By Randel Bryan, Executive Director and Deputy CEO at Manchester International Festival
The creative sector has a problem, and it’s a big one. I’m talking about how tough it can be for young people to break into the industry. While the construction industry and others, have structured, vocational training opportunities as standard, too many creative roles rely on the same route to entry: namely a university degree, some level of cash in the bank to cover costs, followed by unpaid work experience.
The creative industries are an increasingly important sector for employment and the economy in the UK, worth more than £100 billion annually. It needs differential viewpoints, backgrounds, contexts and approaches in order to keep it dynamic, innovative and representative of our audiences, and it’s time for training providers and employers to come together to broaden the opportunities for young people wanting to forge their own path.
The diversity benefit
When we consider the profile of a person most likely to enter the sector from university, we’re more likely to find a financially stable background with a steady education. After all, without grades and without the cash to pay tuition fees, university simply isn’t an option for young people wanting to enter the industry. Yet a majority of newly qualified positions advertised still seek an Honours level degree as a basic requirement.
To overlook students from non-university backgrounds is simply wrong. There’s talent in huge swathes of the population, many of which will never pass through the doors of a university. Where we need to improve is finding ways to show people what’s possible, what they can achieve, and how they can harness their creativity and turn it into a career.
How do we increase creative opportunities?
In my work at Manchester International Festival, collaboration and accessibility are key: we focus on creating exceptional experiences and events and sharing a wide range of voices.
We also train. Earlier this year, we opened applications for 250 fully funded creative training courses for young Greater Manchester residents who are either unemployed or in low income work, as part of our Factory Academy programme. Launched in 2018 by MIF, in partnership with a consortium of cultural organisations in the city, the award-winning Factory Academy is a key part of the vision to put skills and training opportunities at the heart of The Factory, Manchester’s landmark new cultural space that will open in 2023.
The Factory Academy is designed to offer non-university routes to work in the creative sector in the UK. Last year, over 150 Greater Manchester residents benefited from our courses – and we’re aiming to engage around 1,400 young people with a stand of our training offer over the next five years. Despite the challenges of the pandemic period, an average of 50 per cent of our students have progressed into work or further study within three months of completing the Factory Futures Academy course in the past year. We’re bringing fresh talent to the creative sector and broadening the pool from which to recruit.
The key thinking behind the Factory Academy – like many non-traditional training providers – is to provide opportunities for those who wouldn’t normally be able access them.
The first step is reaching these people to let them know that these opportunities exist. We’ve partnered with the Job Centre, for example, to try and do this, but there are numerous ways to share the message and employer partnerships is a key one.
Crucially, training should be free. If the sector wants to help young people into its fold, it’s vital that it’s accessible. Free training delivered through a partner, such as ours, and then followed with paid apprenticeships or internships enables these people to reach their potential and brings that all-important diversity to the sector. This is ‘levelling up’ for the creative industries and it has the potential to transform the work being done.
On the job training
A core differentiator between practical training and theoretical training is the hands-on experience that is invaluable in the workplace. Employers are increasingly opening their eyes to the benefits of new recruits who have practical knowledge and skills and can get stuck in straight away.
There’s a breadth of courses and opportunities for young people to access through the Factory Academy, ranging from TV production to project management. By the end of this academic year, we’ll have equipped 250 young people with the real-life skills needed to gain work and add value to their employers from day one.
In the coming years, we’ll continue offering fully funded training opportunities including training academies, traineeships, work experience programmes and paid internships, plus thousands more digital learning and engagement opportunities including online learning, masterclasses, open days and workshops. These provide an entry point to work in the creative industries, an increasingly important part of our city’s economy – and the UK-wide creative scene.
The creative sector is thriving in the north, and Manchester is recognised as the second largest creative city in Europe after London, adding £1.4bn to the city’s economy. This just goes to prove the soundness of ongoing investment in culture and the arts, and our continuing belief in the power of culture and creativity, and The Factory, to transform lives.
The Factory is located in a burgeoning hub for culture, creativity and digital innovation, including broadcast companies, start-ups and other organisations where these skills will be needed. Similarly, Media City continues to develop, creating further opportunities regionally.
Of course, this is Manchester alone – there is so much growth in the creative sectors in cities all over the UK. There is no shortage of opportunity. All that remains now is for more employers to get on board with a new way of recruiting fresh faces and helping more young people to realise their creative potential.