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New research warns the glut of young people wanting careers in arts and culture will likely cause “downward pressure on wages and conditions in these sectors”.

Young people's desire to work in the arts needs to be "constructively challenged", the research suggests

Steve White

Many young people who want to work in the arts are “destined for disappointment” because of the low number of jobs available, according to new research.

A 7000-person survey released by national charity Education and Employers on Wednesday found nearly five times as many 17 and 18 year olds want to work in art, culture, entertainment and sport than there are jobs available. Because the study grouped these sectors together, it is not clear what proportion of young people are interested in each field.

Half the respondents said they were only interested in these sectors, with another quarter only interested in one or two other areas of work.


“The excess supply points towards a likely future shortage of places, stiff competition, and possible downward pressure on wages and conditions in these sectors,” the research report warns.

Regional and educational disparities

A fifth of young people in South West England wanted jobs in art, culture, entertainment and sport, meaning it had the highest proportion with these ambitions. The areas with the lowest proportions were Yorkshire and Humber (12.7%) and the East and West Midlands (13.8%).

Interest decreased with age: 44% of 7 and 8 year olds want to work in these sectors compared to 18.7% of 15 and 16 year olds and 18.7% at age 18 and 19. But the jobs remain “very popular, likely due to exposure through TV and social media”.

Indeed, they are “even more popular than usual” among young people whose parents are highly educated. The report says this may indicate “a slightly narrower field of acceptable occupations” among more privileged families.

The findings support an OECD report released on the same day that says the career aspirations of young people in 41 countries, including the UK, are “narrow, unrealistic and distorted by gender and social background”.

Changing education

The Education and Employers report says students need “equality of opportunity to express their talents and lead full and meaningful lives” but warns their career aspirations and plans to achieve them must be “engaged with and, if necessary, constructively challenged”.

It recommends starting career-related learning in primary school and providing better guidance, including labour market information, to secondary schoolers.

“This disconnect from available jobs, and the frustrations and wasted energy it produces, will require significant effort to resolve,” it says.

These sentiments were echoed by Ofsted Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman at an Association of Colleges conference on Tuesday, where she said the Higher Education sector must be “encouraged to provide the right courses of the right quality”.

“I’m not happy that some colleges steer too many of their students towards superficially attractive courses that fill their rolls and attract funding whether or not they open doors for the students who take them.

“This doesn’t mean that the courses the young people are taking are completely worthless, but flooding a local job market with young people with say low-level arts and media qualifications when the big growth in demand is for green energy workers, will result in too many under-employed and dissatisfied young people and wind turbines left idle."

Spielman also said recent changes have “bent apprenticeships out of shape”: “even with more providers the overall number of apprenticeships has dropped.”