Insight Report — Our report into the state of the creative industries, and how grads are finding work

Posted 29 August 2018 Written by Laura Snoad

This week we launch our second Insight Report, which is now available to members and can be downloaded here. Setting out to explore how issues in pay and workplace culture are affecting recent graduates, research was carried out into recent news stories and related studies, along with a salary survey of our own – interviewing 500 creative graduates from around the UK. To supplement these figures, we also spoke to a number of industry experts including Bruce Daisley, Vice President of Twitter Europe, The AOI’s membership manager Lou Bones, The Mill’s Creative Director Jorge Montiel, and many more. Covering design, illustration, advertising, film and TV, photography and animation, we give insight into some of the pressing issues affecting creative graduates, both before and as they start their first roles. By way of a preview, here we have summarised some of our most important discoveries...

Graduate salaries ranged from £5,000 to £60,000 per year
This is a huge breadth considering these are creatives in their first three years of work. As you might expect, those on the lower end of that bracket were freelancers – showing the difficulty of piecing together a steady stream of work in those first years.

The average starting salary was £18,000 across all disciplines 
This ranged from a tiny £3,000 to a very comfortable £27,000. However, this varied dramatically by discipline. The average starting salary for illustrators was just £13,000, with photographers and animators taking home £17,000, and those in advertising and design scooping up £18,000.

47% of graduates find work within three months
In our survey, the majority of respondents had secured work within a year (84%). Our survey also found that 40% relied on financial assistance from their parents in the first year following graduation, with 43% living at home or with family friends in the same period. Obviously this is not an option for every student, highlighting yet another barrier into the creative industries for those from low-income backgrounds.

84% of our respondents told us that they secured work within a year

How grads got their jobs
How employers recruit has become a hot topic this year, with automation, apps and social media all racking up the column inches in business-focused publications. We found that recruitment practices in the creative industries have so far remained relatively traditional.

35% of grads got work through a job ad 
Many grads got their first full-time or regular freelance work through applying to a job advert, closely followed by 26% contacting the employer for work, and 25% gaining the opportunity through an encounter with the employer or via a friend. 

15% of grads felt that their course prepared them for their current job

Connections are important in advertising and design 
Getting work through previous contacts appears to be far more important in the advertising industry, with 68% of advertising graduates saying that they found work after contacting an agency or meeting an employer face-to-face, in comparison with 50% of design graduates.

Graduates feel unprepared 
Echoing the findings of our first insight report on creative education, only 15% felt strongly that they had been prepared for their current job by their course. Although 60% felt they had studied a course relevant to the field they work in today, this concern about a lack of readiness for work suggests that universities have some way to go in bridging the skills – and confidence – gap between university and the creative industries.

There’s more work!
There has been a growth in demand from start-ups and for areas traditionally covered by photographers, such as reportage projects. This seems to correlate with Ben the Illustrator’s 2017 survey, which found that 50% of illustrators said they had more work in than in previous years.

But salaries aren’t rising to match
Children’s publishing is currently booming in the UK, meaning plenty of work for illustrators working in this area. However, although there is a lot of work going around, the pay isn’t rising to match, with clients wanting more for less. We found that the starting salary for illustrators was the lowest starting salary across the creative disciplines. This concern is also reflected by Ben the Illustrator’s survey, which found that 69% of illustrators felt that they weren’t earning a suitable amount to live sustainably from illustration.

There are more working benefits
Through discussion with design recruitment specialists, we discovered that salaries have remained static (or only slightly increased) for designers over the past five years, with slow economic recovery cited as an influencing factor.

The upper-bracket for starting salaries has grown 
This is in part due to the arrival of US start-ups in the UK. There has also been a growth in in-house opportunities for designers, with brands willing to pay higher salaries than equivalent agency roles – something to bear in mind for graduate designers wanting to maximise their starting salary.

Benefits and company culture are more important than ever
Flexible working and mentoring opportunities are often on the agenda at interview stage. Career progress is also much higher on designers’ agenda than in previous years, with a large portion of designers citing lack of a clear career path and poor management as reasons for leaving a role. 

Attitudes to long hours and unpaid internships are changing
Many employees are seeing both of these practices as unacceptable. However, efforts to get design studios to sign up to the Placement Poverty Pledge (set up by Creature’s Stu Outhwaite) has been more challenging than in the advertising industry, where the scheme started.

Unpaid internships have nearly died
Unpaid work has nearly died out within the advertising industry, with the majority of London-based agencies committed to the Placement Poverty Pledge to pay London or UK Living Wage.

The hours can be unhealthily long
However, whereas excruciatingly long hours are no longer common within design, the extremity of pitch culture in advertising means long hours are still a regular feature. Many worry that this lack of flexibility is preventing women taking on leadership roles within the industry.

Social content means clients want want more for less
The growth of social media has spelled more work for photographers, as brands have more media space to fill, but budgets haven’t always risen to accommodate. Seasonal photography cycles have changed dramatically, with brands looking to consumer influencers and other partnerships to generate content for them, as opposed to the more traditional method of commissioning a photographer.

The ability to shoot moving image is increasingly in demand 
This is something that clients and commissioners are on the lookout for, so those looking to up-skill might benefit from focusing on this area. In the words of Rosie Wadey, agent for East Photographic, “It’s almost the first question we hear from anyone we meet these days; it’s something that everybody wants to see.”

Industries are currently booming
The screen industries are experiencing incredible growth, mixed with Brexit worries. Tax breaks for animation projects mean more projects are coming to the UK from abroad and the VFX and post-production industries are doing especially well. The experts we interviewed however, said that they struggled to find enough talent to fill roles as demand was so high.

Company culture is being reassessed
Although the demand for talent has not yet affected salaries, experts are saying it is forcing many to improve benefits for new employees and rethink company culture. Our insiders said it was an incredible time to be a graduate working in animation, TV or film. 

Brexit might change things
Around a third of VFX workers are EU nationals and much of the top animation talent comes from abroad, so our experts were concerned about how Brexit may affect their ability to recruit. This, however worrying, only strengthened the position for UK graduates.


You can read the full report by downloading it here. This is available to Lecture in Progress members, so if you’re not already signed up, you can do so here. As a member, you’ll receive two detailed reports a year, plus access to exclusive offers and promotions, two newsletters a week and the biannual newspaper.

Posted 29 August 2018 Written by Laura Snoad
Collection: Insight Report
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