9 trends in creative employment

 23 October 2015

The creative sector is buoyant, but young people can’t find the jobs. It's not hard to see why some people leaving school, college or university with an enthusiasm to work in the arts are confused. Let's take a look at nine employment trends that help explain what's going on.

Although new technologies dominate the news, there remains a huge demand for crafts people in theatre, film, cultural heritage and craft.
Although new technologies dominate the news, there remains a huge demand for crafts people in theatre, film, cultural heritage and craft.

The UK creative and cultural sector continues to grow and has doubled in size in the last ten years, proving resilient in recession and forecast to grow significantly in the next ten years. 

Despite this, young people report frustrations with finding work in the creative sector. Why is this and what does the employment profile of the sector look like?

We recently invited Darren Henley, Chief Executive of Arts Council England, to a round table at High House Production Park to talk about the skills and employment landscape. Here are some of the key employment trends we discussed with him.

9 employment trends in the creative industries

1. Self-employment is rising

One in seven UK workers is self-employed. Forecasters predict that by 2020, self-employment will overtake public sector employment.

Artists and technicians are often multi-skilled and using different media. 

The creative sector is part of this trend and is made up of a myriad of freelancers or ‘portfolio’ workers (44 per cent of the workforce) who rely on networks of co-workers, commissioners and projects. These workers are not employed so there is rarely a job to apply for and, when there is, experience is required.

If 44 per cent of the creative workforce is self-employed, then a lot of the jobs young people are looking for aren’t there – yet. They’ll be there when young people stop job hunting and start freelancing or set up their own small businesses.

2. The UK is a global hub for tourists and ‘one-off’ or seasonal events

Sixty one per cent of those surveyed in a recent British Council poll cited cultural and historic attractions as the main reason for visiting the UK. A major employment strand is linked to the visitor economy. This is project-based and/or seasonal. Workers need to be experienced, reliable and available at short notice. This is a challenge for recent graduates.

3. The cuts are taking effect

Public sector cuts are causing some arts and cultural organisations to reduce staff and to be cautious about recruitment, including apprentices.

4. Many new job roles are digital or technology-based

The creative sector is changing. There is increasing cross-over between live events and online distribution, more use of big data and new means of distribution in, for example, music and film. Artists and technicians are often multi-skilled and using different media. Ticketing and retail is mostly online. Social media is as important as traditional ways of marketing. Multi-skilling is the order of the day.

Young people tend not to be aware of the available jobs in the sector.

Digitalisation is affecting most of today’s workforce and research suggests that as much as 47 per cent of US employment is at risk due to automation, with middle-management jobs increasingly in the frame. However research by NESTA in the UK suggests that creative occupations are at ‘low or no’ risk of automation, with 87 per cent of the sector ‘automation-proof’.

Highly creative and innovative occupations are in some sense protected from the shift towards an automated economy. This is a positive for young graduates.

5. The available jobs are invisible

The jobs you can see (performers, artists, front of house) are only the tip of the iceberg, but are the ones that inspire young people to study the arts. There will always be more trained artists than there is employment for them (Equity estimates that actors only work as paid actors 12 weeks per annum on average), but there are many unfilled jobs in the technical, production, front-of-house, business and administration roles. Young people tend not to be aware of the available jobs in the sector.

6. There is a need for craft skills

Although new technologies dominate the news, there remains a huge demand for crafts people in theatre, film, cultural heritage and craft. Crafts people often have to blend bench skills with modern technical skills such as CAD (computer-aided design).

It is not so much that digital skills have replaced other skills, it is more that recruits need to be fluent in both traditional and digital skills. These skills can be acquired through practical courses and apprenticeships that have been scarce in the sector.

7. This is a 'slash' generation

Many young people make a career as ‘slash professionals’: they describe themselves, for example, as artist/administrator/tutor – the ultimate portfolio career. The upside is a challenging array of challenges but the downside is that there are no employment terms like sickness pay or pensions.

8. Jobs are backstage, not on stage

The available jobs in technician roles require highly specialist skills honed over years and general arts and humanities graduates won’t have these skills and won’t be eligible for funding to train in them.

Other roles like retail, usher, box office, are not really graduate jobs and can fail to live up to the job or salary expectations of highly qualified graduates.

The sector has relied exclusively on graduate recruitment and still often ‘employs’ free interns. It is only now acknowledging the role of apprentices in the workforce.

9. Employers want T-shaped people

Increasingly creative sector employers want more from their staff: highly skilled people with deep knowledge and skills but also generalists who are adaptable, creative, problem-solving with good inter-personal skills. It’s not enough to have a degree or qualification: attitude is everything. Employers are looking for staff that can respond to anything and often add ‘experience’ as an essential criterion.

A challenging employment landscape

This all adds up to a challenging employment picture for new recruits, particularly in a climate of high rents in creative centres and a sector that historically has valued ‘who you know’ over ‘what you know’ in recruitment.

Creative occupations are at ‘low or no’ risk of automation.

In Government terms it paints a picture of poor productivity, untargeted investment in education at all levels, and no clear sense of where investment could be made to change things.

As a sector we put a great deal of emphasis on arts education for school students but don’t make the leap to providing careers advice, supporting young people to make the right choices in terms of college or university, and leave the transition into jobs ‘to the market’. 

This has led to little engagement with Further Education, large cohorts of graduates frustrated at the difficulties of finding employment and a sector that lacks diversity.

Find out more about what the future holds for employment in the sector by attending our National Conference 2016. Tickets are on sale now.


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