Sara Jones: Push creativity at school, or we’ll all lose our jobs to robots

Despite the Government’s focus on science, creative jobs are far less likely to be automated in the future – so why is the arts faculty being neglected in schools? asks Free the Birds’ partner, Sara Jones.

Having access to a creative education is precious. The opportunity to be inspired, create connections and solve problems is what gets a lot of kids through the school gates in the morning.

These same possibilities fire up creative people to go to work every day, doing jobs that make such a valuable contribution to the UK and are one of the most likely careers to survive the onslaught of artificial intelligence (AI).

Matt Bush, agency director at Google UK, was asked recently at a talk in London about the changing landscape of advertising what his ambitions would be if he was 21 in 2021. His answer was that he would “think hard about the jobs that won’t be automated in the future.”

Government policy is eroding creative education

But government policy is eroding creativity in education and narrowing down choices for the next generation. In recent years, it has undermined the arts by excluding results in creative subjects from assessment criteria and league tables. Instead, it prioritises the core English Baccalaureate (EBacc) subjects, which are considered to be more academic. This includes English, science, maths, foreign languages, information technology (IT) and humanities.

The effect of this is that schools, desperate to boost their rankings, have no choice but to let creativity slide. It’s narrow-minded, particularly for the creative industries — if schools don’t support the arts, then where does that leave us?

Lauren Child, the children’s laureate and creator of the Charlie and Lola books, encourages children to “stare into space,” because, as she told the Guardian recently: “I have thought a lot about our need to be creative, and how you discover it by accident.”

Only a 2% chance that creative jobs will be automated

Unless kids get the chance to experiment and dream, we are going to raise a nation of data entry clerks. And there’s a problem with that; research conducted by Oxford University in 2013 identified data entry as one of the jobs most likely to be lost to automation in the future, with a 99% chance that robots will soon be doing the work.

But, according to the same reason, there is only a 2% chance that an art director, a producer, a director, a photographer or a fashion designer will be automated. Set and exhibition designers and curators are even lower, at less than 1%.

Many of the jobs that will be safe are the creative ones. Okay, so dentists, surgeons teachers and mechanical engineers are also pretty safe but even delicate procedures like medical operations could be assisted by virtual reality and robotic surgery in the future.

Even marketing managers have a good chance of survival, with only a 1.4% likelihood of being axed, showing that creative thinking counts just as much as creative products.

Learning about the arts teaches us how to solve problems

Creativity in all its guises is also a great resource for the country. The creative industries are worth £92 billion a year to the UK economy — that’s bigger than oil, gas, life sciences, automotive and aeronautics combined, according to the Creative Industries Federation — and have been identified as one of the Government’s five priority sectors in its post-Brexit strategy.

As someone who rose up the ranks through account management, I know that solving problems and building relationships require the kind of resourceful innovation that a creative education fosters in anyone who’s lucky enough to get one.

Justin Pahl, managing director at advertising agency Abbott Mead Vickers (AMV) BBDO, spoke recently at a talk in London about how his love for ideas has fuelled his career in advertising. He spoke about how ideas should come from a range of places, not just the traditional avenues of the fast-track Oxbridge route — they should come from anyone who has a creative contribution to make.

I want my daughter to go to a school that values creativity

Despite their greater resources, some of the over-achieving schools that are so focused on results seem far less likely to encourage creativity than a local comprehensive where teachers have a much wider range of abilities and there is less of a narrow-minded obsession with academia, creating a broader and more balanced curriculum.

I’m in the process of choosing a secondary school for my eldest daughter, and one of my biggest priorities is finding one where creative subjects are valued, where there is a good drama and arts faculty, and where creative expression is encouraged.

While the workplace of the future is difficult to predict, we do know that the most future-proof careers will likely be those that require creativity – so let’s find ways to instill rather than discourage creative learning in the next generation.

Sara Jones is partner and client services director at branding and packaging design studio Free the Birds. It was previously called Dew Gibbons and Partners, which ran as a business for 20 years.

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  • andy penaluna June 20, 2018 at 9:07 am

    Excellent commentary, and one that in English schooling is important to consider. Wales and Scotland embrace this thinking through their enterprise agendas too, which is very light in England and we are one of only 9 countries in Europe who have yet to formulate a policy on it!

    I had this discussion with Michael Gove’s private assistant in 2014 in Parliament, but ears were blocked as we know.

    I have worked at the UN and OECD on this topic too, and much is now known and better understood. For example relaxed cognition (creative insight) develops brain structuring in different ways, and making distinctions between assessment for implementation (doing as expected / told) and Innovation (new ideas that hopefully surprise) are quite different.

    The EU have picked it up as a skills gap and produced ‘EntreComp’, which has visioning skills and opportunity recognition skills at its core. Future thinking that creative minds can develop is needed, whilst ‘standard’ approaches will be the ones automated much easier.

    I can go on but will leave it there, I hope this message is heard sooner than later by those who dictate how we help young people to learn.

    • Sara Jones June 21, 2018 at 10:02 am

      Thank you for your comment Andy … frustrating that this insight is falling on deaf ears but we need to keep going to make this fact based message loud, clear and most importantly incorporated into education policy.

  • madelaine cooper June 20, 2018 at 10:15 am

    Sara is absolutely right in all she says. Creative thinking in it’s broadest sense is going to be at the core of the workplace of the future. And yet in schools creative thinking is being denigrated and denied. There are some shining beacons in education which continue to value the creative individual; I’m very proud to be a governor at The BRIT School in south London. The School is all about encouraging, training and valuing the creativity in all of it’s students whether they be designers, actors, theatre technicians, musicians, dancers etc. Plus entry to the School is free. But the School also needs the support of the industries that it’s building talent pipelines for. Please contact me to discuss how you and your agency, company, clients can help to support the BRIT School.

    • Sara Jones June 21, 2018 at 9:58 am

      Thanks Madelaine, looking forward to discussing with you further next week.

  • Carl St. James June 20, 2018 at 1:01 pm

    Creativity has also been shown to also combat mental health issues, particularly in young people. Having an outlet such as Art, Drama or Design alongside English, Maths and History can have a huge benefit for young people.

    • Sara Jones June 21, 2018 at 9:57 am

      I couldn’t agree more Carl … it’s too important to ignore on so many levels. Thank you for your comment.

  • Janina Monaghan June 20, 2018 at 5:07 pm

    We are passionate about inspiring our staff at SPARK THINKING. We regularly hold lunch-time workshops called SPARK Shorts to encourage creativity. It was through one of these workshops that an idea to take SPARK Shorts on tour into schools, to ignite passion for creativity amongst the children, was born. Our Inspo Club is a lunch-time club for Year 6 and aims to bring creativity to the classroom using a programme designed by our own SPARK values. You can read about the initiative here

  • Tessa Taylor June 27, 2018 at 12:54 pm

    I agree wholeheartedly. We have just had to choose one subject from art, drama or music for my son to do next year. He excels in, and enjoys all three, and to make that decision was extremely difficult. Children who are more academic have the advantage as the subjects they excel in are compulsory. Why are children who are creative being stifled?! I was creative at school and struggled with the STEM subjects, going into the art room and splashing some paint around was an outlet for me when I was stressed, it’s so important. The government need to rethink.

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