Investing in the UK’s Future Workforce, Why Creativity Matters

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Investing in the UK’s Future Workforce, Why Creativity Matters

How can we better evidence the value in creative skills, in both the creative industries sectors and beyond, and make a stronger case for investment?

Part of Creative Coalition Festival’s Factory series, the Investing in the UK’s Workforce event looked at how creative skills are valued in the workplace, considering the wider perceptions of creativity held by the public and how policy makers measure creativity.

Amanda Stevens, Heads of Research and Impact at Creative UK chaired the discussion, which included speakers: Jo Johnson – Chair, Access Creative College; Josie Fraser – Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Open University; Rachel Nicholson – Head of Institution, Backstage Academy; Leena Norms – Youtuber, Poet, and Writer.

To open the discussion, Amanda Stevens posed the argument that the creative industries have an issue with value. “It’s really important to understand the creative skills aren’t just mutually exclusive with the creative industries. They’re actually instrumental both to our sector’s growth and to that of other sectors and the workforce of the future.”

Jo Johnson suggested that though people in the creative industries are passionate about their work, it “doesn’t detract from the fact that they’re also creating enormous economic value and they create real activity for the UK economy.”

Josie Fraser explained that “a lot of the focus that I think we’re all seeing as the economy and the world changes is people that want to change career during their lifetime.” She highlighted the emergence of ‘micro credentials’ as a new way to learn, describing how learners have the freedom to switch direction in their careers without the baggage of a three year degree and the debt that comes with it. “You get something that does have a value of University credit, which is a good quality badge because there is so much available online now.”

Reflecting on the impact of COVID-19 on the live event industry, Rachel Nicholson suggested that the pandemic “has helped to really clearly articulate the strengths of a creative education in that transferability of skill set.” Identifying a relationship between education and industry, she called for a change in how the education system is set up by ensuring “that what we are teaching is enabling the development of those skills with individuals so that they can continue to keep adapting their own practice.”

Speaking on her own experiences, Leena Norms referenced the gender pay gap as an example of how the value of creativity suffers from economic disparity. However, she also noted how the rise of freelance work has led to an increased awareness of how people are paid in the industry. “We’re moving towards an incredible creative economy,” she said, “where people can put things up for free and audiences are more motivated to pay for it when they know where the money is going, and because it’s going directly to the artist, they’re way more likely to pay for it.”

Discussing the status of the creative industries outside of London and the South East, Rachel celebrated the improved profile in cities like Leeds and Manchester, but suggested to exercise caution where funding is concerned: “I would say that there is a prevalence really for London and the South East, particularly when it comes to funding and you see the same people getting the research or the project funding again and again.”

“Inevitably when we do go regional,” Josie added, “we tend to go to certain big cities because of the population density there.” But she was quick to add that online courses and remote access to learning allows anybody, anywhere, the chance to learn, but that government must support these initiatives with broadband rollouts and 5G access.

On the perception of the public towards creative jobs, Leena highlighted exchange as the fundamental point of understanding: “I think it’s not a lack of understanding from the general public’s perspective about the value of art. It’s just lack of understanding about how much [money] actually reaches the artist and how they can, how they can be part of making that a fairer exchange.”

Adding to this, Rachel noted that the “alignment with traditional employment versus a much more portfolio career model is absolutely a viable, enriching and desirable career that we should be encouraging students and graduates to really explore.”

For Jo, equiping the next generation of creatives with the skills they need lies partly with the Treasury: “we do need Treasury to learn the lessons of COVID and to recognize this society wants us to recognize socially useful but lower earning professions and to move away from metrics that depend on measures of earnings and repayment rates.”

As the panel came to a close, we were left with Leena’s words: “When we talk about the creative industries not being very profitable, it’s not because they’re not bringing in profit. It’s just not profitable for the individual right now, rather than not being a profitable industry.”

Investing in the UK’s Workforce was sponsored by the Open University.

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