2011 Conference workshop session – The Barriers to Social Mobility in the Creative Industries

Ryan Shorthouse, Researcher for the Social Market Foundation

Ryan is the author of Disconnected: social mobility and the creative industries, a new report examining the reasons for poor social representation in the creative industries, with edited essays from experts such as Alan Milburn, the government’s social mobility tsar, Sir Win Bischoff, the chair of Career Academies UK, Paul Collard, chief executive of arts education charity Creativity, Culture and Education, and Stephen Overell, the associate director of the Work Foundation. These authors identify prior educational attainment, as well as poor careers advice leading to poor subject choices and inadequate work experience, as a principal explanation for poor social mobility in rewarding professions.

Specifically, the Social Market Foundation investigates the role unpaid internships (increasingly the gateway for young people to access the creative professions) play in harming access for those from lower socio-economic groups. Through polling, the SMF finds that the majority of young people from poorer backgrounds are not deterred from having to do unpaid work, and that they are as likely to have done unpaid work or know someone who has done unpaid work than their more affluent peers. The lack of social diversity in the creative industries is thus more likely to be caused by the network and information constraints, rather than credit constraints, young people from poor backgrounds face when trying to access a career. This is particularly because informal and word-of-mouth recruitment is common in the creative industries.

The SMF argues that policymakers should stop fixating on trying to phase out the unpaid nature of work experience and instead ensure that such vital opportunities are open to a wider number of young people and deliver a good return for the intern. A new government-backed National Internship Kitemark Scheme (NIKS) is proposed, with organisations securing a kitemark for running internships that have an open and transparent recruitment system advertised on a single government website, are time-limited to 3 months and involve an induction, performance review and guaranteed interview for employment or a reference letter at the end of the placement.

The report can be downloaded at http://www.smf.co.uk/research/poverty-and-social-mobility/disconnected-social-mobility-and-the-creative-industries/

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