments for authors. To transition from an assistant role to a full-fledged editorial position, you usually need a bachelor's degree in English, communication or journalism. Editors earned a median wage of approximately $52,000 as of May 2011, according to the BLS.

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