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The Dichotomy of Data in Careers Decisions

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Chris Targett
31 March 2016

Creative industries worth almost £10 million an hour to the economy… um, hang on…

Optimistic accounts of the UK’s creative industries worth to the economy are great to hear and as an artistic soul myself not something I would wish to question. Not only do such statistics provide an optimistic narrative for students seeking to embark in careers in this sector, they also hint at the chance of genuine opportunities in a thriving and interesting arena. Yet, as someone who has various friends working in the industry, I am aware that there may be difficulties with such absolute labour market information announcements.

As with any broad statement of statistics we must be cautious as the finer details, of where the work is and isn’t, are often missed. In basic terms, the question we need to ask is “who is getting the money?” We also have to check the validity of the statistics for agenda and whether these are genuine growth areas or whether they are areas that have been designated for supported investment and/or part of a marketing strategy to aid growth (designated as a priority area).

Where you live in the country impacts on the work available, what you are doing and for whom you work. There is also volatility in some sectors, where work is intermittent, which may have an effect on the length of time an individual is in work. I have a couple of friends in the music industry, who having been working on contracts, have come unstuck when larger businesses in their supply chain have shifted their business model to accessing free creative content rather than paying them (as musicians and sound effect producers) to create it. This is the other aspect which maybe unique to the creative industries – the sheer volume of free creative content currently available. Yet, when the artisans remain unpaid and are happy to work for free, how sustainable does this become?

Breaking down the headline figure on the government website gives us a clearer understanding on the state of the creative industries. We can contrast this information with other sources of LMI found elsewhere (I would recommend a search and read of the related reports if this is an area which interests you). As an example, one table from the core report (see links) indicates the rate of growth in each part of the Creative Industries. From this we can begin to see that the areas are growing at different rates, meaning that not all opportunities are equal.

“Table 5: GVA of the UK Creative Industries 1997 – 2014 (£m)”, indicates a leap of the GVA (gross value added) income from the Creative Industries to the UK. In 1997 it stood at £31,205 (£m) and had risen to £84,067 (£m) by 2014. However, most of this increase in value comes from the “IT, software and computer services”, followed by the “Advertising and marketing” sectors with mainly mild growth in the other areas. A visual representation of which sectors are adding to the majority of this growth between 2008 and 2014 is found on page 8 of the report via a “Treemap”. This makes for a useful visual representation that may help advisers working with students to consider how competitive the creative industries are and which areas are growing fastest.

All of this raises concerns, not just for the Creative Industries, but wider as well. How, as advisers and educationalists, do we balance the information we feed our students? Do we raise their hopes up and inspire them but, with the awareness that for some their aspirations maybe dashed later (giving them a false hope)? Or do we provide them with much cooler data that creates so many barriers that they don’t even dare to hope and try - crushed before they even begin? Neither of these extremes sit comfortably with me, as they are each in their own way too harsh; too black and white. In contrast, the solution we could offer is one which is more balanced and focussed on the students owning their research, through supported self-discovery of the sectors; helping them to make informed decisions about their future.

Combined with their education we must provide real opportunities of work experience in all sectors for our students, to enable them to grasp the reality of these careers first hand. To have the opportunity to speak to those who are thriving and find out how they have successfully navigated their careers. From this they can see how their aspirations can be achieved and the resilience and tactics that may be required to succeed, as well as understand the point, that for many success is not an overnight phenomenon but takes sacrifice and toil (contrary to the images we see via mass media in popular television shows).

Secondly, we must stop being marketers of labour market headlines (such as those detailed above) and teach students how to interpret and analyse labour market information properly. Students need to know to look for validity by checking sources, how to compare and contrast one source with another and interpret the data. They need to be able to break down and understand what they are being shown so they move from being passive consumers of data to interrogators of information and analysts. Not only will these skills help them navigate the various sources of labour market information they are flooded with but will help them in their working and day to day lives later. Being able to discern grains of truth from the murky distortions of the mass and social media is certainly useful. Such tasks can be embedded in PSHE as well as Statistics, Maths, Sociology and History lessons in school. In vocational courses time must be allowed for this activity in order to place the learning in context.  

Lastly, we can also provide students with the broader picture and understanding of how their skills can be transferred to other sectors. Effective careers guidance isn’t about colluding with an individual’s aspirations and showing them just how to reach their unique goal (no matter how exciting it may be), it is also about taking our clients further and showing them the bigger picture as well.  It still saddens me to hear of former Art students who don’t realise that their skills can be used in many other sectors through the transferring of their skills. An ability to think creatively and laterally, communicate clearly and solve problems is sought by many employers at various levels; from retail through to business management. If only someone had explained this to them they may have found themselves less constrained or trapped by circumstance.

As educationalists it is important we do our duty in showing students how they can build the careers they aspire to, if they are able to build successful creative careers fantastic but, it is also important for us to show them where they can take their skills if the volatility of the labour market means that they can’t get to where they wish to be. Consider, how can they make an informed choice if they have only been shown half the sweets in the sweet shop.

Written by: Chris Targett

Originally published on the CXK Blog, Thursday 4th February 2016

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