Overview of the UK's creative arts sector
The UK's creative industries boast a range of interesting and exciting careers for those looking to enter a thriving and innovative sector, with opportunities ranging from jobs involved with arts, culture and design to working in video gaming or the media
What are the creative industries?
The creative industries bring together a range of sub-sectors involved with economic activities that all have creativity at their centre.
From fashion, crafts and visual arts to music, publishing, TV, radio and film, these are all part of what's known as the UK's creative economy.
Careers in the creative industries
The UK's creative industries sector contributed £109billion to the economy in 2021, according to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS). This equated to 5.6% of the total for that year.
While the sector was adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, it still performed better than the economy as a whole. Since then, things have started to pick up with the sector growing by 6.9% in September 2022, compared with the same month in 2021.
Accounting for 2.29 million creative industry jobs in the year to September 2021, with 1.62 million of these roles being permanent, the sector workforce has remained strong through a tough period. In fact, these figures demonstrate that this had become a vibrant sector with lots of opportunities for graduate careers.
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
- film, TV, video, radio and photography
- IT, software and computer services
- museums, galleries and libraries
- music, performing and visual arts.
Areas of design include:
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'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 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 are never formally advertised - although one valuable networking resource you can use is Creativepool.
Many design opportunities are found in design consultancies or advertising agencies.
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?
Despite the creative sector's rapid growth, it certainly has its fair share of challenges.
The government is working on a 'sector vision', in partnership with the Creative Industries Council, which has been delayed since 2021. This strategy document will set out plans for the sector well into the 2030s, as it seeks to address issues such as creative skills gaps, the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) and ensuring that people from all backgrounds can access the creative industries.
When looking at employment figures for the sector in its report on DCMS Sectors Economic Estimates: Workforce, January to December 2021, the government department revealed that women had filled just under half of the roles (44.5%). Compared to the UK as a whole, this marks a lower representation of women.
It also found that around a seventh (15%) of the workforce had a disability, while just under a seventh (13.2%) were from an ethnic minority group. These findings were similar to the UK overall, but it shows there's still work to be done.
A joint 2019 skills report from the Creative Industries Policy & Evidence Centre and the Creative Industries Council showed that well under half (42%) of employers in the creative industries, including 73% of those taking on more than 100 people, admitted they had skills issues.
This was mainly due to not being able to recruit people with the right skills or the fact that those employed in these roles didn't have the required skills.
Most of the larger organisations reporting these issues were involved with creative information and communications technology (ICT), video games or design and crafts.
The creative roles most affected by skills gaps include:
- architects and architectural technicians
- product, clothing and graphic designers
- programmers and developers in creative computing.
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
- Search graduate jobs in creative arts.
- Consider careers in music.
- Explore jobs in the film industry.