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To keep it simple, creative industries are businesses and organisations that have creativity at their core. That’s things like music, film and TV, theatre, video game design and writing. It can also include sectors like advertising and marketing and publishing, but we cover those on other job sector pages.
More than 2 million people work in the creative industries in the UK, some in traditionally creative roles (such as an actor in a theatre) and some in equally creative roles behind the scenes (such as the theatre’s publicist or set designer).
Jobs in the creative industries can be competitive meaning work experience, volunteering and industry knowledge are very important. But creative skills are in high demand; 30% of the UK government’s shortage occupation list (jobs deemed to be in low supply in the UK labour market) is made up of creative roles.
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The skills needed for a job in the creative industries vary depending on the particular industry, the job, the type and size of the organisation and whether you are freelance or not. Regardless, you’ll need:
Freelancing - working for yourself and selling your skills to clients - is much more common in the creative industries than in most sectors.
According to the latest figures, 43% of people across creative industries are freelance. About 40% of people in film, TV and radio are freelance and more than 70% of people in music, performing and visual arts are freelance.
Why so many freelancers in creative industries? There are a number of reasons. Some people choose to go freelance because they enjoy the creative control and the ability to pick and choose work.
But many people are freelance simply because it is the only way they can find work. Their skills may be too specialist to find permanent full-time work as many creative businesses are small, so rely on freelancers to provide specialist skills when they need them. This means some people are not freelance by choice. They have to accept the potential downsides of freelancing such as the lack of sick pay and annual leave. Creative freelancers were hit particularly hard by the pandemic compared to their non-freelancing colleagues.
As well as freelancing, short term contracts are more common in creative industries.
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Thinking about funding support? As well as supporting organisations, the Arts Council funds individual artists and practitioners. They provide funding for projects and for developing cultural practice; that includes research, time to create new work, travel, training, developing ideas, networking or mentoring.
You can get involved in Enterprise activities at York to learn more about self-employment and freelancing. Check our information on Enterprise.
Get an overview of the sector:
Listen to our What do you actually do? podcast:
There are some training schemes but many graduates get into the sector in entry-level jobs. Jobs may be advertised online but also found by networking and asking for jobs. You might hear this described as making speculative applications.
A common route into film and TV is as a runner. It gives you the chance to observe other roles, make links with different departments and potentially get experience in different teams. A similar role in radio is a radio broadcast assistant. Other entry-level roles in film, TV and radio could include researcher/research assistant, production assistant or assistant floor manager.
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Big broadcasters and production companies like the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 frequently offer training schemes and apprenticeships. You can find a detailed list of what’s available on the Royal Television Society link below.
You might occasionally see training schemes for radio or audio production, or more general broadcasting training schemes encompassing work across TV, radio and online.
You might find entry-level jobs on:
Many entry-level jobs such as runners are not formally advertised. You may find jobs by word of mouth and sending speculative applications, so brush up on your networking skills. You could use online directories such as The Knowledge and Kays to find relevant organisations.
Freelancing is common across the creative industries. Read the Freelancing Toolkit from ScreenSkills to understand more.
Advertised work experience opportunities with production companies and broadcasters can be competitive and in short supply but there are other ways to get work experience to learn more about the sector and to fill up your CV.
There are unpaid work experience opportunities annually with the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 among others, but you could:
Our advice on sending speculative applications
- In order to write a good speculative letter/email you will first need to do some research into the organisation you are writing to. This way you will be able to target your application to their needs and demonstrate your passion for the company, role and industry
- Catch the attention of the person you are writing to. Give them a clear reason to want to contact you and take things further. For example, demonstrate that you have relevant skills, perhaps through extra-curricular activities and explain how offering you work experience will be of benefit to them (not just you!). Include a web link to your best work if possible. Also demonstrate that you understand what they do as an organisation - perhaps mention an interest in the clients they work with/your enjoyment of a documentary they made/an article you read that resonated with you – ie really tailor the application to that particular organisation
- Be explicit about what you are asking for and what you can offer
- It is a good idea to write to a specific named individual. If necessary phone to clarify who the best person to contact would be before sending your letter/email. Company websites, twitter and LinkedIn profiles may also be useful for this
- Follow it up! It’s a good idea to contact the organisation a week or two after you have sent it. Ask if they’ve had a chance to read it and whether there will be any opportunities for you. If not, find out if they know of anyone else you could approach for work experience opportunities
- Create an online presence: use social or professional networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn. Not only can you find out about companies in this way, they can find out about you! Use Twitter to follow individuals working in the roles you are interested in - this will help you keep up to date with their news, but could also lead to job opportunities (eg they could put out a last minute call for help if a runner lets them down). However, remember they can check you out online, so think about the impression you want to give and lock down your privacy settings of anything personal you wouldn’t want them to see.
Read more about CVs and covering letters.
It’s not just about getting experience in the creative industries. Entry-level jobs can be demanding with long hours and a lot of pressure. You will be expected to use your initiative, be confident and be good at talking to people from a range of backgrounds. Work experience to help you develop these skills and show this to employers could include volunteering and part-time work. Having a car is helpful; you might need to get to remote locations.
We know that unpaid internships exclude a lot of people. You might be eligible for a York Futures Scholarship.
There are a number of initiatives to support people from communities under-represented in the creative industries to get into the sector.
Jobs in the theatre industry are wide-ranging. They include creative roles like actors, directors, lighting designers and musical directors; production roles like casting directors, technicians and stage crew; and administrative roles like theatre managers, marketing officers and press officers.
You could work for a theatre company that creates, produces and tours plays. You could work directly for a theatre that creates its own plays (sometimes called a ‘producing house’). You could work directly for a theatre that puts on productions made by other companies (‘receiving house’). There are many freelance opportunities across these areas. You could also work in other settings like children’s theatre and in the education sector.
Get an overview of the sector:
Keep up to date on industry news by reading:
Read more about specific roles in theatre:
Listen to our episode of What do you actually do? with John Tomlinson about getting involved in theatre
Training schemes and graduate schemes are rare and very competitive (ATG’s management training scheme is one example) so most people join the sector in entry-level jobs. These can be low paid and fixed-term but will open up opportunities to progress. Having work experience is very important.
You do not need an undergraduate or postgraduate degree in theatre for most jobs, but the skills and knowledge you develop in these courses could help you.
Jobs may be advertised on websites like:
Jobs might also be advertised directly on theatre and production company websites, and on social media. As with all creative industries, networking is important and some roles will not be formally advertised.
You won’t find a lot of advertised internships in theatre but some might be advertised on the job websites above. Many theatre companies offer short, unpaid work experience opportunities advertised through their websites. Remember that these will be competitive but they are a great way to get an insight into the sector and to build a network.
For other ways to get experience you could:
Think broadly about where you look for work experience. A major London or regional theatre is likely to be inundated with requests, but a smaller production company or an educational theatre group might be more open to letting you shadow their work for a day or two.
The video games industry has grown quickly in the UK; jobs include designers, developers, animators, producers and writers. Outside of games, the growth of the digital sector means there are more creative roles in tech than ever before. Jobs include roles in user-centred design, like UI and UX designers; roles in augmented, virtual and mixed reality (under the umbrella of ‘extended reality' or ‘XR’); and more ‘traditional’ tech roles like web designers.
Get an overview of the video games sector:
Get an overview of other creative roles in tech:
You might see some graduate schemes or graduate trainee jobs, but many graduates enter the sector in ‘junior’ roles and progress through the ranks. There are also apprenticeships in gaming. Depending on the job you want, a specific degree might not be required but a good grounding in the relevant technical skills is important. Spend some time browsing job descriptions to help you understand the expected skill level. You might be expected to know the basics of the agile working methodology, which is commonly used in the tech sector.
Like other creative roles, networking is important and freelancing is common. Be prepared to send speculative job applications to find jobs that are not formally advertised.
Look out for advertised internships in the gaming industry. They may be advertised on the websites listed above or directly on game company websites. You might find information about work experience on company websites, so spend some time researching. Remember, there is likely to be high demand for any work experience like this so don’t be downhearted if you are rejected. Outside of formal internships, you could:
Like other creative sectors, there are many different jobs in music. Roles include musicians, composers, producers, technicians, promoters, managers, agents and teachers. Work is available in the music industry but also in sectors like education, film and TV and the armed forces. It’s a competitive business; freelancing is common, especially for musicians, and networking is important.
Get an overview and learn about the different jobs:
Listen: hear York graduate Benji talk about his career as a composer for film and TV on our What do you actually do? podcast
Classical musicians benefit from a degree in music and private music teachers often have degrees in music and performance/theory qualifications. Music producers and sound technicians do not necessarily need relevant qualifications but many have them. Apart from that, specific degrees are not necessary for many music jobs.
Graduate schemes and specific jobs for graduates are rare in many creative roles, but you may find some graduate schemes and internships on the business side of the music industry; Sony Music and Universal Music are two record labels that sometimes offer these.
Speculative approaches are essential to finding work and progressing in the sector, especially in creative roles. These approaches may lead to freelancing work. For example, musicians looking for session work could contact contractors or fixers to try to arrange freelancing session work.
Browse our collection of profiles of York graduates working in the creative industries on York Profiles & Mentors. They include:
Podcasts can be a good way to get an insight into creative industries: