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Market Intelligence: Talent in Creative

The Market Intelligence workshop series aims to share and increase awareness of industry-specific opportunities and challenges with a focus on future-proofing the talent needs of local businesses.

A graduate attraction plan completed by local creative businesses
Gradconsult led the workshop to a group of local SMEs

Please note: Sources for all data cited in this article can be found in this presentation.

This support is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund

On Friday 2 August 2019, Nottingham Trent University (NTU) hosted the third workshop in our series of sector-focused workshops, with Market Intelligence: Talent in Creative.

The workshop, delivered by Gradconsult, saw in-depth discussions and dialogue between representatives from companies in the creative industries across Derby, Derbyshire, Nottingham and Nottinghamshire (D2N2) on the topics of:

  • the state of the graduate market nationally and locally
  • key challenges for the sector over the next five years
  • the skills, knowledge and behaviours businesses need graduates to have
  • challenges faced by SMEs in recruitment and retention
  • how NTU can work with local business to help address the above and ensure our talent pipeline meets the future needs of the industry

The graduate market nationally

To begin with, data shows there are not enough young people entering the workforce. This leads to more vacant jobs than there are graduates to fill them as older workers retire. Brexit may complicate this due to a reduced migrant workforce.

However, at the same time, graduate unemployment is at its lowest since 1979 at 5.1%, and 87.5% of graduates are satisfied with their careers after three-and-a-half years.

In the UK, the graduate market is not regulated in the same way as other countries such as Germany or the USA, meaning the provision of university degree places is not linked to workforce requirements, creating a highly non-linear graduate market. This means that many graduates undertake careers in roles that are not directly linked to their area of study.

When considering their prospects, 48% of final year students are still undecided on their future career and are therefore open to influence from business. Generally, those in the creative industries take a little longer to decide what they want to do.

While the perception is that a high proportion of graduates will be drawn to London, the majority (69%) actually go to work in the region where they grew up, with a further 13% moving away to go to university and staying there. What may be surprising is that London is the only city in the UK where there is an oversupply of graduates.

Additionally, despite a rising perception that degrees don't offer benefits in the same way they used to, those with a degree still earn significantly more than non-graduates over their working life, with undergraduates and postgraduates earning £10k and £16k extra per year respectively on average.

As may be expected, entry salaries in the creative industries are generally lower than other areas due to a very high demand for jobs. In the UK there are 38,370 people studying creative arts courses, although this is down 5.4% since 2012/13, possibly due to an increasing tendency to choose vocational subjects.

Between 2011 and 2016, the creative industries showed the largest growth in employment of 25.4%, compared to a national average of 7.6% across all other industries.

The gender balance of the industry is 62% female, 38% male.

The graduate job market locally

Some key facts about the graduate market in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire are that:

  • there are a lower proportion of managers, directors and professional occupations available in both Derby and Nottingham compared to the UK nationally, although Derby fares slightly better.
  • Nottingham comes in at 7th-best UK city for disposable income when comparing graduate starting salary to cost of living
  • Derby tops the table in the same study, although this figure may be attributed to the increased proportion of high-value engineering companies resident in the area
  • the East Midlands has the lowest proportion of residents with a degree in the UK, leading to more demand for skills, but also creating a potential barrier to development and progression

To help attract top talent, businesses can apply and champion these positive messages through their attraction and recruitment of talent in the area, collaborating with NTU to help further advance prosperity and opportunity within the local area.

NTU currently has 3,748 undergraduate and postgraduates on creative courses in the 2018/19 academic year.

Key challenges over the next 5 years

Gradconsult initially presented some challenges that their research has found to be true across the creative industries.

  • The democratisation of design – due to advances and increased access to technology, people are able to do more themselves without having to employ professionals
  • Long-term unpaid internships – despite their value as an excellent opportunity to learn, there are large challenges around social mobility. The industry needs to look at this established practice to identify how to support those who cannot afford to undertake unpaid work
  • Gender – the gender pay gap, long working hours and creating a positive work-life balance can be a challenge in these industries due to the high proportion of women in the sector
  • Brexit – the fragmentation of funding streams can make it difficult for businesses to know where to go for financial support. 75% of UK creative businesses also employ EU workers creating a potential for huge disruption in the near future
  • STEM – the government are obsessed with science, technology, engineering and maths which is a short-sighted approach as lots of the same companies also need creatives

The businesses in the room also shared their main concerns for the challenges that they are likely to face in the coming years.


A representative from a local printing company identified an issue with the perception of their industry as a dying trade, despite the opportunities they have self-created for future growth by diversifying their services into exciting areas such as augmented reality. This can create an issue with finding candidates who are enthusiastic about going into the industry.


Due to the gender pay gap and the lack of women going into certain roles, i.e. developers, designers; there can be a perception that the industry may be male-dominated even though this isn't the case.

It was also acknowledged that the way jobs are advertised can be a barrier to women applying for roles as men have been shown to be more speculative even if they don't meet all of the criteria, whereas women tend to be more reticent to apply unless they meet the vast majority of criteria.

Brexit and GDPR

Re-visiting the subject of Brexit, businesses have also seen a decline in the amount of available work. In times of uncertainty, marketing and advertising can often be the first services to be dropped as they are seen as less business critical as companies go into survival mode.

GDPR (data protection legislation introduced by the EU in May 2018) has also created a lot of issues with businesses that are not as confident in the compliance of their own data, and may have inadvertently deleted marketing data that they didn't need to.

Awareness of local opportunities

Many businesses shared experiences of graduate candidates that don't realise the opportunities that are available to them in the D2N2 area. Despite the earlier statistic showing that the graduate pull to London isn't as strong as perhaps expected, they still come across a lot of people wanting to go to London for no other reason than that they assume that's where they should go.

The opportunities to work for a London-based company without having to live there also make this a tougher challenge due to strong transport links and increased opportunities to work remotely.

Everyone felt that despite the desire to encourage graduates to live and work locally after their degree, this isn't communicated well and therefore they often don't consider it as an option.

The skills, knowledge and behaviours businesses need graduates to have

Many of the businesses at this workshop have had experience of recruiting graduates in the past, with some heavily focused on this as part of their recruitment model.

There was a general consensus that businesses increasingly need people with skills in social media and and may look to graduates to fill this as they are the 'always-connected generation'. This is particularly true if the focus of the business isn't inherently linked to creativity.

However, while many graduates will feel that they are skilled in the use of social media and will base a job application around this, they often don't appreciate the distinction between being a digital consumer and a digital creator, having never used the technology in a business environment.

Due to this, they often don't realise the work involved and skills required around strategic thinking, planning, and analytics. However, this has recently been recognised by NTU and is starting to be introduced as a module on some art and design courses to meet the employer need.

Businesses also expressed their increasing desire to hear from graduates on courses that aren't directly linked to their intended role. They are more interested in hearing from creative people, rather than people that have studied something creative, which is often not the same thing.

Attendees at the Market Intelligence: Talent in Creative workshop
Group discussions at the workshop

Recruitment challenges

In 2018, Prospects provided a number of challenges experienced across the industry:

  • In 2018, fewer students collected GCSEs in arts subjects which may result in fewer qualified and skilled workers in the industry
  • There are concerns about the lack of ethnic diversity and support for social mobility
  • There is a major skills gap in roles that need a mixture of both technical and creative skills
  • The need for tech-skilled people dominates the news, but there is a huge requirement for creatives
  • The skills required are grouped into five major categories: tech, marketing, creating and design, teaching, and support

The businesses in the room also shared their own major challenges that they typically face when recruiting.

The pace of change in technology

Upon graduating, some of the skills graduates have can be a little outdated due to the pace of change. Although it's acknowledged that this would be difficult to address due to the approval process of changes to curriculum, an understanding of the current state of affairs would be highly beneficial.

Rigid interview or recruitment processes

Tailoring the interview of recruitment process to the nature of the role can be much more effective in finding the right candidates. Implementing the same process for all roles can make it difficult to identify the qualities that set candidates apart.

Some businesses also found that implementing a more informal process has seen positive results, compared to the standard formal interview set-up.

Mixed experiences of using recruitment agencies

While some have had very positive experiences of working with recruitment agencies, many found them to be costly and can often lead to extra time being spent interviewing candidates that are not suited to the role.

However, many businesses have seen a drop in organic applications to their roles, so use of recruiters has become necessary.

Many businesses don't realise that NTU can offer many of the same services as a recruiter but for free, and we may even be able to offer financial support with wages or training – a reversal in the process of using an agency.

Email for more information.

The NTU talent pool and how SMEs can get involved

NTU currently have 3,748 undergraduate and postgraduate students on creative courses in the 2018/19 academic year. These come from a range of degree discipline clusters including fashion, marketing and communications, visual communications and the visual arts.

There is a range of postgraduate course provision for businesses looking for more specialist creative skill sets. The workshop presentation provides more detail about this.

There are plenty of opportunities for businesses of all sizes to engage with students from NTU. A selection of these opportunites include:

Work experience, internships and projects

All courses will have an optional six-week work experience option from summer 2020, but businesses are also able to offer graduate internships, dedicated live projects and year-in-industry placements

Jobs fairs

By attending NTU jobs fairs, businesses can potentially meet future employees and raise their brand awareness on campus.

Other opportunities

In addition to the above, there are lots of opportunities listed in the workshop presentation. Businesses can also engage with NTU and target students on creative courses or other disciplines through on-campus activity such as degree shows, panel sessions and guest lectures.

To explore any of these options, or to access other support around recruitment, contact the Employability team at NTU at

Market Intelligence: Talent in...?

The Market Intelligence: Talent in Creative was the third workshop in the series to be delivered throughout 2019 and 2020.

The full programme of workshops are:

Workshops are invite-only, but you will be able to find articles such as these covering each sector on the NTU website.

How the High Level Skills programme supports SMEs

If you have any questions about any of the above, or want to enquire about engaging with NTU as a business, please get in touch.

You can contact us via any of the below channels:

Our Market Intelligence: Talent in …? workshops are delivered through the GRADS for D2N2 project. To find out more about this project and the wider support that NTU can offer, visit our website.

* The GRADS for D2N2 project is part-funded by the European Social Fund and is part of the ESF High Level Skills programme. The programme is delivered by NTU as part of the High Level Skills consortium which also includes Derby College, Nottingham College, the University of Derby, Vision West Nottinghamshire College and Nottingham City Council.