For many students, results day marks the culmination of a season of stress, which promptly fades away as a new career or further education beckons. For the creative industries, however, results day 2017 might only mark the start of their worries.
An analysis of the student and course data available for the class of 2017 indicates predictable growth amongst science, technology, engineer and mathematics (STEM) fields. What the figures also show is that this year, UK applicants for creative courses saw a 5% drop – the greatest decline since the tuition fee increase in 2013.
GCSE figures show a 10% drop in Arts and Design students, suggesting a more dramatic decline in these areas is yet to come.
Why is this the case? Following government pledges and investment trends supporting British technology, it’s clear that STEM subjects have huge promise for sustained growth in what is otherwise a very changeable world. It’s therefore a clear and rational choice for students to pursue a future in those fields – more so, perhaps, than a creative career path.
Should businesses worry about this shift progressing too far? There is a case to be made for a balance to be struck between technical and creative expertise across industries, before one talent pool diminishes the other.
While some of the greatest innovations of the last decade are technology-based, their successes at either disrupting industries or breaking through in competitive markets can also be attributed to the multidisciplinary creative and design teams behind them. These specialists continue to be invaluable, using craft skills and strategic thinking to marry raw technology to the needs of end users, helping businesses break new ground with their positioning, service and aesthetic design.
The next generation of computing, defined by a proliferation of voice interface technology, may come to rely on the marriage of technical and creative skill sets even more. Google, for instance, is recruiting writing talent from Pixar and The Onion to develop more human interactions between its voice services and users. Getting that experience right might prove a make-or-break moment in a marketplace awash with technical promise. As more businesses seek to imbue their products and services with more human attributes, so the partnership between tech and creative teams will become vital.
But do these exam results predict the loss of that creative spark, just when we need it most?
The answer lies in a perennial challenge for creative and tech businesses: the pursuit of new blood – specifically, different new blood.
In fact, we could read a decline in further creative education as a signal that new kinds of talent await. The kind of talent that thinks differently to their peers and bases their decisions on varied life experiences, informing new products and services for a diverse population.
These people won’t be found in the same places as creatives have been in decades past – art schools, design colleges, universities, and so on.
Those who may once have taken up a design course may well be about to study biochemical engineering in September. Or maybe they’re still wringing their hands after results day without a clue what to do next. They could have dropped out of school long before then and are now doing something completely different.
Each of these scenarios is an opportunity for a novel perspective and a new skillset that may never have existed in a creative role before, and with the government focus so squarely on STEM, it’s up to the businesses which will most benefit – the creative agencies, design studios, production houses – to enthuse new talent with a career in the creative world.
Finding those people will require businesses to strike out in new directions, but capturing their interest will demand a new approach to on-the-job training that teaches craft and commercial skills without homogenising the knowledge and experience of the potential young creatives.
If those moves come today, while UK creativity maintains its world-changing reputation, we could put a stop to those future anxieties before they’ve even begun.