A great deal is said about the growth of the creative industries and skills shortages. but less is said about the specific challenges to educators, particularly at post-16.

At Creative & Cultural Skills we work hard to bridge the gap between the creative industries and the Further Education sector. The challenges are two-fold. On one hand, colleges have to respond to student demand and the policy and funding context. Whatever policy makers say about employer engagement, no-one is paying colleges to provide what our creative industries employers need. On the other hand, creative businesses have a poor history of engagement with the education funding and qualifications system and have often adopted poor HR policies, particularly with entry-level recruitment. Sadly, they are inundated with young graduates prepared to take unpaid internships to find a way in as performers. Everyone knows there’s an over-supply of actors, dancers and performers. This creates a perception that there are no skills shortages in the creative industries. There are, however, urgent skills gaps in technical and production, design and IT and of course, a pressing need for young entrepreneurs.

The number of people employed in the UK creative sector is equivalent to the major public sectors like health and education, with approximately 1.8 million people working in each. The creative industries contribute over £84.1 billion per year to the UK economy (5%). From Creative & Cultural Skills’ labour market 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. The creative industries are the fastest growing sector. 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 with 87% of the jobs in the sector being low risk.

Beyond the creative industries themselves there are creative jobs in almost all businesses now ranging from staff running websites, big IT systems, communications and marketing to technical and craft skills. 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 millions jobs in the latter.

What do we know about these jobs? 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 in our sector. They will work for themselves. Most of the businesses are micro-businesses. 78% of creative businesses have fewer than 5 employees. This suggests challenges for the businesses themselves in terms of the burden of taking on young people who are not yet job-ready. Creative businesses can’t compete with big companies in terms of HR, incentives and training, or if they can they are working with one or two recruits, not hundreds per year. They find it challenging to offer work experience opportunities. And they are almost invisible at the big careers events like the Skills Show because they don’t equate investment in promoting their jobs with applications for jobs.

Systematic links between colleges and creative businesses are very hard to build and maintain. Workers are unusually highly qualified with 57% of workers qualified at level 4 or above – graduates or post-graduates – in comparison to only 32% of the workforce at this level in other industries. A lot of young 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. It also squeezes out non-graduates. The diversity statistics in the sector are very poor as a result. As the operating context gets tougher productivity is becoming a real issue and creative industry employers are waking up to the fact that smart working with staff who are actually trained and qualified for the jobs they do is important.

As much as policy makers talk about ‘employer leadership’ in education the more education policy seems at odds with what this growing sector needs.  For the creative industries to thrive we need more young people engaging with creative subjects in schools. Although the Government would like us to believe that the Ebacc is not squeezing out arts and creative subjects it is inevitable when resources are tight that schools will prioritise the Ebacc subjects which will in turn impact on the so-important extra-curricula opportunities that inspire young people to want to pursue a creative career. In Further Education the Government’s obsession with external assessment is putting the courses that all parts of the creative industries value – the applied generals in Art and Design – at risk. It is not the qualifications per se that the sector values.  It is the iterative studio-based learning which is examined in centres and moderated externally that bred ‘Cool Britannia’ producing entrepreneurs, musicians and technicians as well as visual and graphic artists. Today we are living off a system that has long gone.

And apprenticeships. The creative industries is beginning to come to terms with the Apprenticeship Levy – and in the subsidized arts sector where it’s possible to count there is more than £3 million p.a. going to the Levy, without counting the BBC and the big commercial media and design companies. Apprenticeship Standards need to be specific and recognizable as occupational roles but so often our employers would like something much more rounded. Relevant standards are on their way for England but often the provision will need to be ‘niche’. Government policy never supports start-up sectors so the fact that the creative industries’ experience of apprenticeship is recent means that we’re fighting on all fronts to get standards approved and to encourage colleges to ‘take a punt’ on a sector where they haven’t placed apprentices before.

At Creative & Cultural Skills we work with Further Education colleges that are willing to develop new models of delivering apprenticeships and not be too afraid of policy drivers that discriminate against our sector. Where colleges want to improve their ‘offer’ to the creative industries, or indeed work for growth in this sector, the secret is to work with agencies like ours to engage the creative industries in their area, identify the nature of the local sector and put in place a long-term growth plan. The sector itself is surprisingly willing but account will need to be taken of the nature of the sector: freelance, start-up, SME and in need of some cultivating.

Pauline Tambling CBE, CEO of Creative & Cultural Skills

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