Contrary to popular opinion, creative degrees are not solely pathways to unemployment - in fact, they are quite the opposite
We’ve all heard it: the concerns of a family friend or relative who thinks your creative degree is a pathway to unemployment. And there is a part of all of us that worries that they may just be right. Which is why we are here to tell you that they are wrong. Not just a bit wrong, but utterly, completely and triumphantly wrong.
Myth #1 - Being creative is not a proper job
“It gets me that actors are always having to defend themselves from the question, ‘What have you been on?’,” says Kerry Irvine, Producer and Music and Performance Senior Lecturer. “As if you can only be considered to be ‘proper’ if they recognise the name! Acting isn’t just about being on EastEnders. There are actors on Xbox games, audio guides, radio, ads and on stock photos. They do therapy, corporate role play and they present. Although it is a vocation, as a way of life it is also pretty normal.”
Susan McMillan, Head of Writing, Film and Digital Creativity, agrees. “You don’t have to be a composer or a film director,” she says. “The BBC and other creative industries employers in Bristol, for example, told me they are crying out for production co-ordinators and managers. I also know the film industry needs digital information technicians (DITs) and sound designers. There’s a whole emerging tech sector of Virtual Reality and 360 filming. So, there is a huge range of jobs that parents, and students themselves, have not even thought of.”
Myth #2 - You'll never make any money
The creative industries are the third highest grossing sector in the country, just behind finance and pharmaceuticals, and worth £84bn a year. “That’s £9.6m per hour,” points out McMillan.
There's a whole range of highly paid creative technology and creative advertising careers and jobs out there. What's more, as the working world begins to incorporate Artificial Intelligence, creativity is likely to become more highly prized than ever. Graphic designer Colin Breckenridge (BA Visual Communications, Bath Academy of Art, 1974) says: “I was at a conference last week where they were saying creativity is going to be a key element for employers as robotics takes over many processes. Traditional sectors, such as manufacturing and even finance, will shed workers whereas higher skilled, creative and adaptable people will become more valuable.”
He also points out that entrepreneur and inventor James Dyson and Habitat founder Terence Conran both did art degrees. “Having a creative approach is an extremely transferable skill – for instance, being able to visualise an idea and then show it in a visual way. In the future, people are likely to have several different careers and creative industry training allows you to move around.”
Myth #3 - You won't learn anything useful in a creative degree
“It used to be that you got trained on the job,” says McMillan. “Now, that doesn’t happen – universities can provide that training. Students are coming out of our programmes able to write, film, manage content, vlog or blog for multiple platforms.”
These are creative media skills and that all companies are looking for, because the future economy will be in the digital space, including creative digital media, communications and new media.
For instance, a web developer degree program will give you plenty of highly valued skills. VR developer, a cybersecurity producer or content provider – these are all roles that combine creativity and technology which you can study on our BA (Hons) Creative Computing degree. These are the jobs of the future, and none of them are careers you can go into without training first.
And that’s true whether you are in marketing, event production, interested in music and arts or acting, because whatever your chosen career, without skills you won’t get a foot in the door, as Irvine points out.
“Actors have to learn processes, movement, to speak clearly, control their nerves. They have to relearn to use their imagination – school often knocks this out of us. It’s very exposing; they have to learn to cope with that. They also learn presentation, communication, team working, leading on projects and rigour. These are the essential skills of the job, and you won’t work without them.”
Myth #4 - universities have no connection to the real world
As someone who has won a Royal Television Society Award and two BAFTAs, and worked as a television producer for 20 years, McMillan is unsurprisingly dismissive of the idea that she doesn’t have a connection to the ‘real world’. “At Bath Spa we are building a talent pipeline to the creative industries,” she says. “We have contracted links to, for example, the Virtual Reality Lab in Bristol, to Avid (post production software) and TEDx.”
The benefits of these links to students are obvious, but less talked about is the fact that the creative industries increasingly look to universities to gain access to top-level studio facilities and a trained, competent labour pool.
Irvine explains how it works on her course. “Instead of paying a director to come in for four weeks, put on the play Miss Julie and then go away again, where we can we are getting them to develop work with us. We will do the research and development phase for a new project, say, which perhaps they can’t afford.
Or, for example, with [theatre director] David Glass we will put on a co-production, such as we did with Bleak House, where we both put money in. He has already done the R&D and we help professionalise it, with students actually being employed.”
Irvine says the days of the journeyman actor, jobbing and doing auditions, are limited. “We see actors as creators as well as interpreters,” she explains. “We say, when jobs aren’t knocking on your door, you have to create your own work. So we teach how to create work and get audiences. We have our own production company, Onset, and I will put on a festival, for example, to get work out to venues.”
Myth #5 - Creativity is just a hobby
“It’s not like anyone ever said to me, ‘Oh, you’re really good at drawing,’” says Breckenridge, “but I was always creating things, building things, copying things. Luckily my mum had met the head of my local art college at a cheese and wine party – it was the 70s! – so when I said I wanted to do an art foundation she thought it would be fine. Interestingly, I’m now looking to retire from running my agency so I can go back to actually making things – mostly printmaking – without the financial imperative.”
Sullivan has completed his Creative Music Technology degree and moved into a creative music technology job, but he says he almost didn’t study music at all. “I always loved the piano,” he explains, “but I never considered studying it. It was only my school music teacher, Mr Ogley, who said to me at GCSE time, ‘You are taking music, right?’ My mum and grandma encouraged me, but my dad thought I should just go straight from school into a job, any job. I’m so glad I didn’t, because I’ve ended up doing something that I love.”
If you're keen to develop your talents and explore creative careers, we'll help you make it with our brand new 3, 2, 1, Go! initiative.
Disclaimer: The Bath Spa blog is a platform for individual voices and views from the University's community. Any views or opinions represented in individual posts are personal, belonging solely to the author of that post, and do not represent the views of other Bath Spa staff, or Bath Spa University as an institution.
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