What skills are creative organisations actually looking for in their employees? George Windsor and Cath Sleeman have been analysing job adverts to find out.

Photo of two men with laptops and notepad

The Government chose ‘developing skills’ as a key pillar in the recent industrial strategy, in which it invited the creative industries to reach a deal that would show how it can support growth by, among other things, growing talent pipelines.

The Creative Industries Federation has been among the first to respond, proposing a creative skills commission and a creative careers campaign that would advise on creative, technical and design skills.

In a fast-changing world and with increased automation of jobs, we should not overlook the role that research like this can play

But the creative sector faces an evidence gap when it comes to skills. There is virtually no granular data on the talents needed by creative workers, be it photography, journalism or software development. Moreover, the skill needs of an industry do not remain static over time, and there is no system in place to monitor new and redundant skills.

The only available data comes from the Employer Skills Survey (ESS), but the survey is conducted once every two years and results typically group together distinct areas like performing arts and museums with sport and hairdressing, making it difficult to get an accurate picture of the skill requirements for creatives.

Skills clusters

Online job adverts may help to fill this void. Adverts provide a detailed and timely picture of skill demands, directly from employers. To examine their potential, Nesta analysed millions of online job adverts for creative UK-based jobs, posted between 2012 and early 2016, courtesy of data collected by Burning Glass. The 11,000 skills used were clustered by machine learning tools for objectivity.

The results show that the skills being called for fit into five skills clusters. This data could be used to structure recommendations aimed at addressing skill shortages. For example, it could be used by the Migration Advisory Committee to supplement the data it already collects to evidence areas of unmet demand for skills in compiling the Tier 2 (Skilled Work) Shortage Occupation List. This list outlines occupations that receive a ‘fast-track status’ to enable UK-based employers to more rapidly recruit talent from outside of the European Economic Area.

Two of the skills’ clusters – ‘selling’ and ‘creating and design’ – were found to contain the defining skills, but importantly not all the encompassing skills, for many creative jobs, such as design, photography, music and video production. These types of skills should be given priority when laying out the talent pipelines in a creative skills strategy.

In fact, for ‘music, performing and the visual arts’, these skills are particularly important because approximately one third of job adverts only require skills that lie within the ‘creative and design skills’ cluster. These will most likely be specialist creative roles such as architects and graphic designers.

Support and digital skills

The remaining three skill groups contain complementary skills – skills that are not inherently creative and therefore at risk of being overlooked, but ones that are essential to enabling the creative process. Just think how your workplace would stumble without those that can competently plan, fundraise or manage on a day-to-day basis.

The ‘museums, galleries and libraries’ group is particularly reliant on these skills, with a quarter of adverts only requiring ‘support skills’, such as management, fundraising and customer service skills. These are embodied by the likes of librarians, archivists and curators.

Digital tech skills were found to be required by every creative group. For example, in ‘music, performing and visual arts’ just under a quarter of adverts require at least one skill from the technology cluster. Moreover, the ‘creative and design’ cluster contains a number of software products, such as Adobe Photoshop.

The support skills cluster also includes several basic software programs such as Microsoft Excel. Digital technology is clearly an essential ingredient in every creative education, acting as a medium for making, facilitating and sharing creative work.

Our research shows how big data can offer new insights into the creative economy, and enable more evidence-based policy recommendations. For example, the five key skills clusters could be used to tailor policy recommendations, and the top skills in each cluster could shape training programmes for organisations.

In future, it might be that creative job seekers can access live data directly, keeping them up to date on the skills they need to hone and the talents they need to acquire. In a fast-changing world and with increased automation of jobs, we should not overlook the role that research like this can play in shaping education and preparing the creative industries for continued growth.

George Windsor is Senior Policy Researcher in the creative and digital economy, and Cath Sleeman is Quantitative Research Fellow, both at Nesta.

Link to Author(s): 
Photo of George Windsor
Photo of Cath Sleeman