Supporting young people into the self-made sector

July 03, 2019

On Monday, Roundhouse and Partnership for Young London released a report looking at the barriers facing young people when entering the creative industries. The report, Self-Made Sector: working in the creative industries highlights a catalogue of errors that young people face – particularly BAME young people and those from low-income households. Here Development and Communications Director, Michaela Greene, who leads the diversity and inclusion working group at the Roundhouse, explores some of the findings and what more can be done to support diverse young people into the industry.  

Recent DCMS figures revealed an increase in BAME workers in the creative industries in 2018. On the surface, it seems like a positive news story, but when you look into the figures, it’s a very different picture sector to sector. Music, performing arts and visual arts saw a huge increase of 52% of BAME employees when compared with 2017 figures. But look to advertising and marketing, design and designer fashion and film, TV, video, radio and photography and all sectors experienced a decline in BAME people. Our sector talks about diversity and inclusion, and the need for change, yet the figures aren’t painting the same picture. It's time we face up to the reality that many young people are largely unaware of the potential opportunities within our industry, or don't feel welcome.

Our report with Partnership for Young London wanted to explore why BAME young people felt closed off from the industry. For most, the apprehension started from a young age. At school, creative subjects were not valued, or taught, which sparked the internal doubt around the perception of creativity – which is why we really need to add creative subjects on to the EBacc.

I know how valuable engagement in the arts in your formative years can be. As a child growing up in a working class family in Essex I was painfully shy. My Mum packed me off to dance classes, free summer holiday acting camps and encouraged me to take part in the arts at school. Yes, there was certainly a moment of wanting to tread the boards for a living but for the most part, what I took from it was a love of words and communication, but most importantly my confidence grew as I was taken out of my comfort zone on so many occasions. All of this has been invaluable in my career but I was lucky. These subjects were on offer at my (state) school and some of my most memorable and inspirational teachers were my drama teachers. Young people from our research spoke about a love of creative subjects – but didn’t always have the option at school.   

“I feel like, if there was more of a focus on creative subjects in schools, if I did drama and if I did media, things would have been different.” 

“I wanted to do drama, but they didn’t have it. I wanted to do music, but they didn’t really take it that seriously.”

Young people spoke about a lack of careers advice in school – not just in terms of industries, but routes into industry too. Many young people are encouraged to go to university over any other path, and as an industry we’re too reliant on degrees. Nearly 60% of the sector workforce has a degree or equivalent, compared to a third across the UK workforce as a whole. We want organisations to question whether they need to ask for degrees for entry-level roles. Routes into the industry have changed and young people have more of a DIY attitude than ever before.

“Strongly advised against it, because I had good grades at school they were like, you could do so much more!”

“They didn’t even make us think about jobs, they made us think about university only.”

And it wasn’t just schools who strongly advised them not to follow a career path in the creative industries – parents, carers and guardians played a significant role in young people changing Plan A to something more academic, with creativity taking a backseat role. We need a careers advice strategy that engages with the influencers in a young person’s life, and not just school.

“At the time I wanted to do a much more creative job…I said I would do a humanities degree first.”

With such a fast moving and rapidly expanding sector, we need to ensure parents, carers, guardians and teachers feel equipped to advise on the possible routes into industry. The skills needed now are so different to when many of us started out in our careers, so we need to think about who is best placed to deliver this careers advice too. 

To deny creative opportunities to the next generation is not just potentially limiting the diversity and range of brilliant artists we will see on our screens and stages but more widely by removing and devaluing creativity. I was lucky, I had my parents support, and the opportunity at schools but I’m not sure I would be where I am without this experience. By making it accessible for only a select few, we are failing to skill up the future workforce to enable the growth and success of our creative industries. 


The Roundhouse has launched the Self-Made Series in response to the report for young people (aged 18-30) who want to make a career out of their creativity. From branding to finance workshops, young people will be able to learn the skills they didn’t at school, to help them get ahead in business.

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