Overview of the creative arts sector in the UK

Dan Mason, Editorial manager
January, 2020

A fast growing sector that has become pivotal to the UK economy, creative arts and design encompasses careers as diverse as advertising, fashion, film and graphic design

The UK's creative industries contributed £101.5billion value to the economy in 2017, according to the Creative Industries Federation. This is more than a 50% increase since 2010 and means the sector makes up 5.5% of the economy as a whole.

Even more importantly, more than two million people work in creative industries and that number is growing - already up nearly a third since 2011. All these figures demonstrate that this is a vibrant sector with lots of opportunities for graduate careers.

It's useful to note that, while the sector is in general good health, its growth over recent years has been driven by a boom in computer services, highlighting the importance of digital creative industries such as video games.

What creative industries can I work in?

Employment opportunities can be grouped into:

  • advertising and marketing
  • architecture
  • crafts
  • design
  • fashion
  • film, TV, video, radio and photography
  • IT, software and computer services
  • publishing
  • museums, galleries and libraries
  • music, performing and visual arts.

Areas of design include:

  • exhibition
  • games
  • graphic
  • industrial
  • interior
  • landscape
  • product
  • textiles
  • theatre.

Working in the sector, you'll have the opportunity to pursue practical roles such as an artist, actor or interior designer, or administrative or managerial jobs such as an arts administrator or museum curator.

There is an increasing overlap with the media and information technology sectors in relation to the use of digital technology to produce and deliver creative content. This is noticeable in roles such as web design, animation and game design.

For examples of job roles in this sector, see creative jobs.

Who are the main graduate employers?

The creative industries are mainly made up of small companies and micro-businesses, the majority of which employ fewer than ten people. While the highest proportion of creative industry jobs are located in London, many opportunities are located elsewhere in the UK. The South East, East of England, North West, South West and Scotland are key regions.

While the majority of companies may be small, the sector also has large well-established organisations that recruit graduates. Examples include:

  • Advertising - AMV BBDO, Grey UK, Leo Burnett, McCann.
  • Cultural heritage - English Heritage, National Trust, National Museum Wales, Victoria and Albert Museum, National Galleries of Scotland.
  • Design - Jaguar Land Rover, Harrods, AKQA, Big Active.
  • Fashion - Arcadia, ASOS, Burberry, John Lewis & Partners, Marks & Spencer, Next.
  • Film/TV - Ealing Studios, Endemol Shine UK, Pinewood Studios, Sony Pictures, ITV, BBC, Channel 4.
  • Music - Opera North, Sony Music UK, Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group.
  • Publishing - Bloomsbury, HarperCollins UK, Oxford University Press, Penguin Random House.
  • Video games - Rockstar North, Codemasters, Sports Interactive, Creative Assembly.

For jobs in the creative industries speculative applications can be particularly useful as many graduate positions are never formally advertised. Creativepool is a valuable networking resource for companies and individuals.

Many design opportunities are to be found in design consultancies or advertising agencies. The Directory of Design Consultants is a useful resource to locate consultancies.

Self-employment is also a viable option in a sector where competition for jobs and graduate scheme places is high, as is freelancing.

What's it like working in the sector?

Graduates entering the creative arts and design sector can expect:

  • the need to demonstrate a practical creative talent or to show a passion for art, design, music or other creative pursuits
  • to spend time practicing and honing their craft, particularly for actors, dancers and musicians
  • to need to be independent, proactive and resilient
  • a higher than average likelihood of being self-employed or freelance, or of working on short-term contracts
  • the majority of work to be project-based and deadline-driven
  • lower salaries, an unsteady income and a lack of job security when you first start out in the industry - potentially leading to great success
  • working environments to range from offices and art/design/film/photography studios to theatres, museums and music venues
  • working hours to vary enormously, from regular office hours to working evenings and weekends, and the flexibility of choosing your hours as a freelancer
  • to have to keep up to date with industry developments
  • to travel and work away from home depending on your role, for example touring as an actor or musician, or shooting a TV or movie scene on location as part of the crew.

To find out more about typical salaries and working conditions in your chosen career, see job profiles.

What are the key issues in the creative industries?

Despite the sector's rapid growth, it has its fair share of challenges. In a manifesto published ahead of the general election in December 2019, the Creative Industries Federation warned that the UK's creative industries 'are often under-capitalised, suffer from skills shortages that impede growth, and are hampered by a lack of diversity and unequal access to the opportunities that organisations and individuals need to reach their full potential'.

For example, long-term unpaid internships have been an established practice in the industry but they promote unfair access by shutting out those who cannot afford to subsidise their placements. This significantly narrows the pool of talent available to a sector that needs creativity and diversity to thrive. Improving the diversity of their workforces is now a particular focus of many employers in this field.

It can still be harder to find a graduate job in creative arts and design than other industries because so much of the sector is made up of microbusinesses and self-employment. Traditional graduate schemes are not as commonplace as they are in other areas. You'll need to develop skills and experience through work experience and paid internships to build your portfolio.

The number of students taking creative subjects such as music and performing arts at GCSE level has fallen significantly over recent years, partly because of government policy emphasising traditional subjects including maths and science. This could lead to a shortage of creative talent entering this sector in the coming years, potentially stifling its continued growth.

Find out more

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