Creative industries are essential for our future economy. What are they? How our roadshow helps schools open CI futures for their students

By Kathryn Grushka

The Creative Industries were included as a Strategy for 21st Century Australia by the Australian Government back in 2011.   They were seen as having the potential to drive our economy and build future Australian entrepreneurs who could participate in a growing global economy. Around the world Creative Industries are now seen as essential to growth in a modern economy. Our universities offer a range of undergraduate and graduate degrees in Creative Industries.

The Creative Industries remain under-exploited in Australia.

Many teachers and careers advisors in Australia do not have a well developed idea of what Creative Industries are, what skill sets they involve and what school subjects underpin this strategic area of future workforce growth.

I believe the current curriculum emphasis on Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) in Australia is marginalising The Arts (visual art, music, dance, drama and media arts). Creative Industries is simply not a priority in the national secondary school curriculum these days, even though The Arts, and the entrepreneurship and innovation skills they embed, are critical for our future.

What are the Creative Industries?

According to Australian Government the creative industries involve “the generation of creative intellectual property with the potential to be commercialised” and they include:

music and performing arts;

film, television and radio;

advertising and marketing;

software development and interactive content;

writing, publishing and print media; and

architecture, design and visual arts.

The Queensland University of Technology points out that “the creative industries are innovation led, knowledge intensive and highly exportable, and make a larger contribution to GDP than a number of traditional industry groups.’ Also that: –

The lines between creative fields are increasingly blurred. Visual artists use interactive and moving images, performers use digital media in site-specific works, and collaborative teams create sophisticated productions that captivate our senses.

Technology provides new possibilities for artists – in the creation of their works, as new outlets for their creativity, and as a means of promoting and distributing their work. Cutting-edge use of digital technologies produces networked performances and cultural experiences.

According to QUT “employment in creative industries is growing 40% faster than the Australian economy as a whole.”

If you are interested in how India is using the soft power (ways of influencing others by co-opting rather than coercing) of its Creative Industries to become a superpower you should check out this TED talk by Shashi Tharoor.

How is the Australian education system responding to the need to develop our Creative Industries?

I see one of the main problems with what is happening in Australia is that many students are immersed in a contemporary social media Big Data – creative space. They continuously blog online, post on Facebook and Instagram and produce content for YouTube etc. This currently appears to be an alternate universe to formal learning, where written testing abounds and censorship pervades. Formal school assessment fails to acknowledge that increasingly students approach the web and social media with an entrepreneurial focus and have been developing their digital skill sets outside of the classroom. Students produce music videos, blogs, tutorials and already attract audiences and followers.

The Australian education system significantly invested in technological infrastructure, digital resources and support for teachers’ practice in schools through the Digital Education Revolution (DER) back in 2013. It aimed to develop the skills in digital media that “are essential to all 21st century occupations”, through the production of “knowledge and skills development in areas such as ICT and technology, which are central to Australia’s skilled economy”. However skip forward to 2018 and, while technologies discourses are present in Australia’s education policies and in the national curriculum as a general capability, they don’t appear to have been developed as “central” to our education for the creative economy.

I believe the learning opportunities in the Creative Industries, which carry significant technology skill sets, are very limited in Australian school education and are over shadowed by old perceptions of what The Arts can contribute to the cultural and economic future of Australia. This perception underestimates the soft power of the Creative Industries and further reinforces its marginalisation as an important learning area.

I participated in a project by the University of Newcastle to tackle the problem of how to help school students envisage the Creative Industries from an entrepreneurial and innovative agenda. The aim was to get parents, career advisors, teachers and students to see more clearly how Creative Industries contribute to our economy and to envisage new workforce opportunities for students in regional areas.

Our project focused specifically on how to strengthen teachers’ and schools’ knowledge of the significance of the Creative Industries studies at university and its pathways to careers. We did this through a hands-on roadshow.

Our project

The project Creative Industries Careers: Re-imagining Regional and Remote Students’ opportunities was funded by the Australian Government Department of Education and Training in the Higher Education Participation Program (HEPP) National Priorities Pool. I was one of eight collaborators involved in this project.

Our ‘pitch’ to get funding focused on how to support regional and remote High School students facing the prospect of decline in traditional farming, mining, service and manufacturing and to re-imagine their futures and aspire to work in the Creative Industries.

Our project was developed to present the full range of art, media, design and illustration opportunities, with a significant focus of digital media, in the Creative Industries. The aim was to show how increasingly mobile technologies are opening up remote work and entrepreneurship opportunities. Students can study Creative Industries at university and return to their rural communities to go on and pursue fulfilled productive lives connected to global economies via the Internet.

We developed the slogan “See what you can be” to drive the project. We created videos of young creatives working in their own innovative and entrepreneurial ways across a range of industry sectors. We developed hands on activities in digital workshops of video, virtual reality and animation accompanied by career advisor and teacher information sessions. We wanted to show emerging employment trends and career opportunities to our audiences.

At the same time our project acknowledged limitations of career choices imposed by regional life, such as the availability of role models or creative champions. So we used Creative Industry student mentors who shared their learning journeys from school to university and their individual Creative Industry work goals.

The Creative Industries Roadshow

Our Creative Industries Roadshow website houses all the Creative Industry Roadshow content and it provides a breakdown of what we did. Our Roadshow showcases real stories of current students and university graduates who have been able to reach their potential through a variety of pathways specific to Creative Arts, Communication, Visual Communication and Design. There is a particular focus toward digital technologies, ‘makers’ and practical problem-solvers.

Our Roadshows provided information sessions and discussions and we ran hands on digital media workshops.

The six University of Newcastle academics, including myself, and two research assistants that formed the research team, along with 16 university Student Mentors, provided accurate and up to date information to participants about Creative Industries career options and university life.

In addition the series See what you can be’, which features six interviews with University of Newcastle graduates describing their pathways from High School to a Creative Industry career, is now hosted on a UoN YouTube channel. It is also available via the Roadshow website.

What we did with our Roadshow

Our Creative Industries Roadshow went to seven NSW regional areas -Port Macquarie, Taree, Dubbo, Mudgee, Gunnedah, Merriwa, and Tamworth. The eight Roadshows toured 13 networks of principals in remote and regional NSW, engaging 40 High Schools and allowed over 602 high school students, careers advisors and teachers to learn more about the creative industries.

Challenges ahead

Our project highlights the need for professional development in regional and remote areas about the Creative Industries and how both The Arts and STEM subjects are involved. We noticed the increasing concern of Arts educators (music, visual art, dance, drama and media teachers) that STEM policy initiatives were impacting schools to the extent that students wishing to pursue a future in the Creative Industries were increasingly finding their school subject choices restricted. Arts teachers in regional and remote schools are becoming increasingly anxious about retaining their jobs in some locations and digital Arts learning opportunities are technologically constrained.

The project has been successful in shifting career advisors and teachers perceptions of the skill sets required at secondary school level for a pathway into careers in the creative industries. However, we regularly discovered that schools suggested the Roadshow experience only to their Creative Arts students, not to the wider creatives within the school, those who could be pursuing their passions through technology subjects such as Design and Technology and Computing or others who could be showing skills as creative writers. A computer student, for example, could well go on to a career in the film industry or gaming.

We discovered careers advisors and teachers were not fully aware of the wide range of career opportunities available in Creative Industries via higher education at university. Careers advisors who participated in our project went on to feel confident about presenting Creative Industries options at university to their students. The Roadshow and the project as a whole has shifted students and teachers perceptions beyond the limited service industries (farming and mining jobs) to entrepreneurial, freelance, startups, innovation hubs or small businesses (drones in marketing and real estate for example).

This project was small scale and strategically for regional and remote schools and their communities, yet it is the observations of the project team that these challenges are equally relevant in cities.

The challenge for tertiary educators is to shift pre-existing perceptions held by career advisors and teachers who are key stakeholders in education, whose views have been shaped by past subject career boundaries, traditional pedagogies and assumptions about where to find creativity in learning and how to turn these activities into viable careers. Moreover the creative pedagogies, which have traditionally underpinned the Arts, are becoming an increasingly important skill set for all students, as every future career will entail digital communication skill sets, including design and video and creative entrepreneurship.

Increasingly young people are faced with the reality of work emulating from their own initiatives. Small scale start up innovation companies are now becoming the norm and requiring varying degrees of marketing and promotional skills on top of their industry focus. Soft skills now underpin most marketing and professional communication avenues and now drive national economies. Far more work needs to be done in this area in order to open up to schools and communities awareness of the Creative Industries and the significant investment that needs to be made.

At the moment schools and communities are undervaluing Creative Industries pathways. Australia should be currently building subject pathways in schools where students seeking careers in their creative passions (from virtual reality design, gaming, animation to film and the design and media industries) can have their ambitions supported.

Most of all we need to work on promoting the visibility and value of the benefits of a career in the Creative Industries. I believe there is a lack of understanding of enterprise and innovation as a cornerstone in new curriculum learning. Often students who come to the creative industries are as likely to be good at STEM subjects as well as traditional Arts subjects. This highlights a limited understanding of the transdisciplinary nature of the Arts, Design & Technology and ICT that was identified in our pilot. We found misunderstandings around how students could traverse both Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) and The Arts so that there can be a closing of the gap around the Creative Industries fields.

The opportunity for secondary students to move more freely between and across subject areas is becoming limited under current educational funding and policy, and this is reinforced by old perceptions about the creative curriculum in secondary schools.

I believe careers advisors and teachers are becoming perplexed with this narrowing of the curriculum as government policy and funding increasingly focuses on STEM futures. My fear is a Creative Industry skill set, where technology, creativity and passion abound, may well become the missing link for school learning in Australia.


Dr Kathryn Grushka is a lecturer in art and design education at The University of Newcastle. Her research spans the visual arts and design, art/science, arts-educations, e-learning and the visual art, Arts Health and the Creative Industries. Her qualitative research draws of empirical and philosophical fields with an emphasis on narrative, arts-based methods and the performative work of image construction in representing the contemporary subject. She publishes nationally and internationally and works with a range of editorial teams. Kathryn’s career spans being a visual arts teacher, community artist, curriculum designer, academic and arts researcher working on national arts research projects. Most recently she has collaborated with Creative Industries and schools to deliver the Australian Government Department of Education and Training in the Higher Education Participation Program (HEPP) National Priorities


2 thoughts on “Creative industries are essential for our future economy. What are they? How our roadshow helps schools open CI futures for their students

  1. Jane Hunter says:

    Important post Kathryn. We have to to ensure everything that you raise is included in STEM education in schools. The report “Australia 2030″ released last week makes exactly this point on p2 and then at other intervals throughout the document.

    The project you have shared is exactly what needs to happen – shifting those more narrow definitions of STEM in the minds of parts of the education jigsaw is changing. It is slow but I am hopeful.

  2. Kathryn Grushka says:

    Thanks Jane for your comments.
    I went straight to the Australia 2030 report looking to see a link to how the Arts contain the skill set required, or at least can help build it, But sadly any reference to creative digital futures , the role of the creative industries within service industries remains hidden.
    This document talks to the support of the arts and social sciences such as creativity and empathy ( surely they are more than this!!!) but not to the fact that it is in the creative industries that the skill set that facilitated 21st communication and its increasingly market driven personal digital interfaces ( for consumers , entrepreneurs and marketers) are linked to the creative industries. Imperative 1 : Education is still about STEM. There is no explicit immediate links to the Creative Industries. My point remains and I challenge educators to find the role of Creative Industries in this agenda. Even culture ( usually the Arts) is now linked to ambition for innovation in medicine, agriculture of manufacturing. or technology industries.

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