Majority of creative graduates ‘in work and happy’

The majority of graduates from creative courses work in the creative industries and are satisfied with their jobs, according to new research.

The Creative Graduates, Creative Futures survey – conducted by the Institute for Employment Studies – quizzed more than 3500 graduates from creative courses across the UK.

It found that 78 per cent of those surveyed were working in the creative industries, while 77 per cent said they were satisfied with their work.
This compares to a national average of 44 per cent job satisfaction, according to a 2009 survey by employment consultancy SHL Global.

However, the latest research showed that only 48 per cent of graduates were earning more than £20 000 a year, and 33 per cent were earning £15 000 or less.

It also revealed that design is the most common employment sector, with 28 per cent of graduates surveyed working in the design industry.

In addition, the research discovered that 48 per cent of graduates were engaged in ‘portfolio working’ – typically combining paid employment with self-employment or working voluntarily – while 79 per cent of employed graduates are working part-time in at least one of their jobs.

The survey showed that 45 per cent of graduates work or have worked on a freelance basis, and 42 per cent have undertaken voluntary work – including unpaid internships – since graduation.

The study was conducted by the IES, a partnership of 26 UK higher education institutions, and the Council for Higher Education in Art and Design. The project is based at and supported by the University of the Arts London.

The respondents were quizzed between September and December 2008, and asked about their working lives up to six years after gaining their first degrees.

A second stage of research was conducted in September 2009, examining graduates’ career paths and their experiences of work in the recession. These results will be published in the spring.

Writing in the foreword to the study, Will Hutton, executive vice-chairman of The Work Foundation, says, ‘What the report captures is the vigorous, if risky, world of creativity and those dedicated to work in it.’

He adds, ‘They report great job satisfaction. However, they are desperately low-paid. Many found the only entry into the industry was via unpaid internships, requiring parental support and middle-class backgrounds. The relationship is close to exploitative, even though the young men and women trying to win a foothold in the industry do not see it that way.’

Elizabeth Rouse, pro-rector of the University of the Arts London and chairwoman of the project steering group, says, ‘We in art and education need to understand more about graduates’ contribution to the success of the UK’s creative economy, how career patterns are changing, and what skills and attributes graduates need to be successful.’

Further results from the survey

  • 18% of creative graduates said they were employed in a non-creative job
  • 23% of respondents were self-employed or undertaking freelance work, and 18% were running a business
  • 33% of respondents had experience of teaching
Hide Comments (14)Show Comments (14)
  • James Foster November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    I would say a good 70% of the Industrial design graduates from my university are still looking for work two years after graduation…. This makes me a little skeptical of these figures.

  • Roy Wylam November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    What this survey has missed out is the cold hard fact that 10,000 new designers graduate every year this has been going on since the early nineties previous to this it was 30,000, that makes a conservative estimate of at least 200000 new designers in the UK in the last twenty years.

    At the turn of the century there was approximately 5000 design groups in the UK, now there are over 15000, what this says is, if you cant get a job you set up on your own.

    I know of many superb designers over the years who have given up designing for the simple reason it is so low paid for the amount of skilled work and training required. This is hardly surprising as with this massive oversupply of designers the market forces of supply and demand come into play.

    This survey is a farce conducted by people who have no idea what their talking about, in fact it is beyond a farce it is outrages that money was even spent on it.

    As far as I know design courses never layout the true statistics of what is really going on in the design world. The core problem of giving false hope of a design job to design graduates has not been addressed and this is fundamentally wrong.

    And all this ‘survey’ does is reinforce a rose tinted view of the design world. Elizabeth Rouse should be ashamed of herself.

  • Patrick Goff November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    I don’t believe these figures – or at least what were their prameters?

    For the first time since we started the jobs columns on our site at we have no posts for interior designers. Hundreds were made redundant last year.

    Also last survey I saw showed 40% of fine art graduates as ‘untraceable’ – so how are they defining the creative industries? Do they include fine art, ceramics, theatre, carpet design etc? Or just graduates from Univ ofthe Arts Graphics courses?

  • kat November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    If there is a fear of saturation in the market, it would make sense for the colleges to hold up on the numbers they accept each year. It would also bring the quality up in the graduates. There are many ways to make your way in design/art/print other than the colleges – what happened to apprenticeships? A pretty much guarantee of a practical job and training all bundled into one.

  • Jonathan Baldwin November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    I think the critics above are missing some important points.

    Firstly, a design graduate is not only capable of working as a designer, but as a graduate. The number of design jobs has the same relationship to the number of design graduates in the same way that the number of jobs as an historian has a relationship to the number of history graduates. In other words, none.

    When you say “10,000 new designers graduate each year” what you mean is “10,000 people graduate from design courses each year” – you’re the one predetermining what they’re capable of, and being pretty limited at that. A design graduate, if you read the report (I doubt you have) is capable of so many more things than only being a designer.

    Second point – those who say “these people don’t know what they’re talking about” – well I know one of the authors and looked through the report the other day and believe me, they do. This is good, thorough research, not a puff piece. It raises lots of important questions for design educators and employers – and not just those in the design industry. Read it before you criticise.

  • natasha November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    I graduated last year from a creative course and nearly all of the people on my course have gone straight into teaching is this considered a creative industry? I have been looking since graduation for work in any creative industry and had no luck, I am still in the same job I had before and during uni which has nothing to do the creative industry.

  • Roy Wylam November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    In reply to Jonathan Baldwin first point, I would like to say that if you ask design students the question do they want a design job when they graduate, I bet the answer from 90% of them is yes.

    On his second point I was talking to the head of the University College for the Creative Arts at Farnham, who specifically told me that 33% of graduates found a design job in the first two years and that this figure is from a tracking study they undertake (which they are required to do) and these figures were used to send back to the Department for Education to justify the continued existence of their design course, 30% being the number required for continuation.

    This report smacks of the same thing.

  • JmB November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    I find it incredible that no one has mentioned the fact that graduates will face a year of potentially working for free as an Intern, this is a reason alone why hardly anyone is going into design jobs after finishing Uni, because it makes no financial sense.

    Studios think its acceptable to do this, and think that they are doing graduates a favour but I think that they are taking young designers for a ride,especially if the placement is for periods of 3-6months +, they are already broke as it is from student loans and I find this far from fair, especially as there usually is no position to potentially be offered afterwards.

    I would like to see a new system and guidelines for recruiting interns, potentially headed by the Design Council or some one like that, to protect young designers, keep studios in line with what they can do, i.e. minimum wage should be an absolute standard with placements over say 2 months, and credit must be given where credit is due for work.

    I graduated 2 Years ago, and as far as I’m aware, only 10% of my coursemates have design jobs, I have struggled to find anything in my vicinity and have had to look for jobs in other fields, and try and secure freelance work on top of working a full time job.

    Universities need to help the graduates more though, there is little to no interaction as to what they can expect in the future and no help after graduation.

  • Elizabeth Rouse November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    I would like to point out to Roy Wylam that the survey was conducted by an independent organization the Institute of Employment Studies

  • Roy Wylam November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Well Elizabeth Rouse is that all you can point out, most of the comments on this page back up what I have been saying.

    And the designers I have meet over the years say the same thing.

    This Institute of Employment Studies are obversely not up to the job.

  • Jonathan Baldwin November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Roy, lots of statistics in your post, but no facts.

    I teach design at university – first thing I make sure students realise is that it’s not a ticket to a glamorous job, it’s the start of their ongoing education.

    The 30% figure you’re talking about is what’s known as “first destination”, i.e. where do graduates end up within six months of graduating? The figure is low in creative disciplines for several reasons – one is that many graduates go in to continuing education, a significant proportion set up on their own (the design industry is predominantly made up of small and solo enterprises, and in some areas like jewellery, textiles, ceramics etc almost exclusively so).
    The other reason the figure is low is because the creative industries rely on unpaid internships, as rightly pointed out above, which don’t count for statistical measures.

    The Farnham figures you quote aren’t representative of the sector as a whole, but I’d think 33% of design graduates getting a job in the design industry compares well with the number of law graduates becoming barristers, or medical students becoming doctors. What we’re concerned about is not that figure but what happens to the rest of them? A law graduate who doesn’t become a lawyer is still likely to get a good graduate-level job. Until now what we didn’t know was whether design graduates who don’t become designers experience the same graduate-level success, or are their degrees only equipping them for one thing? If the latter is true, we have a problem and I think a lot of courses need to consider that.

    By the way, employability figures are publicly available at the Unistats website.

    This report, which as Elizabeth Rouse points out, is independently produced, but researched by people who know the sector inside out, is a “longitudinal” study looking at what creative discipline graduates do several years after graduating, in an attempt to overcome the limitations of the first destination data.

    Read the report, look at the facts and figures and the quotations in it from graduates who were interviewed, and then come back and we can discuss this properly.

  • Linda Ball November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    It’s good to see a debate. I would like to answer some of the challenges coming up, and I would recommend reading the report which is downloadable for £15 from IES at

    To answer some of the challenges coming up:

    This study is important for a number of reasons. Firstly, the size of the survey and the sample, which is representative of the sector. Our report is based on a rigorous study of graduates’ working lives between 4 and 6 years after graduation. In interpreting the findings, the IES team have taken great care to establish that our 3,500 graduates leaving their courses in 2002, 2003 and 2004 are broadly representative of the total sample provided by the 26 partners, and the creative higher education sector. The research findings have been interpreted by an expert team of writers with many years’ experience in teaching and research in the creative HE sector, particularly relating to employability.

    We have raised some important issues about the realities for graduates seeking work and establishing their early careers. For example,
    unpaid work and internships for the sector are common career entry strategies, and this form of work is now widespread across the graduate labour market as a whole. In the report you will see that 42% of our respondents had undertaken unpaid work since graduating, and similarly with temporary work.

    A key finding is that creative graduates are incredibly resourceful and adaptable in their early careers, and are disadvantaged in pay terms. 45% had worked freelance since graduating, and, at the time of the survey half the respondents have multiple income streams from portfolio careers and this is partly as a response to the way in which the creative sector works – it’s a contract economy. Two out of three graduates felt they would be continuing to work in this way over the next five years or so, with half expecting to be working freelance and two in five running a business. And it is interesting to read this finding in relation to the fact that one third of our respondents felt they were in their chosen career, and a further 47% felt they were close to achieving it at the time of the survey.

    This study was commissioned precisely because we do not know what happens to graduates in the longer term, and we want to pass real information back to students, prospective students and parents about the realities so they can make informed decisions about HE entry.

    We also now have a clearer idea of the priorities for the curriculum, in terms of how HE can help prepare graduates for their working lives ahead.

    The next stage of the research, to be published in May will tell us more about graduates’ detailed career progression, the opportunities and challenges they faced, routes into work, including how they are faring in the recession.

    Linda Ball, Project Director

  • Roy Wylam November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    OK, Iv read the report.

    But I still think that all this document is, is a piece of self severing rubbish designed to gloss over the facts with ‘lies, damn lies and statistics’.

    The fact remains why train people to design with no end job, a better survey would be to:

    1. Ask graduates are they in a design related job in full time employment.

    2. Ask students are they studying to practice as a designer or just for the sheer fun of it.

    3. Ask 2000 design companies how many approaches they get a year for a design position and how many times there is a position.

    These simple questions would then allow the country to tailor the right amount of places for your design courses.

    Surly as a society the responsibility for academics is to make sure that graduates have some expectation of what is really going on, not produce over elaborate reports that have no bearing on the real world.

    I’m sure all this report was put together in good faith, but it is obversely very missed placed, inaccurate and probably expensive.

    Oh and on the subject of this graduate level thing that you have been going on about, you could argue that we need more coal miners!

    Its a shame that on the academic side the world is viewed through a kaleidoscope of colour, in the real world it is different and it was petty obvious from your first post that you are an academic.

  • Gareth Sissons November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    While any information or report on the subject of graduates is welcome, this debate has been going even when I left Uni in 2003. Jobs are hard to come by full stop, Every creative knows this, and it gets no easier when you do have that so called mythical experience. Most graphic designers, are underpaid but we let it slide for the love of our work. But where do we draw the line? We are asked as graduates to take unpaid internships for the greater good of the company and the work, we are then asked as new designers to take a humble below average wage because we are new and thus need to keep the studio overheads low. Later in our career we are then told as a middle weight that we are too expensive against the low paid wiz kids so can you are asked to do the work at a lower rate for the good of the project not the most inspiring of situations… But my point is that University departments are there to make money for the University nothing more, they need stats a certain percentage pass rate, and maybe an increase of reputation for further advertising of places, this model has really no interest in serving the industry creatively, because to put it bluntly Uni is nothing more than a factory process were its left mostly up to the student to develop the necessary skills themselves ready for work and most studios see that, and so fall on safe modes of trying candidates out such as internships and who can blame them when wages and fees are streamlined as it is and most designers have about as much respect for universities as they do recruitment agencies . The career path of a designer is hard and each stage of career promotion is a challenge against the system and numbers and this is a truth that both graduates and university applicants must face.

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