Putting skills to work

,  12 October 2015

A productive creative sector relies on making the most of the great diversity of talent available. We need employers to take an active role in shaping training and putting skills to work.

Apprentices debated the future of the creative industries at our National Conference 2015.
Apprentices debated the future of the creative industries at our National Conference 2015.

One of the most common responses I get when I talk about employment issues to colleagues in the creative and cultural industries is that they can’t see why workforce and skills issues matter.

Young people are keen to work in the arts and there’s a steady stream of arts graduates coming through who are looking for jobs in the sector.

How can such a laissez-faire ‘policy’ improve the sector’s productivity or be remotely humane?

Whereas arts and creative practitioners are enthusiastic about making the case for the arts within the school system, they seem quite reluctant to engage with skills policy.

We encourage young people as participants and audiences, but the moment we stray into finding jobs we move from the altruism of ‘arts for art's sake’ and to something more sinister – instrumentalism.

“Education is not about jobs and economic benefit: it’s something for all young people.” Of course! But similarly we want all young people to learn maths, but we know that some will go on to work in the financial sector. It’s not an either/or.

The wastefulness of a hands-off approach

Some arts purists would, I think, be shocked to hear that they are leaving young artists and potential arts workerS ‘to the market’. The strongest will survive and make successful careers, but on the way they may need to take some desperate measures: taking unpaid work for a number of months, for example, using ‘who you know not what you know’ tactics or taking obviously inappropriate jobs to get a ‘foot in the door’.

The only way young people will get experience is if they are working with employers throughout their education.

Can we imagine a world where we don’t treat our young talent to a type of ‘cultural Darwinism’ and start to address the wastefulness of this approach? How can such a laissez-faire ‘policy’ improve the sector’s productivity or be remotely humane?

I am increasingly aware of very articulate young people who feel cheated by the system. They have taken the advice, signed up for the right courses, paid their student fees but where are the jobs?

And on the employer side: why make changes when there are over 100 applications for every vacancy? What’s the problem?

Skills engagement makes all the difference

More positively we are seeing some enlightened employers taking more responsibility for engaging with skills. Some realise that not all jobs are graduate jobs, and require sound on-the-job training as well as knowledge and skills, so apprenticeships are getting a foothold in the creative industries and employers are mostly very happy with them.

Our Creative Employment Programme has helped over 900 employers to take their first apprentices and our evaluation suggests that most want to take more, particularly in technical, venue operations and community arts. And we are seeing a very positive impact on the diversity profile of the sector through this new generation of new recruits. Young people who never saw themselves working in the arts are in work and thriving.

Apprenticeships are getting a foothold in the creative industries and employers are mostly very happy with them.

Over the years, employers have consistently reported dissatisfaction with new recruits who are not job-ready. This is partly because our industry is made up of small businesses and freelancers, and a lot of the work is project-based or seasonal.

Employers like ‘experience’ as well as knowledge and skills. The only way young people will get that experience is if they are working with employers throughout their education: through sound industry-endorsed careers advice which makes it clear where the actual job vacancies are, through work experience and ‘live briefs’ as part of courses and apprenticeships. Where employers are active and working with educators on an ongoing basis, we are seeing a huge shift in work-readiness.

The Government is asking employers to step up and there are some policy shifts which will impact detrimentally on arts organisations. The Apprenticeship Levy, whereby all larger employers will be asked to pay a percentage of their payroll costs for training, is on its way. Most established sectors have already worked out a way to ensure that what they’ll contribute through the levy will come back to them in-kind. Few arts organisations have the systems in place to respond.

Employers in the creative industries are being mobilised through programmes such as those we run at Creative & Cultural Skills, but there’s a way to go.

The Creative & Cultural Skills National Conference 2016 will be on the theme 'Building a Creative Nation: Putting Skills to Work'. Tickets are on sale now.


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