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The Art of Getting Started: Graduate skills in a fragmented labour market
La Valle I, O’Regan S, Jackson C
a study for The London Institute
There is a growing recognition of the need to enhance graduates’ employability for them to find suitable jobs in an increasingly diverse and competitive labour market. The ‘employability’ debate has centred on the adequacy of the skills graduates develop during their courses. There is growing consensus that it is no longer sufficient for graduates to possess traditional academic and subject specific skills. Nowadays graduates need to develop a range of interpersonal and transferable skills to be able to adapt to changing market circumstances and organisational needs.
Art and design graduates’ careers
The traditional artist’s career resembles a patchwork of short-term contracts and projects, self-employment and freelancing, work outside their profession, and low monetary rewards. Life is particularly hard for newcomers. Eighteen months after graduating from the London Institute:
Other findings also highlight the fragmented nature of art and design graduates’ career experiences.
Half of those surveyed were working in artistic professions, while the rest were widely spread across a range of other occupations. Nearly half were working in the media, fashion industry or visual and performing arts, and just under one-third were self-employed. Freelance work was the most common activity among this group (mentioned by 65 per cent), followed by those who were setting up a business (17 per cent), and six per cent who were exhibiting art works to sell.
The findings on income levels agree with other research in this area and confirm that most artists live on lower than average incomes. However, income levels grow, albeit rather slowly, the longer graduates have been in the labour market.
Variations between groups
Variations in the employment experiences of different groups of graduates reflect largely the labour market disadvantage traditionally faced by these groups.
Career satisfaction expectations
The majority of respondents were satisfied with all aspects of their work, other than earnings.
With regard to their next five years, expectations about the ‘ideal job’ were high; nearly half said they were working towards this goal. However:
Skill needs and gaps
The findings confirm the high level of need among new art and design graduates for a range of career management and enterprise skills. All the skill sets listed in the questionnaire received high scores from the overwhelming majority of respondents. Most graduates believed the level of competence developed in these skill areas during their course was inadequate.
The gaps in relation to negotiating, networking and self-promotion are concerning. These skills are vital in a field where knowing the right people, being in the right place at the right time, establishing one’s reputation and maintaining a high level of visibility are essential to secure different forms of employment.
Given the high proportion of graduates who were self-employed, the perceived inadequacy of enterprise skills must be also be given careful consideration. Most respondents had to juggle a range of paid and non-profitable activities at any one time: the low level of competence reported in time management skills must make life much harder for many graduates.
Relatively large gaps were also identified in relation to the ability to cope with uncertainty and self-confidence. Clearly more needs to be done to prepare under-graduates for working life, to help them manage their expectations without undermining their confidence.
The need for more and better integrated career advice and guidance activities is a key message emerging from the study. Respondents emphasised that these should become an integral part of the course curriculum provided not only by careers advisers, but also by tutors, visiting lecturers and professionals from the art, design and media.
Much could be done by teaching staff to encourage students to make a more effective use of the Careers Service during and after their course. Finally, the need was highlighted for a range of post-graduation courses and workshops, carefully timed and planned to reflect graduates’ changing needs at different career stages.
The higher education challenge
Equipping graduates with a broad range of skills and providing substantial career preparation can be crucial in determining if and how quickly new art and design graduates are able to make a living from their art practice, or establish themselves in other careers.
Initiatives such as the Camberwell project are much needed throughout higher education. We hope the report will generate widespread discussion and further research on two key issues.
The study was initially commissioned to inform the development of a Department for Education and Employment (DfEE) funded project at Camberwell College of Arts. This aims to establish a model for the incorporation of career management and enterprise skills into the curriculum. In recognition of the critical importance of the issues covered by the study, all the other London Institute colleges agreed to take part in the survey.
The Art of Getting Started: Graduate skills in a fragmented labour market, La Valle I, O’Regan S, Jackson C. Report 364, Institute for Employment Studies, 2000.
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