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Sector spotlight: creative arts

Jodie Elwis

Category: Student support services

9 July 2020

The show must go on... but how, in the middle of a pandemic? We look at employment opportunities in the arts, with a focus on graduate roles.

Sorry for the cheesy introduction. But it is absolutely true.


  • The creative industries has been one of the largest contributing industries to the economy and it was calling out for a lifeline.
  • That lifeline has been somewhat given by the government in a recent announcement of a £1.57 billion support package.
  • The East of England has been one of the key areas of activity for this industry outside of London.
  • The East is expected to be one of the most impacted areas by declines within this industry, but Scotland will feel it worse.
  • From the data available, Music, Performing and Visual arts is expected to see the largest percentage decline in terms of employment. However, we do not yet know how the support package will affect this.
  • Job vacancies for Creative and Design have one of the lowest shares on online job boards.
  • With IT occupations having a healthy share of online job boards, video gaming related roles may be one of the more resilient sub-sectors during this time and are keen for people to know they’re still looking for talent.

On 17 June, the Creative Industries Federation (CIF) released a report that detailed the impact that COVID-19 is predicted to have on the sector by the end of 2020 and beyond. The results are staggering and support the calls for Government intervention.

The long-awaited announcement came from the Government on 6 July where a financial support package of £1.57 billion would be headed to the arts industry. How this will be shared among sub-sectors and its impact on occupation types is one to watch.

Pre-COVID-19 and the national picture

The report released by CIF is an interesting read, but for a quick summary the sector:

  • was growing at five times the rate of the wider economy
  • employed over two million people in the UK
  • contributed £111.7 billion to the UK economy.

Pre-COVID-19 and the East of England

Data from the CIF press release, produced by Oxford Economics, shows that in pre-COVID-19 times (remember those?), the East of England was the third highest region in the UK for employment within the creative industries (2019 data), and fourth highest for Gross Value Added (GVA, 2018 data). This makes the East of England one of the key areas for employment in this industry outside of London, along with the South East, North West, and Scotland.

Within the East of England itself, the labour statistics website Nomis shows that 2.4% of the population is employed within the Arts, Entertainment and Recreation industry (name given for sector when looking at it from SIC codes). To put that figure into context, within this data set, the sector as a whole is in tenth position in terms of employment out of a total of 18 industries. It should be remembered that these figures do not include self-employment. The creative industries in particular have many people who operate as freelancers; if these figures contributed to this particular ONS data to reflect the figures given by Oxford Economics, this percentage may be slightly higher.

The impact of COVID-19 on this industry

Overall, there is an expected decline of 30% in turnover by the end of 2020 in comparison to 2019 numbers, and it was expected that 119,600 permanent staff would be made redundant by the end of the year, with it being worse for freelancers (287,000).

London and the South East is expected to be the most affected, followed by the East of England and Scotland (however Scotland will feel the greatest pinch in relative terms).

Even though being able to benefit from Government schemes such as the Job Retention Scheme and funds for the self-employed, companies in this industry have struggled with not being included in plans for re-opening on the ease of lockdown so far. Even though the announcement of the £1.57 billion support package has largely been welcomed, there is still concern as to how far this can mitigate the impact of the pandemic on this sector when it is not able to produce new revenue.

With information still yet to be released around the breakdown of this provision, it is unknown which sub-sectors in this industry are likely to benefit the most. Using data provided by the CIF report I have produced the table below to show the subsectors expected to see the biggest loss in turnover in comparison to last year, and added some thoughts as to what to look out for based on indications currently available.

Adzuna’s latest release on job vacancy postings show a very low percentage of Creative and Design vacancies on online jobs boards. Unlike many of the other job types which have fluctuated between the months of lockdown, the number of vacancies within this industry have stayed consistently low.

On a positive note

The silver lining that may be found from the vacancy data is that vacancies in IT occupations have been on the increase and are one of the areas dominating the jobs boards.

There are many jobs within the creative industries that require IT and digital skills, and perhaps could be one of the areas more likely to respond first in recovery, as they are less reliant on social distancing rules being relaxed – eg those who have the skills to be able to contribute to the world of video gaming, in which some of the bigger names are keen to let job seekers know that they are still hiring. Those graduating from ARU on our Cambridge campus will want to keep an eye out for Cambridge-based companies like Frontier Developments and Jagex.

Other companies in this sector are starting to look at how work can be carried out from home. It is important to not assume that everything has stalled for this sector because it can be so reliant on the physical presence of people. The pandemic has forced employers to think differently, to translate their work and business differently. For some sectors that will naturally take longer to work out than others. So new graduates hoping to enter the market in this sector, be resilient in your search. Things will develop, especially with the Government’s financial backing. It is also important to consider how skills can be transferred to different occupations in your field of interest, and that’s why careers guidance is still so key at this time.

Table: Situation by subsector within the Creative Industries *as categorised by the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) by using SIC information

Sub-sectors Predicted loss in turnover % loss Job loss % loss Potential positives to keep an eye on
Design and designer fashion £2 billion 58%     Retail reopening could start to see an increase for demand in fashion.
Film, TV, video, radio and photography £36 billion 57% 102,000 42% TV and film production allowed to begin again with social distancing guidelines in place.
Music, performing and visual arts £11 billion 54% 178,000 57% This sub-sector will be particularly glad for the Government's financial support package as it waits for the go-ahead on live performance returning.
Crafts  £513 million 53% 58,000 47% Retail activity starting to improve.
Advertising and market research £19 billion 44% 49,000 26% Expected to improve in the second half of 2020 according to projections from Oxford Economics, possibly due to the need to adapt company supply to the 'new normal'.
Architecture £1.2 billion 24% 1,800 2% The Government support package does mention financial support for construction of cultural and heritage sites which may help this sub-sector.
Museums and galleries £743 million 9% 4,000 5% Reopening with social distancing so expect to see improvements in the later half of the year, but not for self-employed in this area - which does not make up a large proportion of the employed. The Government support package does mention cultural and heritage sites in particular for receiving support. 
IT, software and computer services Not well represented in the survey data       The nature of this work has meant a quick shift to being able to work from home, particularly the UK games sector which has been able to remain fairly resilient to business impact so far with more people turning to video games with more time spent at home. Potential bottlenecks could be seen in the long term with other sectors they need to work with.

Produced from data published by Oxford Economics.

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