There is a lot of anecdotal reporting about the importance of the creative industries and views about the future growth and skills needs of the sector. Earlier this year Creative & Cultural Skills brought together recent reports and the evidence base to give a view as to what needs to happen in education and in industry for the sector to thrive. This is outlined through the publication, Building a creative nation: the next decade some of the key points of which are highlighted here.

Official statistics tell us that the number of people employed in the UK creative sector is equivalent to the major public sectors like education and health with approximately 1.8 million people working in each. The creative industries contribute over £77 billion per year to the UK economy - an all-time high. From 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. Also we know that the creative industries have never lost staff numbers through three major recessions since the 1970s, but most fascinating of all at a time when US research suggests that 47% of current employment is at risk due to automation creative occupations are at low risk of being taken over by robots. We find that creative jobs are much more resistant to automation with 87% of the jobs described in the publication said to be at low risk. As a sector creative and cultural industries are resilient. Creative people re-invent themselves all the time.

Beyond the creative industries themselves there are now creative jobs in almost all businesses ranging from staff running websites, big IT systems, communications and marketing to technical and craft skills. We tend to call this the wider 'Cultural Economy' – creative jobs in traditional businesses. Creative jobs in creative industries have grown by 138% since 1997, all jobs – creative and traditional - in the creative industries have grown by 83% and the wider creative economy – creative industries plus all the creative jobs in all industries by 45% with over 2.6 million jobs in total.

Another driver is digital. The UK has been at the forefront of this sector with IT, digital games and technical-creative crossover. Digital development is changing the world of work much more dramatically and even creative business 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. It is important to note that any young person coming into the work nowadays will need to be a fluent user of all things digital.??

Globalisation has also driven change making it possible for even the smallest businesses to operate internationally. However globalisation also brings competition from overseas where labour costs are cheaper. A UK-based organisation can just as easily hire an overseas web-developer as one based at home. This is an attractive sector and there are plenty of young people drawn to these industries even though the wages are low and the hours are often long and unsocial.

What do we know about these jobs? A key fact is that 43% of workers within the creative industries are self-employed and this is where the growth is. This brings with it some big challenges: a lot of young people will not progress into employment in the traditional sense. They will work for themselves. This answers the paradox when 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? It's because young people now need to think about making a job not simply taking a job.

For teachers and lecturers there is a dilemma: what information should I give my students about course choices and career options in the context of this information? For FE in general there is the challenge to ensure that courses offered are responsive to the true needs of the sector. Courses that develop both 'deep' skills and a wider range of other skills too. Industry is crying out for young people with a depth of experience in a particular field – for example graphic design or music technology, but combined with an ability to collaborate across disciplines, work with other people and respond to immediate challenges. Industry is frustrated seeing FE produce vocational courses where there is student demand (e.g. performing arts) but little chance of a career. It's time to think again, and build a Creative Nation.

Robert West is head of programmes at the National Skills Academy for Creative & Cultural, and a freelance writer

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