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Working in the creative industries: “Tackling the professional pipeline – we are the visible role models”

This piece is written by Sound Connections Programme Manager Julia Roderick

“When I left university in 2004, with a fairly average BA in Music, I found myself at what I thought was a simple professional cross-roads. Performance or teaching. Teaching or performance; the only options I was aware of, that I could directly apply my degree to. The careers centre at university was useless, although I was offered the additional option of ‘piano tuning’, and I was completely lost at sea.

Was that all that was out there? Could I have studied for three years at University and committed hours upon hours of practice on my instrument in my youth to be left with two professional choices – neither of which played to my strengths or my passions?

Having spoken to other colleagues in the sector this is not an uncommon story. In the end I managed to find an unpaid internship at an orchestra (very common back then, worryingly common even now), which opened doors to paid work after a year. I was one of the lucky ones. I had support from family to make the move to the big smoke and some financial support to rent a flat and eat.

But this blog isn’t about internships. This is about visibility of professional choices and professional pathways within the creative industries for young people. We know that the creative industries contribute £77 billion to economy each year. We know that the creative industries account for 1.7 million jobs, and we know that employment is growing five times faster than the national average. But we know that because we’re in it. Do young people know that? Do young people even understand and recognise the multitude of jobs that exist? Those jobs that are beyond performing and teaching. Those jobs that are unseen. Flexible. Freelance.

Since 2015 Sound Connections have consulted with over 2000 young people age 6-25 across the country via roundtables and online surveys (e.g. in partnership with Arts Council England, Music Education Hubs across England, and via the youth network Wired4Music). Young people are telling us that they lack information and paid professional opportunities. They have the ambition to work in the arts but feel isolated and lost once the university bubble pops. They also need to see themselves in the workforce for it to be relevant and interesting. So this is about visibility, as well as opportunity.

A few months ago I received a tweet out the blue from my old primary school. They had read my profile Twitter and were getting in touch to see whether I might be interested to pop back to school to talk about my job in the creative industries. What better way to communicate to young people that my world could be their world. So off I went to Abingdon, Oxfordshire, to meet with fifteen wide eyed 7-9 year olds. Together we explored what makes up the creative industries; we discussed our arts journeys, our first memories of making music or theatre or art, and our aspirations for the future; I talked about my route into work; we imagined our very own arts space and talked through all the jobs we might find there and all the skills we need to do those jobs. It was such an enjoyable couple of hours and just as enlightening for me, as I hope it was for them. I hope I left those young people thinking ‘I could do that. Performing and teaching is just one way to use my love of music or art or dance, but her job sounds brilliant.’

Young people need present, vocal, inspirational role models in all areas of the creative industries. We owe to our young people to show them our worlds of work. Through various routes; mentoring; apprenticeships; internships; even a quick chat over the phone or cup of tea; we can unlock professional aspirations for young people.  We have to play a part in the professional pipeline and bridge the gap from education into our worlds of work.

There are some brilliant organisations out there brokering relationships, offering support and guidance and investing in people. For example organisations like Creative and Cultural Skills, Arts Emergency, Urban Development, Roundhouse, A New Direction and Speakers for Schools, but we need to do more, on a personal and individual level. At Sound Connections, Wired4Music members regularly facilitate conversation with young people in schools and in our wider communities.

So let’s get out there and celebrate our glorious creative industries. Let’s be vocal and open our doors, after all our young people are brilliant and have the potential to unlock transformative things in our organisations.”


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