Creative Graduates: Dispelling myths and breaking taboos!

We all want the best for our students.  We want them to excel academically and we want to prepare them as best we can to make the transition from study to employment.

An article in the Irish Times said that, “new graduates expect authenticity from employers; want jobs with meaning and are determined to make a difference”.  The nature of work is evolving and for many more millennials and Gen Z a portfolio career might be the norm.

In fact, creative arts graduates are amongst those most likely to be in a variety of jobs, often related to their degree on a part-time or freelance basis, as well as having employment elsewhere in order to secure a steady income.  Let me tell you a secret, 2019 is a good time to be a creative graduate in the UK.  Creative industries are, by some distance, the fastest growing sector in the UK economy.

  • Over 2 million people work in the creative industries in the UK;
  • 1 in 11 Jobs in the UK are in the creative economy and;
  • Since 2011 the number of jobs in the creative industries have increased by 28.6% – double the average UK job growth;
  • The contribution to Gross Value Added (GVA) is bigger than the automotive, life sciences, aerospace and oil and gas sectors combined.

Such positive messages get lost because the creative sector is fragmented.  95% of creative industries businesses are micro businesses of fewer than 10 employees.  Around 35% of people employed in the creative industries are self- employed compared to 15% of the whole UK workforce.  It is hard to get yourself heard above so many voices!

I was tasked with considering how I best prepare our creative graduates to navigate a world of employment that might be full of opportunities but whose landscape is changing. In January 2019, with the full support of senior management and course teams, we trialled Employability Fortnight.  Attendance was compulsory for all Level 5 (year 2) Leeds Arts University students.

Over two weeks, we focussed on developing common core non-creative skills and attributes that students may not have explicitly discussed within their course, but employers would expect graduates from any discipline to display.

We wanted to create an opportunity for students to pause and reflect.  To review where they are now, to visualise where they want to be, to identify their skill sets (creative and non-creative), to consider their career options and to think proactively about further skills development and employment strategies.

Throughout the fortnight:

  • Careers consultants supported students to explore career pathways and to identify both creative and non-creative opportunities.
  • Recruitment & HR consultants explained how recruitment practices and processes might differ across sectors and between creative and non-creative employers. Students received guidance on writing cover letters and CV’s, completing application forms and preparing for interviews.
  • Digital specialists explained how to use social media platforms effectively and provided very practical advice to students on how to develop a professional profile.
  • Professional actors taught students how to use stage techniques to overcome nerves and improve presentation skills. They also delivered masterclasses on networking.  It was refreshing to see Gen Z students, so used to communicating via technology, engaged in face-to-face conversations with one another.
  • A mental health and well-being practitioner raised awareness of the triggers for stress and offered advice and guidance on coping strategies. Students were also signposted to additional resources and services.
  • We organised 1-2-1 mentoring sessions for students with local businesses, industry specialists, creative agencies and freelancers. This enabled students to gain industry insights, receive professional advice and guidance and make connections.
  • Finally, IPSE introduced students to the world of freelancing and signposted them to other useful resources.

On 19 March, IPSE return to the University as we are hosting their Freelancing for Students event.  This event is free to attend and you and your students are welcome to join us.

Employability Fortnight was successful.  I will make changes based on feedback but I am keen to share ideas and good practice with colleagues from other institutions. If you have any comments or questions please do get in touch.


Andrew Jones, Leeds Arts University