The creative sector is incredibly diverse and there are growing disparities between those who are already familiar with the digital world of work and those who are struggling to adapt. In this blog, Dr Anita Greenhill addresses the challenges that the sector will face in the coming years and provides examples of best practice from other countries.
- The COVID-19 pandemic has opened new opportunities for those within the creative sector, with funding now available for those who can stream, teach, and sell online.
- There are gaps in digital literacy within the sector and the individuals who struggle to access the opportunities online risk falling further behind.
- The essential digital skills framework needs to be more ambitious and the government should work towards providing access-oriented infrastructure framework to close the digital divide.
The creative industries are arguably one of the most digitally diverse working sectors within the UK. The work undertaken is physical and cerebral as well as virtual. However, because the creative industries straddle both the movie and sports domain through to music and entertainment, many within the sector aren’t well-equipped to move into a more digital world of work – a transformation that the pandemic has accelerated. Existing statistics highlight three sectors in the creative industries that are far outperforming other domains as of 2018 – the digital, the creative and the cultural sectors. These sectors already have a digitally literate workforce and while these jobs still need protecting, more needs to be done for those in the broader sector in the short term (such as financial support) and longer term to close the digital divide which threatens to deepen existing inequalities within the industry.
Before the pandemic, it was suggested that a number of fundamental changes in the digitalisation of work may have a greater impact on those working in the creative industries, with some analysis suggesting that the types of jobs available will change substantially. These changes will have a direct impact on the number of jobs available within this sector and with continued pandemic measures in place, jobs will be further reduced and significantly altered. The sector is finely balanced between those who are already highly digitally skilled, and thus able to adapt short and long-term digital changes to work, and those who are not. While those in the industry that are already reliant on or established in the digital domain are well prepared, others are screamingly underprepared.
The creative industries currently exist in a very precarious digitally enabled work environment. The breadth of the job market within the creative industries means that it operates within a continually shifting working landscape. For example, the highly skilled digital workforce of the highly digitised media and entertainment domains (such as e-sports, film, television, music and the arts) have significantly digitised in recent years, in contrast to low-tech and intensely manual labour-dependent domains (eg individualised teaching, learning, creating, dancing, singing, editing, building/synthesising etc).
However, those who aren’t in the highly digitalised domains but do have digital skills are making the most of cross-sector fertilisation during the pandemic. An exponential growth has begun with funding opportunities currently being offered around online streaming, teaching and selling online. In building a strategy with an integrated approach to access and cross fertilisation, potential jobs growth can be achieved. For example, new jobs are currently being developed by many creatives through the use of digital media in the education sector. In education, there are many freelance performers who are turning their hand to online teaching of their craft and performances. Additionally, the benefits of music and health are well documented. Blending health and music in an educational platform can now all be achieved with the appropriate digital and management skill set.
With the necessary digital skills, more people within the creative sector can transition into the more digitally enabled environment. Those without will fall further behind as access to funding application processes becomes more inaccessible.
Inequality within the sector
According to a study conducted by The Creative Industries Council, 58% of creative roles receive a salary of less than £35,058. The highest average wage is that of a film director at £57,859 per year compared to the fashion designer at £20,716. Going by these figures, the creative sector itself was also found to be a hive of inequality. Those earning the highest tend to receive the most support while also holding the most established roles within the industry; whereas those who operate in isolation are the most isolated and least supported in the industry. Self-employed individuals, some of whom may be lacking both digital and business/organisational skills, small venues and grassroots entertainment organisations, marginalised groups, and those who lack traditional reading, writing and digital skills are underprepared and most at risk of being left behind as the sector transforms.
At the most risk of losing out are those within the industry who lack the most basic literacy skills such as writing and reading in English, foundational computing and internet or digital skills. Re-employment models require an appreciation of different starting points in this regard. As the government looks at improving digital skills, it can’t assume that all adults already have a Key Stage 3 or Key Stage 4 level of digital skill. This knowledge is usually achieved between the ages of 11-16 while working towards national qualifications. However, many individuals do not achieve the necessary skills at this level, many do not complete their GCSEs and many may not have been educated in the UK’s compulsory education system.
Different approaches to skills-building
Government at local, regional and national levels needs to move beyond the current base level of digital skills assessment outlined in the essential digital skills framework. The current framework sets out five categories of essential digital skills for life and work: communicating, handling information and content, transacting, problem solving, and being safe and legal online. However, these points do not go far enough to support a digital-based workforce; a 2020 ITU report on digital skills states that “jobs in the basic digital skills category, which will be abundant across most industries, will require skills in configuring, using and interacting with digital tools including software, robots, Internet of Things devices, voice controllers and automation servers”.
The UK government needs to take a renewed look at the defining foundations of skills development within the UK and to adequately implement an approach to digital skills development that is more in line with countries such a Singapore and Finland who take a more targeted digital approach to skills-building.
The government should also provide adequate infrastructure that goes beyond 5G provision to extend into an access-oriented approach to ensure that everyone in the creative sector (and beyond) has the ability to move into the digital world of work. An access-oriented infrastructure framework would address the digital divide by providing full access to various dimensions of information and communication technology, including physical access, motivation, skills, and actual usage of digital technologies. Countries such as Denmark have enacted this more access-inclusive approach to their digital skills-building. Concentrating only on broadband access (the technological infrastructure) limits the enabling potential of the gig economy; however, levering greater access, enables better pathways into achieving the collaborative and social skills needed for digital innovation.
This article was originally published in On Digital Inequalities, a collection of thought leadership pieces on how to address the inequalities we are seeing in the digital space, published by Policy@Manchester.
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