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Why the creative sector has an unpaid work issue

Posted almost 3 years ago by Heidi Moreby

We recently asked our candidates their thoughts on unpaid work following intensifying debates surrounding the value of the practice. Of responses received, 83% have undertaken unpaid work at some point during their career, with 66% of this taking place within the creative sector.

Why is unpaid work in the creative sector common?

It is known that the creative sector has an accessibility issue. For recent graduates, education leavers or career switchers, finding paid entry-level work can be a challenge, and this often leads to the acceptance of unpaid work to gain the experience required to then apply to more experienced positions.

Of the responses we received in our survey, all candidates provided responses along this line; from getting experience and building a portfolio to learning new skills and getting their foot through the door, it is clear that creative workers have high expectations of unpaid work relative to their career prospects.

The issue

It is undeniable that ethics surrounding unpaid work come into question across the sector, and more could be done to improve the image which this creates, from paying expenses to a national minimum wage or the ‘going rate’.

However, outside of ethical debates it seems that workers are not getting what they want from unpaid work.

When asked how unpaid work influenced their career prospects, 66% answered either very little or not at all, demonstrating that worker expectations are not being met during the long-term.

There are many reasons why this may be the case depending on individual circumstances, however one of the biggest complications respondents highlighted was that unpaid workers are often not shadowing senior figures within a business. Instead, many are given a set workload which they are expected to complete, often with little to no guidance.

Though creatives leave this experience with elements which can be added to their portfolio or CV, in reality they’re not developing their skillset in a way which ultimately would be beneficial to future employers. With many undertaking unpaid work for up to a year or more, this can put some employees behind in their career and limits their exposure to real workplace issues. Furthermore, in some instances this could also further be contributory to skills shortage if they are not continually developing their skills with the release of new technologies and fluctuating needs of the workplace.

Though many creatives view unpaid work as a viable route to getting that first important full-time job, it can be argued that the quality of what they gain from this experience can be inversely harmful to their career progression during the long-term compared to those who may opt to refrain from the unpaid route.

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Header: Image adapted from Photo by Anthony Shkraba from Pexels