Careers in creative arts are popular as they span a range of disciplines, from arts, culture, design and media. Prepare to enter a thriving sector by learning more about the UKs creative industries

What are the creative industries?

This is actually an umbrella term that covers a range of sub-sectors that all have creativity at their core.

For example, visual and performing arts, advertising, design, fashion, crafts, music, publishing, film, radio and TV are all creative industries and all form what is known as the UKs creative economy.

In fact, the UKs creative industries are vital to our economy - they employ over two million people and grow faster than other industries. According to recent statistics from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) they contributed £109billion to the economy in 2021. This equated to 5.6% of the total for that year.

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 artistactor or interior designer, or administrative or managerial jobs such as an arts administrator or museum curator.

There's an increasing overlap with the media and information technology (IT) sectors in relation to the use of digital technology to produce and deliver creative content. This is noticeable in roles such as web designer, animator and game designer.

You'll also find a crossover between this sector and marketing, advertising and PR, with advertising in particular considered a key component of the creative industries.

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

Who are the main graduate employers?

The creative industries in the UK 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 based 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.

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

  • Advertising - AMV BBDO, Grey UK, Leo Burnett London, McCann.
  • Cultural heritage - English Heritage, National Trust, National Museum Wales, Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum, National Galleries of Scotland.
  • Design - Jaguar Land Rover, Harrods, AKQA, Big Active.
  • Fashion - ASOS, Burberry, John Lewis & Partners, Marks & Spencer, Next.
  • Film/TV - Ealing Studios, Elstree 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 - Codemasters, Creative Assembly, Rockstar North, Sony Interactive Entertainment (SIE), Sports Interactive.

For jobs in the creative industries, speculative applications can be particularly useful as many graduate positions aren’t formally advertised - although one valuable networking resource you can use is Creativepool.

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

You'll therefore need to develop skills and experience through work experience and paid internships to build your body of work - see 5 tips for getting media work experience and putting together a creative portfolio.

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
  • the need to be independent, proactive and resilient
  • a higher than average likelihood of being self-employed or freelance, or 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 creative career, see our creative arts and design job profiles.

What are the key issues in the creative industries?

In 2023 the government, in partnership with the Creative Industries Council, unveiled its 'sector vision' for the UK creative industries. This outlines the governments ambition that by 2030 the:

  • creative industries will be worth an extra £50billion in Gross Value Added (GVA)
  •  creative workforce will reflect the dynamism and talent of the UK as a whole and will support a million more jobs - addressing skills gaps and shortages
  • positive impact that the creative industries have on individuals, communities, the environment and the UKs global standing will be maximised.

Despite the creative sector's rapid growth and these ambitious plans, it certainly has its fair share of challenges.

When looking at employment figures for the sector in its report on DCMS Sectors Economic Estimates: Workforce, January to December 2022, the government revealed that women had filled half of the roles (45.3%). Compared to the UK as a whole, this marks a lower representation of women. It also found that around a seventh (15.8%) of the workforce had a disability. These findings were similar to the UK overall, but it shows there's still work to be done.

In terms of securing work experience, 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.

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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