Making growth sustainable in the creative sector

 29 June 2014

Following the release of DCMS stats showing a rise in employment in the creative industries, Creative & Cultural Skills' Research Manager Samuel Mitchell argues that underlying challenges still need to be addressed.

The creative economy far outstripped the wider economy between 2011 and 2013.
The creative economy far outstripped the wider economy between 2011 and 2013.

On Friday 27 June, the Department for Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) published a new statistical overview of the creative economy, entitled Focus on Employment.

The report gives insight into the sector, based on a revised methodology that I had some input into via Classifying and Measuring the Creative Industries, a paper that we co-published with Creative Skillset, Nesta and the DCMS in 2013.

A buoyant creative economy

Overall, the new figures show a buoyant sector.

The headline is that growth in the total creative economy – the creative industries along with embedded creative jobs outside those industries – far outstripped the wider economy between 2011 and 2013, growing by 8.8 per cent to a total of 2.6 million jobs.

People working in the creative economy are almost twice as likely to have a degree.

In contrast, the UK economy as a whole only grew by 2.4 per cent, which is fairly sluggish in comparison.

The news that the creative economy is outperforming the wider economy is not a new finding however. Our own statistics and previous work by Nesta, which backdates the DCMS’s new methodology, have shown that these industries have been consistently growing at a higher rate than the whole economy for over ten years.

A highly skilled workforce

While the headline employment statistics are encouraging, detail about the make-up of the sector perhaps begins to show where some possible fault lines lie in their future health.

A key area that Creative & Cultural Skills focuses on as an organisation is the attempt to balance the qualification levels of the sector, ensuring that people are appropriately skilled for their roles.

The industry has a large number of technical and practical roles that higher education may not prepare workers for.

However, the figures show that people working within the creative economy are almost twice as likely as the workers in the wider economy to have a degree or the equivalent: 57.1 per cent compared to 31.1 per cent.

Furthermore, the statistics show that rather than levelling off, the creative economy is moving to a place where the proportion of workers with degrees or higher education qualifications is actually increasing, while those with ‘other qualifications’ has decreased since 2011.

At first glance this is not an issue. After all don’t we want a workforce that is as highly skilled as possible?

Preparing the workforce for creative occupations

The problem comes in when we look at the creative occupations themselves.

The industry has a large number of technical and practical roles that higher education may not adequately prepare workers for.

Craft workers, backstage theatre and live music events staff, museums and galleries administrators and so forth are all roles in which higher education may not adequately prepare the workforce with the necessary skills to work in the most effective manner.

Diversity in the creative sector

Although there may be work needed to rebalance qualifications towards more vocational and work-based routes, there is clearly also still an issue with diversity in these industries.

The report highlights some of the issues that Lenny Henry has been bringing to the government, through his Select Committee appearance, on a lack of ethnic minority talent breaking through into broadcasting productions.

The figures show that in certain sub-sectors there is still a real lack of representation.

Difficulties accessing the creative industries are often compounded by periods of unpaid work.

In music, visual and performing arts, for example, only 6.7 per cent of all jobs are held by people within the black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) group, as opposed to 10.1 per cent in the economy as a whole.

It is therefore possible that the diversity problem is entrenched by the high qualification levels.

It is an issue which is not easily rectified when higher education courses are increasingly expensive for individuals.

Furthermore, difficulties accessing the creative industries are often compounded by periods of unpaid work needed to ‘break through’ into roles.

Widening access to creative careers

Our Creative Employment Programme may be going some way to address some of these issues. By enabling part-funded apprenticeship, paid internship and traineeship opportunities across England, we are giving businesses the opportunity to take direct action.  

It seems clear that more of a rebalancing act needs to be performed across the creative economy as a whole if these entrenched issues are to be rectified.

As the latest DCMS stats show, the creative industries are increasingly being recognised as a vital part of the UK economy.

But there’s much more to be done to make recruitment practises in the creative industries fit for purpose. Meeting that need is hugely important if the growth we have seen over the last few years is to be sustainable in the long term.

Want to help make the creative sector accessible to all? Support our campaign to build a creative nation.

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