A creative career path

Around 2.8 million people are employed in the creative economy and there are thousands of exciting posts that many young people do not know exist. Louise Jury and Eliza Easton from the Creative Industries Federation explain why there is a lack of careers advice for this industry.

Many young people dream of being a film star or something glamorous in pop. In fact, nearly a fifth of teenagers are considering a career in acting, art, fashion or other creative industries at the age of 13. But that figure falls to 13 per cent by the time they are sitting A-levels or higher.

Some of that drop will be the consequence of a reality check – the realisation of just how hard it can be to break into these highly competitive fields and what it will require. A little bit of common sense is no bad thing. But what is bad is if teenagers pull back from working in the creative industries because they do not know enough about the range of options that exist.

Around 2.8 million people are employed in the creative economy and there are thousands of exciting posts that many young people would enjoy doing if only they knew they were there. Theatres and movies are not only about the actors in the limelight but about the legions of costume designers, electricians, set‑makers and script editors behind the scenes.

The design process in car manufacturing uses highly-paid clay modellers, book publishing requires the writers, but also the editors, designers, PR and marketing teams that transform manuscripts into blockbusters.

A missunderstood industry
The fact that many schools are ill-equipped to advise on any of these interesting and fruitful creative career paths reflects a wider problem. As a sector, the creative industries and arts are not widely understood.

It has been the fastest growing part of the economy since 2008, worth £84.1bn in 2013-14 (the last official figures) and growing by almost double the rate of the UK economy as a whole. But the creative industries have been only defined as a distinct group of jobs for less than 20 years.

And part of the wider failure to understand this sector is because many of its jobs are in small enterprises such as graphic design companies or video games start-ups with an average of three members of staff. There are also many freelancers from star name directors to illustrators and editors. These are not jobs in companies who will field stands at careers fairs, have big factories to tour or even necessarily have a clear route to promotion.

A dissconnect with policy
Schools cannot be blamed for failing to get to grips with the opportunities available when, at the highest level of government, the needs of the sector are not understood.

Much of government now celebrates the creative industries and diplomats and ministers use shows from Sherlock to War Horse as ‘soft power’ calling cards to show off brand Britain around the world. Both David Cameron, when prime minister, and George Osborne, as chancellor, championed the significance of the sector.

But there is still a frequent disconnect with policy. For instance, the emphasis on EBacc – an attainment measure which marginalises creative subjects – is at odds with a recognition of the value of the creative economy. There are already highly-covetable jobs where Britain is failing to produce enough youngsters to fill them, creating skills shortages. The Tier 2 Shortage Occupation List of jobs with such severe skills shortages that the government will permit visas includes many in creative industries such as special effects, graphic design and animation. This highlights the need both for a properly creative education and for careers advice which understands the skills and subjects needed for students to be able to enter these fields in future.

Re-thinking careers advice
Sadly, our current education policy looks set to further exacerbate this problem, not fix it.

The good news is that the government is currently rethinking careers advice. Sir John Holman, who recently addressed our own working group on further and higher education, wrote the Gatsby Report on Good Careers Guidance which the government is using as a benchmark. The North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) is running a four‑year pilot programme for Lord Sainsbury’s Gatsby Foundation involving intensive careers activity with schools, colleges and businesses as well as data collection and analysis. A more imaginative approach is being taken than in times past, including a greater emphasis from the government on working with businesses to get them into schools. This is to be welcomed but does present hurdles for the creative industries. The danger is that it is bigger companies that have the staff and resources to take part in careers initiatives whereas a glass-blower, a dance company or the aforementioned freelances, for whom time is very much money, feel less able to contribute.

Yet, we do believe smaller businesses should be encouraged to take part in such initiatives and open their doors to students.
Good advice is particularly crucial given the financial investment most people working in the creative industries make in their own development. In general, workers in the creative industries are highly educated with as many as three-quarters of staff with degrees compared with 32 per cent of the general UK workforce.

The government’s new emphasis on apprenticeships may see new routes into the industry develop alongside existing apprenticeships in fashion and textiles or in technical roles in film, television and digital media. There is a challenge in making sure that these apprenticeships are devised so as to help tackle the skills shortages and open up jobs to a wider and more diverse range of students. It makes it even more important for young people to have the information they need to invest their time and money in the best way possible.

But it means teachers also need help to grasp the needs of the sector where many interesting jobs benefit from a mix of subjects that is not being delivered by a conventional divide between the arts/humanities and STEM.

In the broadest terms, education in this country has often encouraged assumptions that the arts are creative but not useful in an economic sense while STEM subjects are seen as non-creative drivers of the economy. Both are unhelpful and potentially dangerous misconceptions because we need creative scientists and engineers to work on groundbreaking projects from the Large Hadron Collider to HS2 as well as artists and designers who understand the affordances of materials and the uses of technology. The arts can also be a useful gateway into careers not in the creative industries – for example, the engineering sector has shown that women are likely to find their way to engineering through studying design and technology and art and design, rather than just through mathematics or science.

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