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In this article Eliza Easton, Principal Policy Researcher at Nesta and Head of its Policy Unit, Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre explains the vital importance of creativity in an age of automation.

With the creative industries named as a priority sector in the UK Government’s Industrial Strategy, it seems policymakers might be waking up to the importance of creativity for the future of the United Kingdom.

Nesta is leading the Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre (PEC), funded by the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council, as part of the government’s Industrial Strategy. The Centre aims to prompt a step-change for industry, policymakers and the wider research community in the quality of evidence about the creative industries, tasking the best researchers across the UK with answering some of the most pressing questions about this £100bn sector.

However, we also recognise that the creative industries don’t have a monopoly on creativity. Both at Nesta and in the PEC, we are mindful of the importance of creativity across the labour market. This is particularly true as in the past Nesta research has argued that robots can rarely replace creative jobs, and so these have rosy prospects.

Having said that, it can sometimes feel that the word ‘creative’ has become so overused as to be meaningless. Some have argued that all jobs now, whether in a coffee shop or a bank, are being described as creative. For example, the sandwich shop Subway calls its servers ‘artists’.

To understand whether this is the case, we looked at 35 million job adverts and investigated where the word ‘creativity’ was being used and, importantly, its relationship to future growth. You can find a link to our research below this article. 

Despite the regular misuse of the word, our research found that creativity is likely to be ever more important in the job market. Although it is a transferable skill, far from every job advert requests ‘creativity’ as a requirement. In fact, job adverts for Creative Occupations in the UK government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) official list are still far more likely to ask for it. Using our research on future skills with education publisher Pearson, we also found that jobs asking for creativity are also far more likely to grow as a percentage of the labour market by the year 2030. 

In fact, of all of the transferable skills we looked at, creativity was one of the greatest predictors of a job’s future prospects. We found that this probability of growth was particularly strong when linked to project management skills – this is the most potent mix for the future.

Importantly (and perhaps predictably), our research also found that the future of creativity is also not restricted to those included in the DCMS list of Creative Occupations. Other jobs that regularly ask for creativity in their job adverts include florists, bakers and flour confectioners, chefs, and hairdressers and barbers. 

There are also some roles which have many of the technical skills required in ‘creative occupations’ but are less likely to overtly ask for ‘creativity’. In particular, many types of engineers and people in manufacturing and business development roles have much in common with ‘creative jobs’. 

This research is so important because it is easy to think that the solution to the challenges of automation and the future of work is to ‘invest in digital skills’ alone. 

This is despite the fact that previous Nesta research has shown that 'disappearing jobs' – those likely to shrink as a percentage of the workforce – are actually more likely to need a digital skill than those that are most likely to grow in the future. That’s because there are jobs with buoyant prospects that don’t currently need many digital skills - including teachers and chefs, but this is set to change in the future. You can access our Future Skills research in full with the link below. 

Where digital skills are needed, they are noticeably different in jobs likely to grow and jobs likely to decline. What sets ‘future-proof’ digital skills apart are their use for non-routine tasks, problem-solving and the creation of digital content.

So, what does this mean? It is a stark reminder that the use of the word ‘creativity’ – despite overuse – can still tell us a lot about a job. In fact, it can still help us to understand how that job will fare in the future. And it is a reminder to policymakers, employers and the workforce that digital skills are nothing without creativity to back them up – whether that is being creative with a spreadsheet or with an easel and paintbrush. 

Nesta is a global innovation foundation. It backs new ideas to tackle the big challenges of our time, through its knowledge, networks, funding and skills. Nesta works in partnership with others, including governments, businesses and charities. It is a UK charity that works all over the world, supported by a financial endowment. 

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