Upskilling the UK's Creative Industries
First published in a New Statesman Skills Supplement, July 2017.
Download the full supplement pdf here.
The creative economy employs one in every 11 people working in the UK, and contributes almost £90bn to the economy. Between 2011 and 2015, employment in the creative economy grew by 20 per cent, compared with just over six per cent in the wider economy. Exports in film, TV, radio and photography grew by almost 10 per cent from 2009-2014, generating over £4.7bn, and 2016 saw a new record in international inward investment in UK film and TV production of over £1.8bn. This country’s content, crews, production services and locations are in demand around the world, and our creative industries are thriving.
This growth is great news for the economy, but it comes hand-in-hand with a rapid increase in the demand for skills and talent. Skills needs are changing both in traditional roles, such as art direction and costume design, and in new areas such as graphics design and motion capture – and there are major pinch-points. The British Film Institute recently highlighted a range of key skills gaps in areas such as costume design and production accounting. Skills gaps vary across the UK, reflecting specialist regional production clusters such as high-end drama in Northern Ireland and Wales, animation in Bristol and the South-West, and film in the South-East.
The creative sector also has to compete for skills with other industries as many valuable skills are transferable, from specific abilities in digital technologies and project management to more loosely defined skills such as creativity. As a result there is a competitive international market for creative skills and talent, and some of the UK’s screen-based sectors have developed significantly international workforces. For example, 43 per cent of the visual effects workforce is from outside the UK and Ireland. British companies already face stiff global competition for the skilled people they need to help maintain their creative competitive edge, and a Brexit that includes immigration controls would exacerbate this challenge. Over 75 per cent of employers in creative businesses employ EU nationals, and 66 per cent believe these individuals fill roles that could not currently be taken up by British workers.
It is also true that “who you know” remains a major factor in the creative industries. This can be a significant barrier to entry and progression among those from under-represented groups, or those without the right contacts. Guidance on entry routes and career progression remains inconsistent, and many talented individuals are unable to make the most of their skills.
To be effective and employable, people joining the creative industries need a combination of digital, creative and project-related skills in addition to any specialist job-related experience. However there is evidence from creative businesses that education and vocational training aren’t adequately preparing young people for working in a film, TV or related production environment. Criticisms include new entrants’ lack of work-readiness and their inability to cope with project based creative working environments where over 40 per cent of creative industry employees operate flexibly, often as freelancers.
For those already working in the creative sector there are reskilling and upskilling challenges as the industry – and digital production technologies – evolve. It can be hard to find the time and money to invest in professional training, especially for the high proportion of freelancers and micro-businesses in this sector.
Patchy accreditation of courses, from education through to workplace training, means that individuals and employers can’t easily decide on what will best meet their skills needs. Creative industry employers are keen to see a simple ‘quality mark’ approach across courses and training providers so that everyone can make appropriate choices about skills development.
In the past, UK policymakers have not fully taken into account the cyclical and project-based freelance employment patterns traditional in sectors such as the construction and creative industries, even though flexible working and the ‘gig economy’ are increasingly widespread. Relevant skills policy and investment are essential to support growth in sectors that work in this way. Industry, educators and government need to work together on an ambitious blueprint for next-generation skills – balancing national and regional needs, reflecting project-based working, addressing future skills shortages, and tackling barriers to entry to improve workforce diversity.
One example is the London Mayor’s “Skills for Londoners” initiative, which is developing a new skills agenda so that Londoners will have the opportunity to train in the skills that the capital’s economy needs. Taskforce members include business leaders and employers, skills and education experts and London government representatives in order to ensure a citywide strategic approach.
Already we have seen encouraging signs that UK workforce policy is evolving in response to industry skills needs. The general election does not seem to have derailed initiatives such as the new ‘T-Levels’ resulting from Lord Sainsbury’s review, designed to improve vocational skills training from age 16 through annual investment of £500m in technical education. The restructured apprenticeship framework, too, remains intact, and new industrial strategy proposals, including a skills and talent strand, are still in progress.
Against this backdrop, organisations like Creative Skillset – the skills body for the UK’s screen-based creative industries – continue working with industry partners to tackle skills priorities. Together, we have endorsed the following plan to develop the skills our creative industries need:
- Forecast skills needs: data on current and predicted skills needs will allow educators, employers and policymakers to plan effectively for next-generation skills needs.
- Improve guidance: deliver better advice on the skills those considering a creative industry career, and those already working in the sector, will need.
- Broaden entry routes and ensure entrants are ready for work: develop inclusive vocational training opportunities and relevant degree-level learning to improve diversity and work-readiness.
- Support continuing professional development: target training at skills gaps so that those working in the industry remain employable through reskilling and upskilling.
- Strengthen course and trainer accreditation: extend a ‘quality mark’ system for practitioner-approved courses, from education through to employment, and for training providers, to ensure that all learning and skills development meets industry needs.