We must harness the positive of technological change

Tom Watson,  26 March 2018

Tom Watson MP, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party and Shadow Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, shares his thoughts about supporting the creative industries and education.

Image credit: @tomoxleyphoto
Image credit: @tomoxleyphoto

In the run-up to our 2018 National Conference, we are running a series of think-pieces on key issues affecting our creative industries and the future of the workforce. Tom Watson will be leading a breakout at the Conference on 17 April, and presenting the Skills Awards on the evening of 16 April.

Hardly a week goes by lately without a news story predicting mass displacement of workers by robots. Rather than succumb to the sometimes apocalyptic narrative, we have to harness the positive change that technological change can make. We can’t resort to ‘Luddite’ methods by seeking to put a brake on the pace of change. It hasn’t worked in the past and it won’t work now.

Instead we need to look at the new kinds of jobs that will be created by this change and the sectors that are proving resistant to automation and put our energy, investment and retraining efforts there.

One of those sectors is the creative industries. The innovation charity NESTA estimate that just 15 per cent of jobs in the creative industries are at high risk of being automated compared to 32 per cent of non-creative industries jobs. Not only are existing creative industries jobs likely to be durable, the number of jobs in this sector is growing every day.

At last count the creative industries accounted for almost 2 million UK jobs increasing at 5 per cent per year compared to a 1.2 per cent increase in the wider UK workforce. The growth isn’t just in London either. Yorkshire & Humber’s film and TV industries, that play host to fantastic programmes like Victoria, rose by 40 per cent in the last year and creative industries jobs in the West Midlands grew by 66 per cent.

We need to look at the new kinds of jobs that will be created by this change and the sectors that are proving resistant to automation

But this growth is being imperilled by this Government’s attack on creative education that is causing a looming skills crisis. New figures produced by the House of Commons Library show that the number of music, drama and art teachers in English schools have fallen by 3,900 since 2010 and the number of hours taught of these subjects was 45,000 lower in 2016 than in 2010. The number of GCSE entries in creative subjects fell by 46,000 last year. This is the direct result of the Government’s relentless focus on ‘core’ Ebacc subjects forcing arts subjects to fall by the wayside.

Every child should have the right to a creative and cultural education. Not just because it is important to employability but because it’s important to quality of life. That’s why Labour promised a £160m arts pupil premium for primary schools in England to make sure children have access to cultural activities from an early age.

We’ve also promised that part of our £1 billion cultural capital fund will be available to upgrade arts facilities in state schools so that it matches the level found in many private schools. That’s part of our mission to make sure that talented kids from council estates have as good a chance as kids from country estates at a career in the arts.

Every child should have the right to a creative and cultural education.

We must also ensure that non-creative skills are spoken about in relation to the creative industries so we can grow and celebrate cognitive, as well as social, diversity.  Whilst individual organisations across the sector cite a range of skills challenges, Creative & Cultural Skills recently commissioned CFE Research to undertake a Future Skills Needs Assessment of the sector, which suggests there are some common skills gaps and shortages across the arts and cultural workforce. A key issue relates to business administration skills including fundraising, financial planning and management, marketing and communications, and people management.

Technological advancements and the rapidly changing digital landscape also pose challenges, particularly in leaders’ confidence to adapt to such changes and in the practical application of using such technology to create, host and market art. Alongside these skills, challenges around sector specific technical and craft skills including jewellery making, costume making, set design, ceramics and glass blowing continue.

Too often in recent years it has fallen to charities and campaign groups like Creative & Cultural Skills and Creative Skillset doing amazing work in offering training to open up jobs in the creative sector to a diversity of young people who might not always have had the chance to work in theatre, museums, film and television in the past, and to support workers in learning new skills later in their careers, perhaps after having children. But this work has to be underpinned by a broad education - including creative subjects - and that work starts to fill in the gaps left by the Government turning away from arts and culture in schools.

These organisations do great work but the situation isn’t sustainable. It is not just about producing the musicians, and designers and filmmakers of the future, it’s about creating a workforce with skills that will be required whatever challenges long after the automation revolution throws at us. Androids can’t replace artistry and human creativity and the Government should be recognising that by investing in these skills. If they won’t, it’s the next generation that will suffer.

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