The arts needs to start seriously engaging with the New Work Order

By 2030 every job will be affected by automation and globalisation, according to research about the New Work Order.

The arts sector, still painfully traditional in its administrative ways, is not immune. In order to provide relevant education and sustainable employment, the sector needs to have joined this conversation a long time ago. What’s stopping us?

What we are currently hearing and reading is a superficial ‘do not fear the robots’ message. Skills such as creativity and problem solving are still valuable attributes for employees. What we really need to look at is the overall employment conditions.

A series of five reports into the New Work Order by the Foundation for Young Australians (2015-2017) revealed that:

  • there will be a decrease in the need for workers to complete manual tasks
  • There will be an in increase in the time workers spend on relationships, problem solving and strategic thinking.
  • 30% of learning will take place on the job, with less managerial coordination.
  • Young people need to equipped with transferable skills to have portfolio careers, not stay on one career path in the one industry.
  • There are seven new job clusters with differing employment demands in the future

You can download and read the full reports and conclusions here  because I am more interested in starting to dissect why arts advocates and leaders need to join the conversation.

Avenues for subsidiary employment are changing drastically.

The romanticism of the starving artist has been dead for a while. Artists already have subsidiary employment in order to self-fund their practice. However, industries which have traditionally provided these avenues of employment, such as retail, are already feeling the pinch of automation. Self serve check out anyone? Art students need to be encouraged to be more entrepreneurial if they are going to develop sustainable careers – financially and mentally. Do away with the discomfort of the neo-liberal connotation of entrepreneurship and accept that the arts needs economics in order to have an impact.

The dominate nature of subsidiary work is changing drastically and artists and arts workers will need the skills to adapt. Which brings me to the next point.

Portfolio careers beyond what the arts understand it to mean

In the New Work Order, a portfolio career means individuals don’t stick to one specialty, career or industry, but they transfer skills across multiple. FYAs research showed that training for one job can equip young people to work 13 different jobs. For the most part, the arts is still obsessed with graduates in arts administration specialising and then moving up the industry ladder. This model is at odds with research and wider employment trends. This means that education needs to change – it needs to include basic digital literacy and encourage skill development that can be used across multiple sectors. Students need to be taught to think laterally.

Rethink sustainable employment pathways

Working in the arts teaches you to undervalue your labour. This is toxic if the sector is going to provide competitive employment opportunities and if artists are going to be entrepreneurial.

The arts teaches graduates that they should volunteer countless hours to earn their stripes. Then they can go for (often) unpaid internships which don’t qualify them for entry level jobs because they don’t exist anymore. In short, this culture is unacceptable because to work for free is a privilege.

Graduate positions exist in most sectors to provide paid on the job experience. Given most, if not all, the galleries across Western Sydney and Regional NSW are incorporated to local government services, surely the graduate position model is able to be adapted to create employment opportunities? To neglect the development of young talent is at the detriment of a sector when existing workers step into leadership positions and younger workers don’t have the skills or the talent pool the limited.

Improve how the arts uses automation

If you have applied for anything in the arts, from jobs to grants odds on you might have experienced two things:

  • Applications rarely (or are just starting) to be put through online systems rather than emailing with attachments.
  • Automated responses that tell you not to expect a reply or feedback unless you are shortlisted (those HR processes are anything but human friendly)

If the arts weren’t so reluctant to invest in systems, time spent on manual tasks could be decreased (see research paper 5). Customer Relationship Management Systems (CRMs) are sophisticated and many offer free services below a certain number of subscribers. So why aren’t the arts using this technology to segment applicants and provide tailored automated responses.

For Example: segment those who aren’t shortlisted with dot points about the characteristics of stronger applicants. If applications are digital, that means emails can easily be collated and segmented.
This lack of feedback is limiting the ability for applicants to improve their skills and compete in the global talent pool. Ultimately, this will be to the detriment of the sector.

Look for opportunities outside of the Arts and creative industries.

One of the greatest frustrations spiraling the arts sector is wider recognition of its contribution to the economy and its fundamental role in citizen well being. In Regional NSW and Western Sydney, I would argue that this conversation is further along as programs naturally involve cross sectoral collaborations, in particular with health.

One of the greatest opportunities is an ambitious model of internal advocates. Arts graduates have the skills to work in multiple sectors and integrate the arts into different programs as a part of community cultural development.

The New Work Order is coming. With the future of work comes the opportunity to readdress the sustainability of employment to ensure the arts can retain talent and develop the next generation of cultural leaders across the country. The arts cannot overlook these trends if it is going to join the 21st century.


This article was first published on State of the Arts Media on November 5, 2017 .

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