How does the creative economy work?

,  5 March 2014

Are the creative industries in a position where they can accommodate an influx of new talent and jobs?

The research team at Creative & Cultural Skills has been looking at the evidence around supporting work interventions in the creative sector, to answer that question.

The answer, after examining the available literature, has been a qualified ‘yes’. The creative economy looks buoyant in comparison to the UK economy as a whole. New statistics from the DCMS outline that employment growth stood at 6% in the creative economy between 2011 and 2012, in comparison to just 0.7% in the wider economy.

However this figure has to be tempered with the fact that not all sectors grow equally, and in areas like museums, galleries and libraries there has even been a small dip in employment over this period.

How does the creative sector take on new workers?

Rather than following linear patterns of work – having just one job, switching employers only occasionally and staying within a well-defined area of specialism – the creative sector works in a more flexible manner.

People often work on short, project-based pieces of work. They often supplement their main creative or artistic earnings with other work, such as education work or community arts work. They are also often self-employed – although recent research has shown that this is happening across the economy.

Workers often don’t follow typical pathways into these industries, and often rely on connections, informal networks of peers and digital channels to get ahead. While this is presenting new opportunities, it is also arguably leading to a situation where the barriers for those who do not have connections and wealth behind them are too strong to overcome.

In the design industry for example, one in five employers state that their preferred means of taking on a young person is through an unpaid internship. This automatically discounts a whole cohort of people who literally can’t afford to compete for jobs if the tables are stacked against them.

Can the creative industries support young people in work?

The consensus from a range of research, conducted by both Creative & Cultural Skills and other organisations, suggests that once in work, people generally have an extremely positive experience in the creative sector.

Employers often describe young people’s enthusiasm, skill set and abilities in driving their company forward. We have also recently seen that subsidies can have a big effect if used in the right way.

While the government’s Youth Contract Wage Incentive Programme has floundered, the Creative Employment Programme has helped to place 678 new apprentices and 751 paid internships with a range of businesses.

This is encouraging as, not only are the majority of these roles new jobs, they are clearly accessible to a wide range of people. And in the case of the paid internships, they directly target young people on unemployment benefits.

This literature review provides a summary of our knowledge of these issues at the present moment, but we’re looking to learn more by conducting a large-scale evaluation of the Creative Employment Programme, which will hopefully give us insight into how best to support workers in the sector for years to come. 


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