Jan 25, 2013

Creative jobs: maybe that arts degree isn’t so useless after all

Worried about a career in the arts? It's not as bad as you may think. Journalists and printers may be on the scrap heap, but there are more artists employed than ever according to new data.

Ben Eltham — <em>Crikey</em> arts commentator

Ben Eltham

Crikey arts commentator

New census data on Australia's cultural and creative industries allows us to peer inside a dynamic sector for the first time in five years. And the news is generally good. Australia's creative and cultural employment is growing faster than employment in the rest of the economy. In some particularly fast-growing sectors -- creative services like design, photography and digital content -- employment growth is three times faster than the broader workforce. And there's no prizes for guessing the industry which has suffered most: print publishing. The new data has been crunched from the 2011 census by Queensland University of Technology researchers Stuart Cunningham and Peter Higgs, and shows the "culturalisation" of the Australian economy is continuing. Their work draws on the Australian Bureau of Statistics census, recently published in its "employment in culture" data series.

"Our main story is that the creative economy, as we define it, continues to grow strongly," Cunningham told Crikey. "Obviously there are real pressure points which we in no way wish to diminish the significance of." Publishing shrank by 2% over the census period, a loss Higgs and Cunningham reckon adds up to at least 4000 jobs. Interestingly, they argue job losses in the publishing industry to August 2011 were largely in areas like print workers and pre-press operators. "The losses are mostly in non-core journalism," Cunningham said. "What you'd say about that is that the newspaper industry has tried to minimise the losses in core journalism, but let's remember that it's now 18 months ago that we're reporting on, so a lot has happened since then." Cunningham cautions the data won't pick up the fine-grained picture, and excludes recent job losses at Fairfax and News Limited, but says "even at the census level" the decline of publishing is apparent. In contrast, the data shows creative services employment is growing quickly. "There's very strong growth in digital content and creative software. Our key point there is that it's in what we call the creative services areas, these are the business-to-business activities like architecture, advertising, marketing, digital content; areas where creative people are dealing on a business-to-business basis rather than a business-to-consumer basis." Cunningham says this trend is being driven by the digital creative economy. "By and large this is sustainable employment growth. You're seeing creative firms, from sole-traders through to medium-sized firms, are finding more and more that their services are wanted by others in the creative sector and others in the wider economy." In contrast, employment in what might be called the core areas of cultural employment -- people working to produce cultural artefacts for the consumer -- grew much more slowly, at only half the rate of the general workforce. In other words, the real action is in business-to-business creative activity such as design and photography, rather than in traditional cultural industries selling books, music or newspapers to consumers. Drilling down into the sub-categories, Higgs says there has also been particularly strong employment growth in the digital publishing category, which grew at a cumulative annual rate of 14% between 2006 and 2011. Software and IT -- the so-called "computer system design and related services" category -- is also a strong performer, growing at 5.6% annually. According to Higgs: "Specialised design -- your graphic arts consulting services, product designers, fashion designers -- that grew at 3.8%, so double the workforce rate." Curiously, given the advent of Flickr and cheap digital cameras, professional photography has actually grown strongly at 5.5%. Film and television has also been a good performer, particularly in the film production and post-production sectors. Cunningham and Higgs point to the democratisation of post-production tools, which has enabled many smaller players to enter an industry which previously required heavy capital investment. (Crikey covered the creative destruction in the post-production sector last year.) How are independent artists faring? "There's one ABS industry category here that's the general catch-call one, called 9002, 'creative artists, musicians, writers and performers'," Higgs explained. "Wherever you say 'I'm an artist, I work for myself', your industry gets lumped into that." And indeed this category has seen the second-highest growth of any category in the employment data -- jumping 7.4% between 2006 and 2011. Higgs cautions this trend may not necessarily mean all these people are enjoying full-time jobs with benefits. In fact, it might mean workers are going freelance after leaving a big organisation. "So if you get a big shift in that it's because people are moving out of specific areas and into this freelance category," he said. Even so, it's clear the numbers of Australia's independent artists are growing -- there were nearly half as many again in 2011 as in 2006, according to the data. The big picture trend, according to Cunningham, is that the creative services growth in occupations like design and marketing is being driven by the digitalisation of the broader economy. Cunningham argues "basically, the quite embedded nature of needs for services into the digital economy" are driving the need for creative workers. It's a good news story, even if there are black spots in the newspapers and traditional arts.

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4 thoughts on “Creative jobs: maybe that arts degree isn’t so useless after all

  1. alex.rosser

    One again we see “arts degree” and “useless” in the same headline, albiet an article which tries to apply meal-ticket attributes to an arts degree.

    I divide university degrees into two sorts. There are the meal-ticket ones such as medicine, law,, dentistry, commerce etc. and there are the ones which hope to actually educate the student. Arts of course, but also science and economics. Engineering has a foot in both camps.

    My strong advice to any fresher is to get educated first, and only then think about a meal-ticket.

  2. Tim nash

    I have mixed feelings about this article, it is fantastic there is growth in design but is there growth in salaries?

    A quick glance shows that an educated designer professional less than your average trades assistant in a factory.

    Creativity is undervalued.

    Alex I totally agree with you, originally studying what we now know as the ‘arts’ was essential to be a thinking intellectual. Studying Plato, Aristotle and Greek thinkers and to be able to discourse in the finer details of philosophy was what is was all about.

    I guess your average punter who hasn’t gone to university views an arts degree as a fine arts degree (ie painting or sculpture). This is the Australian view of the ‘bludger’ comes in again.

  3. pedro

    Employabilty with an Arts degree depends on your area of specialisation.

    I am a design industry professional. Jumped from magazine publishing to PR recently (magazine publishing, corporate design, advertising and multimedia)

    PR is a real growth industry. There will still be a place for trade or industry specific mags in the near future, but retail magazines on paper are a dying breed.

    The magazine publisher I recently left is desperately trying to catch up electronically by expanding to iPad versions and the like, but they only charge a premium for advertisers for publishing online. It’s a ‘value-add’ sweetener to get advertisers to publish in the print version.

    Now the problem is that advertisers baulk at the prospect of paying full price for online-only. Publishers shot themselves in the foot from the beginning, only seeing the internet as a supplement to their industry.

    As time goes on, magazines will go exclusively online, shrivel further and then fail, one after the other, as the revenues dry up.

  4. Dogs breakfast

    I tend to agree a.rosser, although not sure I would lump economics in with the arts and science group. I would also suggest that of the sciences, it is really only maths and it’s offshoots that are really educative in that traditional ‘arts’ idea. Maths and philosophy are kindred spirits.

    Universities have long since given over to vocational training in Australia in particular, and the world in general. However there was an interesting article in yesterday’s business smh regarding UK being much more open to traditional arts-type degrees for business positions, as opposed to the relatively closed school of vocational degrees only in Australia.

    On the other hand, there are no degrees which teach creativity, in my opinion, just as no degree teaches what I refer to as analysis. Mind you, philosophy is probably as close as a degree comes to teaching analysis, by inference. I just don’t think that either analysis or creativity can be taught, however they may be acquired!
    I am still ever hopeful that recruiters will start to value the quality of the thinking rather than the cookie-cutter vocational degree, but I live in a rather naive world. 🙂

    Take a look at the vast majority of graduates in the workplace. The quality of their thinking is not the over-riding characteristic that comes to mind, leading to the observation that universities don’t actually teach thinking these days, if they ever did!

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