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Creative arts & design Career Pathways For School Leavers

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The creative arts & design industry allows those with a strong creative skill set to contribute to a huge range of projects - and get paid for their input!

It can be a bit of a tricky industry to crack, particularly at entry level because there is so much competition, but once you do it’s highly rewarding. There aren’t many other industries that allow you to explore your creativity and utilise your imagination like this one!

Working in the creative industries means more than just liking fashion or reading an art blog. You’ll need to be highly self-aware and spend time developing your own unique style or brand, especially if you want to primarily work for yourself and work on a freelance/commission basis. Think about the designers or artists you like best – they're the ones whose work you recognise and can't help but stand back and admire.

At the beginning of a career in the creative industry it’s unlikely that you’ll be making the key decisions - particularly if you’re working for a company. Instead, you’ll be an assistant as you learn the ropes of the industry and also have the room to develop your own processes under the guidance of those with more experience. Alongside this, you’ll develop your communication skills with clients and potentially how to work across multiple teams. Communication is crucial for client work in this industry to ensure that both parties are happy with the final product.

There can be strange working hours in this industry, with many having to burn the midnight oil in order to meet deadlines for clients, runway shows, productions, or any other creative event you can think of.

Developments in technology have also opened up this industry and created a whole host of new jobs. Those with skills in photoshop, CAD, InDesign, and animation are high in demand.

Creative arts & design Jobs

UX Designer£25,000 per annumLondon, London
Graphic DesignerCompetitveLondon, London
Capture Artist£21,000 per annumLondon, London


To work in the creative arts & design industry, you’ll need to be completely committed to your job and willing to learn, develop and grow in order to product the best work possible. It’ll also help if you have an open mind to try new things and artistic methods - particularly if you’re working within digital design.

You will also need to be very punctual with your work - the deadlines in this industry are strict!

One of the main skills you will need as an artist or designer is to be able to keep up to date with the latest trends and developments. You’ll also need a thick skin and a tonne of resilience, because being successful in this industry is tough.

The specific skill-set that you need will completely depend on which area of the industry you decide to pursue - as a costume designer, for example, you’ll need to have incredible drawing and sewing skills. However, there are some skills that will help you across the board such as:

- Ability to Work Under Pressure
- Business Etiquette
- Commercial Awareness
- Design
- Organisation
- Teamwork
- Time Management

Progression opportunities

You should be in a position to apply for assistant level roles in the creative arts, design or fashion sectors after you complete your apprenticeship, if this is the route you decide to go down when planning your career.

Beyond that, however, there isn’t a set progression path for careers within this industry. Often, you get out what you put in and those who invest in networking and work hard will be presented with opportunities to progress their career through working on bigger projects, or growing your independent business. Be sure to network with the contacts that you have because you never know when someone could be in a position to recommend you for work.

Also, be sure to keep your portfolio completely up to date and include every single success that you have! It is an incredibly useful tool to have to show to prospective clients.

Career development

If you’ve completed an apprenticeship in this area, you could consider going on to university afterwards in order to increase your professional standing.

You should also check out the funds that are available through Creative Skillset, which has been developed to support talent in TV, film and other areas.

Always get involved with projects where you can - or do internships - even if you don’t have much responsibility at the start, it will be beneficial to be part of a big project and you can see how the processes work. As you get more experience, you will likely have more freedom to put ideas forward.

Alternatively if you would rather work for yourself, a great way to start is through social media. Social media accounts are mostly free to set up and allow you to post examples of your work for prospective clients to see and you can advertise your services. Through these platforms you can also network with other creative professionals online and begin to build up your brand.

Earning potential

As an apprentice, you’ll earn a minimum of £3.70 per hour if you’re under 19 or in the first year of your apprenticeship, or the National Minimum Wage if you’re over 19. This works out at around £150 - £240 per week.

When starting out in the industry (even after your apprenticeship) your wage is likely to be modest – unfortunately, this is often the price that’s paid for working in a popular industry that allows a creative outlet every day.

Starting salaries for assistants in this field are usually around £13,000. Average salaries for the following roles, according to Pay Scale, are:

Gallery curator - £27,122
Graphic designer - £21,562
Illustrator - £22,030
Textile designer - £22,127
Senior fashion designer - £34,006

Freelance workers are able to set their own rates and those who are high in demand can set their rates incredibly high and earn in excess of £100,000 a year. However, this will take years of hard work and the income is not always stable!

Qualification requirements & subjects to study

To get a job in the creative arts sector as a school leaver, it’s a good idea to undertake a vocational qualification. A diploma, certificate or short course can give you the practical skills you need to get a portfolio together and start planning job or project applications.

Professional organisations such as Creative Skillset, as well as colleges, can provide or lead you directly to these qualifications.

Alternatively, you could look at apprenticeships in the creative sector. Apprenticeships will see you studying and working for a company at the same time, and are becoming increasingly common within the arts. You will work alongside experienced staff and will have one day off per week to study, usually at a local technical college or equivalent. This can be a great route for those who know that they want a creative career early, and don’t want to burden themselves with the time and debt of university.

Further Reading

Arts Council England
Arts Industry
Arts Hub
Arts Professional
Arts Emergency
Design Council
British Institute of Interior Design
UK Web Design Association
Design Industries Association
Design Business Association
Creative Industries Federation
British Arts Festivals Association
Performing Arts Network and Development Agency (Panda)
Chief Cultural & Leisure Officers Association
ArtWorks Alliance
British Fashion Council
UK Fashion & Textile Association
Creative Industries
Creative Skillset
Fashion Association of Britain
Chartered Society of Designers