The creative industries are growing faster than any other area of the UK economy - great news for talented graduates with a passion for art and design. Discover what it's like to work in the sector

Government statistics from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) show that in 2015 the creative industries contributed £87billion to the UK economy. The number of jobs in the sector increased by 3.2% between 2014 and 2015 to 1.9 million, 5.8% of total UK jobs.

According to the DCMS the creative industries, which include advertising, architecture, arts and culture, craft, design, fashion, games, music, publishing, technology and TV and film, are growing faster than the UK economy as a whole.

What areas of the creative arts and design sector 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.

There are many different areas of design, including:

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

You could be in a practical role as an artist or designer, or in an administrative or managerial role, such as museum curating or arts administration.

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 games design.

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

Who are the main graduate employers?

The creative arts and design sector is made up of a lot of small companies and micro-businesses, the majority of which employ fewer than five people. While the highest proportion of creative industry jobs are located in London, over two thirds of jobs are located elsewhere in the UK. Yorkshire and the Humber, East Midlands, West Midlands and the South West all have increasing numbers of creative jobs.

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 London, Leo Burnett;
  • 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, Marks & Spencer, Next
  • Film/TV - Ealing Studios, Pinewood Studios, Sony Pictures, ITV, BBC, Channel 4;
  • Music - Opera North, Warner Music Group.

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.

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 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. The financial rewards of working in the creative arts and design sector can be great but you will first need to build your reputation and expertise;
  • working environments to range from offices and art/design/film studios to theatres and museums;
  • 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. The creative industries are rapidly expanding and you'll need to keep pace with the changes especially if you're freelance or self-employed;
  • to travel and work away from home depending on your role. For example actors and musicians may need to tour nationally or internationally and those working in the film/TV or fashion industries may need to visit foreign countries for shows or shoots.

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 arts and design sector?

While the creative sector may be the fastest-growing part of the UK economy, it still has its share of issues to tackle. The main challenge is in ensuring diverse and sustainable recruitment.

Long-term unpaid internships are 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.

Graduates considering a creative career will also face a sector that is highly-qualified, but often under-skilled. Employers report a lack of the right skills and experience when recruiting. Moreover, almost half of the industry is self-employed and most companies are micro-businesses, making it less likely that a graduate will find employment in the traditional sense. You will therefore need to build up industry skills and experience (through paid internships or higher-level diplomas).

According to Creative and Cultural Skills, the sector skills council, graduates should consider a portfolio career of 'T-shaped' skills (a depth of experience in a particular field, combined with an ability to work broadly across disciplines) and develop the entrepreneurial skills necessary to make a job, not look for one.