Creative jobs: what does the evidence tell us?

A lot is said about the importance of the creative industries and the changing skills needs of the sector. So what does the evidence tell us? And what we can learn from this about the future of creative careers? Since 2008 we have seen a dramatic change in the nature of working practices in the creative industries. While they have continued to grow, the growth has been uneven across sub-sectors and within job roles.

What do the official statistics tell us?

Creative industries and the creative economy

The creative industries contribute over £77 billion per year to the UK economy – that’s five per cent.

From our statistics, we know that employment in this sector increased by 8.6 per cent between 2011 and 2012, compared to a 0.7 per cent rate for the UK economy as a whole. This makes the creative industries the fastest growing sector, and there’s no sign of slowing down.

And perhaps most fascinating of all, at a time when US research suggests that 47 per cent of current employment is at risk due to automation, creative occupations are at low risk of being taken over by robots.

Beyond the creative industries themselves, there are creative jobs in almost all businesses now, ranging from staff running websites to technical and craft skills. Jobs in the creative economy have grown by 45 per cent since 1997 and make up 2.6 million jobs in total.

As a sector we are resilient. Creative people reinvent themselves all the time.

The role of digital

Another driver is digital. The UK has been at the forefront of this sector with IT, digital games and technical-creative crossover.

But digital development is changing the world of work much more dramatically, and even creative businesses are behind the curve in adopting the new technologies: online distribution and box office; new ways of publishing; live events streaming and well-deployed websites.

Importantly, anyone coming into the work will need to be a fluent user of all things digital.

Globalisation has also driven change, making it possible for even micro-businesses to operate internationally, but also bringing competition from overseas where labour costs are cheaper.

What do we know about creative jobs?

Small businesses and self-employment are surging

Forty three per cent of workers within the creative industries are self-employed and this is where the growth is. This brings some challenges: a lot of people will not progress into employment in the traditional sense. They will work for themselves.

Most of the businesses are micro-businesses. Seventy eight per cent of creative businesses have fewer than five employees. And this is growing too.

This suggests challenges for the businesses themselves in terms of the burden of taking on young people who are not job-ready.

Creatives are highly qualified

Workers are unusually highly qualified with 57 per cent of workers qualified at level 4 or above – graduates or post-graduates – in comparison to only 32 per cent of the workforce at this level in other industries.

This sounds positive, but it hides other issues. A lot of people are over-qualified for the jobs they are doing and some are using entry-level jobs to get a foot in the door. This makes for rapid turnover and poor productivity.

Unpaid internships affect diversity

Because jobs in our sector are attractive there’s a culture of unpaid internships, which means that only those young people that can pay for themselves get work. The diversity statistics in the sector are very poor as a result.

So the creative and cultural industries are an area of strength for the UK and central to the visitor economy too. But there are skills challenges and there is a paradox.

This is something we are asked whenever we talk about the labour market statistics: how can it be that the creative industries are doing so well but I can’t see all these new job opportunities?

And for teachers and lecturers: what information can I give my students about course choices and career options?

3 lessons about future creative jobs

1. You need the skills to make a job, not take one

If 40 per cent of the workforce is self-employed, then the rhetoric around preparing people to be employed is misplaced. This will only rise further.

On the negative side, secure jobs with tenure, pensions and sickness pay are being replaced by jobs that do not have these benefits. More positively, technological changes are making flexible working easier.

Either way it’s a challenge for the next generation of workers. This affects the workers themselves. And if they earn less they contribute less to per-capital GDP.

People will need the entrepreneurial skills to make a job, not look for one. Growth will come from people able to make a living, a profit or a business from their creativity or passion. This is how the creative industries operate.

Self-employment in the creative industries is often different from other sectors: there's more portfolio working, which relies heavily on networks of co-workers, commissioners and project work – it needs social skills as much as technical skills. These are often gained in arts courses.

2. Performing is the tip of the iceberg

For those who will be employed in the entertainment sector, they will be in the backstage, technical, front-of-house and administration roles and probably not on stage or screen.

Unfortunately more people want to sing, dance, act or perform than there are opportunities. Only about a third of the jobs in our sector are in creative roles. There are more jobs in support roles.

And we don’t say this to denigrate Performing Arts courses that are a vital part of any ‘broad and balanced curriculum’ and something that every student should do – much as every student takes Maths or Science. But often, people just do not know that the other jobs are available.

Even successful actors rarely work more than 12 weeks per year as actors. They have other jobs. Careers advisers need to be aware of the bigger picture of available jobs.

3. You need to be T-shaped

People will need to be T-shaped – meaning that everyone will need both ‘deep’ skills and a wider range of other skills too.

People must have a depth of experience in a particular field – for example graphic design, a craft or music – but combined with an ability to collaborate across disciplines, work with other people and respond to immediate challenges.

Just as on stage we look for ‘triple threat’ performers who are equally good at acting, singing and dancing, so we now need everyone to be specialist, have digital skills and be enterprising.

But more than this: we need young people with curiosity and a love of learning that extends way beyond acquiring qualifications and completing formal education.

We need creative practice everywhere

Insofar as we know what the future looks like, we can guess what most companies will need: web designers and builders, social media and digital staff, people equally happy with both ‘live’ and ‘live-streaming’, account managers who understand the creatives but can interface with clients too.

We also know that we’ll need people in skilled technical and technician roles. We'll need makers of garments and costumes. Carpenters, technicians and metalworkers who can build sets and scenery. Designers who are equipped for both technical and client-facing work. People who can ‘make and do’ as well as those who can conceive ideas.

The point is that, more and more, we’ll need creative practice inside everything we do if we are to maintain our edge as a creative nation – but also the technician skills to deliver.

Pauline Tambling CBE  12 May 2015  |  Creative Choices