Data showing that creative arts graduates earn less than those taking STEM subjects is one reason we often see the prioritisation of STEM subjects.
However, some stakeholders are now asking whether it is time to rethink creative arts, not as a ‘soft’ choice, but as developing core, fundamental skills for our future society – so-called 21st century skills?
According to the World Economic Forum 2020 report, 50% of all employees will need reskilling by 2025, and creativity, originality and initiative are in the top 10 skills they will require.
The creative arts can help students develop these key skills needed. The arts play a fundamental role in how our society is shaped, indeed the DfE’s National curriculum for secondary education highlights that the Arts help to equip students with “knowledge and skills to experiment, invent and create” – skills that are highly prized in all industries. Similarly, the Arts can “increase [students’] self-confidence, creativity and sense of achievement.”
What else do the arts teach you?
Besides creativity, learning creative arts subjects equips students with skills that are transferable – meaning they can be applied in many other contexts.
The Arts help develop ways of communicating ideas and meaning to an audience through choices of form, style and convention. Creating their own art work, performance, composition, website etc, and examining the work of others, students learn to analyse, interpret, reflect on and evaluate pieces – important skills for life and any line of work.
Creative arts subjects have plenty of practical learning components where students develop problem-solving abilities, think critically, communicate with others, collaborate, increase confidence and empathy as well as build resilience, self-esteem and social skills that are important in the coming future.
The field of creative arts is also reaping the benefits from the rise of new technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, 3D printing and media. There are a range of programmes that students can specialise in, where they can work with the latest technology to develop video games, apps, websites and other digital products. In addition, many companies recognise the importance of visual appeal in product design, branding, packaging, marketing and advertising.
Can you get a job with only arts subjects?
There are a multitude of job prospects for those who study the creative arts. Before the pandemic, the UK’s creative industries contributed more than £111 bn to the UK economy in 2018 — more than five times larger than growth across the UK economy as a whole.
Between 2011 and 2018, creative industries employment grew by 30.6%, compared to the UK average growth of 10.1% during the same period. More recently, the creative industries accounted for up to one out of 10 jobs in the UK. These are the jobs and industries of the future – innovative, resistant and built on our collective creativity.
There are clearly valuable skills to be learned in the apparently ‘softer’ GCSEs than people realise. So, with all the benefits of studying the arts, should we look to change STEM to STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics)?
 Lachman, R. (2018). STEAM not STEM: Why scientists need arts training. The Conversation, 18.