Has Covid made the inequalities in cultural sector recruitment worse?

27 April 2021

The creative industries have been growing exponentially over the past decade. Pre-Covid it was collectively worth £111bn a year to the UK economy, and had shown remarkable resilience and enterprise to build back after the financial crisis.

We now face a new challenge, as the global pandemic has devastated both the programmes of the cultural sector and the entry routes for the new workforce into it. While organisations have been fighting for their survival, the hard work they’ve done towards fair access and recruitment may have fallen by the wayside. Unfortunately, this is the very time when young people aspiring to join the sector need it the most.

Even before the pandemic hit, unpaid internships were pressuring young people to work for free. Recruitment often defaulted to requiring a degree, regardless of whether this is actually relevant to the role. There was also the unconscious bias of organisations more inclined to hire ‘people like us’ than challenge their own perceptions.

With the ensuing redundancies and recruitment freezes of the Covid crisis, which has affected young people disproportionately, the odds of fair access for people from disadvantaged or minority backgrounds has also diminished.

It was saddening to read the recent findings by the Resolution Foundation think tank revealing that the Covid crisis has widened existing employment gaps between ethnic groups. The UK jobless rate for young black people rose to 35%, with 24% for young people of Asian descent, and 13% for young white people.

This supports earlier research from Nuffield College's Centre for Social Investigation, which found that British citizens from ethnic minority backgrounds had to send, on average, 60% more job applications to get a positive response from employers compared to their white counterparts. This rises as high as 70% for people of Pakistani heritage, 80% for Nigerian and South Asian heritage, and 90% for Middle Eastern and north African heritage.

These statistics are for the UK economy as a whole, but are reflected in the creative industries, which still struggles to represent people from all backgrounds – not only at the senior level, but now it appears, at entry level too. At CCSkills, we have constantly championed the need to open up access to creative careers to all parts of society and the approach of fair access is needed now more than ever.

To this end, we hope that our Creative Kickstart programme, which we have launched with the support of DWP’s Kickstart funding, will help to realise our commitment to support hundreds of young people from all backgrounds into paid employment across the cultural sector. We also hope that the programme will play its part in helping to transform the way our sector thinks about recruitment.

Our online guides and training sessions on best practice recruitment can further help to change an organisation’s mindset when it comes to fair, open and equal recruitment, from implementing anonymised recruitment to ensuring an application form is accessible to all.

We remain passionate about supporting our sector’s growth and helping employers recruit their future workforce from every part of our society. We remain totally committed to ensuring that as this crisis now appears to recede our sector will build back fairer.

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