Lord C-J Calls for Action on creative skills

On the 28th January 2016 the Lords held a debate on Adult Education and the Skills Needed in the UK Economy. I focused on the Creative and Tech Industries.

This is what I said :

I want to focus on how our creative and tech industries can obtain, now and in the future, the skills that they need to develop and grow this increasingly important sector of the economy. Creative industries make a major contribution to the UK economy— £84 billion at the last count—but the vast majority of those businesses are small. Freelancing, too, constitutes 30% of the sector overall. These present major challenges to concerted action on skills. Creative Skillset reports a great number of skills gaps: it is bad in London but even worse outside. This involves not only digital and software skills but craft and technical skills as well. In the tech sector, it is clear that we need 1 million tech jobs to be filled by 2020 to keep up with demand. Of course, there are concerns about the quality of business skills in the creative sector, too.

I pay tribute to my former colleague, Sir Vince Cable, who was a BIS Secretary intent on developing an industrial strategy for the creative sector and instrumental in the creation of the Creative Industries Council, which has started to address the key issues in the sector, including skills shortages. However, despite huge progress since 2010, still only 1% of the current workforce comes from an apprenticeship route.

I welcome this Government’s pledge to create a further 3 million apprenticeships across the board in the period to 2020, but the new apprenticeships levy, introduced by the Chancellor, is a major concern for the creative industries, not simply because it will affect more smaller businesses than originally anticipated. There are key questions about how it will operate. I hope that the Minister will be able to address some of them. Will contributions from the creative industries be invested for the benefit of those industries? Will government investment continue alongside the levy? Will there be transparency in how contributions are invested? Will there be a joined-up, UK-wide approach in line with an industrial strategy for the creative industries? Will businesses be able to set some of their internal costs incurred in developing standards and administration against the levy through an allowable expense system? If there is to be a levy, it must be fit for purpose.

Achieving diversity is also a major challenge for the industry. Access to career pathways is obscure for those without connections. Unpaid internships are all too common. Interns can be useful, but they must be paid. I pay tribute to the music industry’s efforts in this respect. Overall in the creative media, women, BAME people and the disabled are badly underrepresented. Idris Elba spoke passionately about this, addressing MPs and Peers in the House only last week. We need to attract, develop and nurture their skills to the maximum to identify and develop them faster. Mentoring, as NESTA has identified, is crucial.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, said last week, we particularly need to take action to encourage more women into the tech industry, where women hold only 17% of the jobs. There are now some excellent, prominent role models in the tech sector, but we must do more at the entry level; the process must start at school. In the creative sector, PSBs and the independent sector need to show leadership in efforts to increase diversity and social mobility. Creative Skillset advocates a code of practice between the independent sector and PSBs and commissioners to include explicit commitments around training and recruitment.

I welcome changes to the national curriculum so that it now includes coding and computer science. Computer science has been made part of the science strand of the English baccalaureate. But it is disappointing that the Government seem so intent on a STEM rather than a STEAM agenda in our schools. The shape of EBacc confirms the original fears of the industry. The truth is that we need students going into the creative industries to be multidisciplinary.

There are many other issues on skills in the creative industries: visas for international entrants where skills are at a shortage; the importance of clusters; the relationship between universities; and in particular the AHRC knowledge exchange hubs in London and the nations and regions, such as the Creative Exchange and Creativeworks. What support are the Government giving to those hubs? What action are they taking to ensure that the two skills councils work ever closer together? Indeed, they should merge into a powerful and effective body to make sure that we plan and make the right strategies for the creative industries.

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