Over the Hill and Under the Radar: Are we ready to change our ideas about the Creative Industries talent pool?


Here come the Silver Learners and our industries will soon depend on them.

The New Old Entrants:

In her book Learning Futures (Routledge 2011) educationalist Keri Facer talks of the need to reinvent Schools for a new demographic landscape. She points out one of the drivers of change we will need to accommodate is an aging population of learners, and the need for what we might call a new intergenerational contract.

Traditionally our image of a new entrant into our industries has been that of youth, streaming out of schools and colleges to take roles and work their way upwards, like energetic young salmon swimming upstream. Every year this supply presents itself like a seasonal certainty. What we haven’t realised is that stream is thinning, and the number of young people is actually dwindling.

Increasingly in their place a new silver learner is emerging, and we aren’t yet addressing this. Since most of our education system is predicated towards what we call the ‘new millennials’ or ‘digital natives’, -digitally savvy young people- we have a blind spot about learning and teaching modes for the older generation. This may be a bigger educational issue than we think.

Currently we are on the cusp of seeing the impact of two megatrends; firstly low and declining fertility rates in both Britain and Europe. This is amplified by rising longevity, with people living longer through improvements in health, diet and preventative care.

The population pyramid we are accustomed to- that of many children at the base and a narrowing number of increasingly older adults at the tip is now distorted and anachronistic. Currently less than 15% of the UK population are children. A ‘bulge’ of baby boomers ( born during a period of rapid population growth and social change between 1946-64, with 17m births recorded in Britain alone during this period ) is working its way upwards through population graphs. In fact by 2007 the pyramid model was already well and truly broken. This was the year that people in Britain aged over 65 outnumbered those under 16 for the first time ever in our history. What was a distortion is now the orthodoxy, as this shift moves relentlessly up the age ladder. In 2001 there were 4 people of working age supporting each pensioner in Britain. By 2035 this number is expected to fall to 2.5, and by 2050 to just 2.  If we think of this tiny cohort as being on the escalator through our education system to be future workers, that’s worrying.

Professor Harper, Oxford

Professor Harper, Oxford

Professor Sarah Harper, University of Oxford’s first Professor of Gerontology, states “By 2030, half the population of Western Europe will be over 50, one quarter of the population of the developed world will be over 65, and one quarter of the population of Asia will be over 60.  This is historically unprecedented. Indeed, it makes the 20th century the last century of youth”

Dr. George W. Leeson, co-editor of the Journal of Population Ageing, notes “In 2006 there were 10,000 people in the UK aged 100 years and over. By 2056, this number is expected to increase to an astonishing 286,000 and to around 1 million by the end of the 21st century” (“Later Life and education ; changes and challenges” 2009). According to Leeson’s colleague Kenneth Howse at the Oxford Institute of Ageing, by as soon as 2025 one in five people in the UK population will be aged 65 years or more. By 2050 it will be almost one in four.


Coming of Age:

We’re all aware that we’re living longer. In 1851 half the population didn’t make it to 45 years, whilst in 2011 half the population lives longer than 85. Traditionally UK education policy has been developed in the context of that traditional pyramidal population structure, and elicits a linear transition where learning tails off and your career takes over in your twenties. We now have the emerging challenge of devising education for the new demography, an inverted pyramid. Looking ahead, what will this mean for education, training and skills in the UK, especially in the creative industries? We can make some educated guesses at the implications below.

I list below some of the trends that might emerge from this population shift, which isn’t so far away. Most research seems to point to 2030 as a kind of tipping point. It’s important to realise that whilst the trends outlined below may prove incorrect in terms of timbre or shade of impact, nevertheless we are on a conveyor belt to this new Silver Learner Age– that’s a certainty, and we need to plan for it.


1Trend one: The 70 year old incumbent isn’t going anywhere

Increasingly, those now entering and swelling the ranks of the elderly will have to keep working for longer- as they will be poorer than the generation above them, without pensions and rock-steady equity to cushion them. The kind of jobs they choose and the tenacity and duration with which they hold on to them will cause a lack of ‘succession’ opportunities for younger workers, who have always replaced and replenished job roles vacated by retiring sixtysomethings.

Eurobarometer opinion polls, which survey 1,000 citizens in each of the 27 EU members, show that political and economic preferences vary with age. Older voters are less satisfied with their lives and more pessimistic about the economic future. They’ll hold on to those jobs for longer.telegraph_couk_silversurfer

2Trend two: More competition for a dwindling group of young people

We’re already seeing the demand for health and social care workers in more developed countries increasing, and this is set to increase further at the same time as the supply of younger workers will tighten. There’ll be less young talent around for the creative industries, and more competition between sectors. Healthcare wages may increase whilst creative industries will continue to fall among young people, as it becomes an increasingly unstable option in comparison.

Each sector will need to appeal to an ever more mature workforce. Industries who currently rely on school leavers for instance, will need to start developing strategies for appealing to those in their early twenties as the talent pool therein shrinks, gradually chasing the demographic tide upwards. One might assume a more mature workforce is a more discerning workforce too, who won’t feel the allure of the ‘stardust factor’ of the creative sector like young people.

3Trend Three: The “Young Free and Single” freelancer: RIP

There’s an immediate impact on some of the creative industries, which are currently supported by a heavily freelance base, and typically a single, no-ties workforce, able to work flexibly and gleefully into the early hours or weekend at the drop of a hat. As the workforce gets older, marries and has children, this kind of work doesn’t seem so attractive. We know there is much attrition as people’s values and ambitions change as they build homes and families together. The shrinkage of the youthful wellspring of the freelance market, and the constricted numbers of those willing to ‘crunch’ to meet deadlines will possibly mean a reorganisation and rationalisation of how certain creative sectors work. It’s not clear how successful the industry’s usual solution to skills gaps will be in this case- namely to offshore freelancers.

4Trend Four: A parallel skills system

The question of how parents will choose to integrate both family and working life, achieving balance between flexibility and security to bring up their children, and simultaneously train and update their own skills will be especially acute for the creative industries. If you think this is already a problem in film, tv and games then it’s going to get worse. Across Europe population ageing is bringing about such large changes in the relative size of these generational groupings that policy-makers will have to re-consider the learning institutions that consume tax-payers contributions. The education and training agenda may shift away from schools and colleges as we know them to teaching in the home and workplace. Meanwhile declining fertility affects the collective capacity of society to provide these goods and assist with the problems that face the ageing individual.

This is not such a problem if countervailing automation and digitisation are harnessed, but there appears to be little concerted national action at the moment. In her essay “Generations and Life Course: the impact of demographic challenges on education 2010-2050” Sarah Harper claims “There are now growing moves to recruit, retain and retrain that generation of men and women in their 50s and 60s who are increasingly being seen as essential to retaining Europe’s economic competitiveness as the upcoming skills shortage washes across the region”. As we’ll see, if we don’t utilise such talent, then China will.

5Trend Five: Silver resources

This brings us on to how we might need to reassign resources. We’ll need to decide what is an appropriate balance between investing in schools and university education, and in reflexive adult and lifelong training schemes. Will increasingly older voters have a different perspective, wanting more resources for their own learning, at the expense of the younger generation?

beginning is nearThere’s a few safe assumptions to make. Since no-one imagines the pace of change in the job market will let up, lifelong learning will rise in importance, and post-university training will no longer be seen as mere topping up. Schools will need to become intergenerational community hubs, and andragogy will replace pedagogy. This new grey generation will live longer but be poorer than their parents. Corporations will step in and look after their own reskilling needs. Industries like the creative industries which lack a wide array of large corporate interests that can plan cohesive training programmes at scale may find it difficult to upgrade their own in-house talent supply.

6Trend Six: Erring on the side of caution or the stagnation of innovation?

As the greying population boom sees the impetuousness of youth sidelined, whither innovation and risk in the economy? Start-ups are essentially typified as young ventures by entrepreneurs who don’t yet have a family life to sacrifice. They often show a confidence that only comes from a lack of knowing where boundaries are. The increase in conservatism that parallels the onset of age is well documented. Would the comfortably well-off mature worker be as willing to risk their worldly assets for a dream as the fearless young person with nothing to lose?

Alternately one might see more companies created by the collective wisdom of more experienced business people, driven by more considered and mature business plans with realistic projections.

FiveHourscoverProfessor Tom Kirkwood, who leads Newcastle University’s Initiative on Changing Age, commenting on NESTAs recent “5 hours a day: systemic innovation for an ageing population” (February 2013) report said “Although everyone knows that lifespans are getting longer, few yet appreciate just how radical a change is ahead. When I began expressing the rate as an increase of five hours a day, which if anything is on the conservative side, it seemed to help focus minds”.

Nesta is already supporting a number of innovations in ageing and is planning to launch a new programme of work on ageing in the summer of 2013.

7Trend Seven: A matriarchy of high level skills

A side effect of the new gerontocracy might be a shift in gender, although one would hope the current imbalance that exists in the creative industries today would be corrected long before the projected mortality rates make a difference.

Credit: guardian.co.uk

Credit: guardian.co.uk

The life expectancy of a 65 year old woman in the UK is now 19.7 years, almost 3 years longer than that of a 65 year old man. It is not surprising, then, that among the oldest age groups in the population (85 years+) women outnumber men by more than two to one, nor that nine out of every ten centenarians in this country are female. In the future the older your workforce, the more likely they’ll be women.

8Trend Eight: The Creative Industries takes the silver shilling

Those early internet or digital media consumers will be in their sixties by 2030. They’ll be a significant part of the 15.5m UK citizens over 65. It’s estimated the spending power of the ‘silver economy’ will grow from £79bn currently to £127bn in the same timeframe. In the end the silver pound and the silver vote will dictate education policy and will morph the products and services of all our industries, but with many particular ramifications for the creative sector. Some would say the kind of products and services that the creative industries produce will shift away from the garish and novel. Design will be ergonomic, not brash. We may need a new psychology of the older consumer. Focus groups of youths and appeals to young trendspotters and alpha consumers will diminish. Will today’s teenagers take their relationships to brands with them into their middle age, for instance?

9Trend Nine: China wants YOU

Europe isn’t a good place to attract skills from. In 2014 there will be more people leaving (60-64 year olds) the job market than entering (20-24 year olds). Globalisation will march on, but we might be out manoeuvred. China is the only country in the world currently mapping its workforce demand and planning its occupational structure by age. Central planning means it knows what year it will have a downturn in skills and what they are. Naturally, it will then start cherry-picking and importing the talent it needs according to Professor Sarah Harper. It’s predicted that Latin America will feel the pull first, but the brain drain will soon be felt in the US and Europe. Tomorrow’s students will increasingly be pulled east, and the wisdom of our elder creative practitioners will be targeted. Imagine a seventy year old Jonny Ive or Peter Molyneux being lured east, taking with them the high level design skills to kickstart whole new industries.


Trend Ten: Adult Education is THE Education

Neuroscience will continue to inform new processes of learning, but whereas it has concentrated on the ‘neuroplastic’ younger learner it will increasingly contribute to a new form of adult (Androgogic) education. Research indicates that mental development, brain capacity, and longevity are closely associated, so education contributes to an active healthy life.

Our traditional thinking of skills upgrading and employment will change. As new cohorts enter the workplace, they will increasingly be accustomed to regular and continual skills upgrading to keep pace with technological developments and demands. This form of education will become an essential requirement of the modern workplace, and its provision needs to be negotiated between employers, governments and individuals. The Creative Industries traditionally has relied on ad-hoc and ‘just in time’ training. This kind of training may not be tolerated in the future as employers take a longer view of their careers or personal development.

A Sunset clause:

Whilst it is always interesting to play futurology, the most surprising aspect of the research I’ve uncovered is how little we are preparing for this cultural and economic shift towards what might be called a benign new gerontocracy. Most institutions debating it seem to have Aging or some variant in their name, and thus can be painted as special interest. Many of the statistics in this article refer to 2030, which is only 16.5 years away. The Creative Industries in particular have always been accused of lacking in long-term thinking and planning, and in a recession maybe that’s understandable. Probably the best thing we can do is ensure that those working today in the creative sector see a long and stable future ahead and increasingly flexible skills and training support. In the future, where you are as young as you feel, the enriched life experiences and perspective the older worker brings to the workplace (whatever that will be) may well transform our youth oriented and juvenescent industries into silver learner world leaders, and also net importers of wisdom.

Image Courtesy NESTA

Image Courtesy NESTA


From Ship Building to 3D printing: Belfast’s Future Classrooms 2013

conference-imageWhat happens in the classroom has an impact on the creative industries talent pipeline, and schools have a much longer event horizon until their talent hits the professional world. Dealing with that ten year lag is problematic for political planners and policy makers. The Web 2.0 revolution is barely ten years old, and inventing a curriculum around it ten years ago would have seemed a folly. There was no facebook, twitter, linkedin, let alone bandwidth nor access to support such an endeavour.

We have to assume that tropes like the internet of things, big data and the cloud will only grow in prominence for the creative industries of tomorrow, but we need to match this with flexibility, resilience and an appetite to engage with what Nassim Nicholas Taleb calls ‘Black Swans’; namely to engage with disruption rather than build defences against it.

With the sad demise of the Learning Without Frontiers conferencethis year, there’s not a lot of places that these kinds of debates and foresight can erupt off the webpages and into what the cybernauts of yesteryear used to call ‘meatspace’.

School’s Out?

Today 39% of 2-4 year olds have used a smart device, with this jumping to 52% among 5-8 year olds, while a CISCO reportsays the number of smartphones, tablets, laptops and internet-capable phones will exceed the number of humans in 2015. Research by the British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA) concluded that at least 6% of desktop/laptop computers in schools would be tablets by the end of 2012 (4.5% in primary, 6.9% in secondary), with this rising to 22% by the end of 2015.

So the opportunity to attend Future Classrooms 2013, Northern Ireland’s first conference designed to help education leaders and key decision makers develop strategies for the creative use of technology in the classroom was a foray into this area that I jumped at.

Wallace High School have embedded the tablet in their curriculum (credit wallaceict.net)

Wallace High School have embedded the tablet in their curriculum (credit wallaceict.net)

In the comparatively heavily regulated and prescribed world of learning, how do we ensure teaching not only makes use of new technology, but also adopts flexible and far-sighted strategies for coping with change, and performs the neat trick of supplying not only the creative thinkers and practitioners for whatever Web 3.0 might be (with presumed trajectories of a world of work prefixed by nano- and virtual- and augmented- connectivities we can only dream of), but also supply fulfilled individuals who can guide and inform such a future.

So many projections revolve around a technological determinism which may be our future undoing. If we unwittingly plan straitjackets for today’s children we end up (with the best will in the world) making the Schools system become the next Kodak, Blockbusters or HMV- failed models from a past era.

Its Creativity Month in Belfast, with a rear window view on a past industrial heritage

Its Creativity Month in Belfast, with a rear window view on a past industrial heritage

In the US, we see the logical extension of doing nothing- the privatisation and unbundling of education, and the apotheosis of the idea that connectivity and distance learning will fill the gaps and technology alone will save the day. The rhetoric can always portray teachers as passive pawns in a teleological narrative they are swept along by. Right now, the guiding lights and guardians of education in the states are Computer Scientists and Edtech providers such as Sebastian ThrunDaphne Koller, and of course Salman Khan.

Often best practice in the schools system can be under the radar, finding its way around the system, in after schools clubs, special bootcamps and projects, local experiments outside the mainstream, and grass roots innovation often away from the political limelight. In the UK we are lucky to have a more humanist tradition evidenced by leading lights like Keri Facer and Sir Ken Robinson, who put the teacher and pedagogy before metrics, and quality before scale.

There’s never been a more critical time to include and empower teachers. That dialogue needs to start with information and exposure to best practice, rather than a sales pitch for new technology alone. As such Future Classrooms 2013 felt like the start of a measured and optimistic approach to how we can make our schools great, and get a real sense that today’s children have the conceptual tools (and yes, the technological tools) to create their own future. However, it wasn’t a start, but rather a progress report, and a celebration of much success.my_lanyard

A Buoyant Titanic

On first of March 2013 school managers, teachers and curriculum leaders from Northern Ireland gathered at the (very buoyant) Titanic Centre in Belfast for a day on how our young people learn and how to prepare our future workforce for a modern competitive economy of tomorrow, yet focus on creative approaches across the curriculum and advice on how mobile technology can be deployed to support this. Significantly it also launched a flexible Mobile Technology strategy for Schools. A range of speakers were complemented and grounded by an exhibition of school children creative work and exploring curriculum with Apps, programmes and even a 3D printing machine, a sort of technology playground of creative activity led by the children themselves.

A different kind of Titanic ballroom

A different kind of Titanic ballroom

We often use the term pedagogy without realising its roots- the Greek paidagōgía, for teaching children (Andragogy meaning methods for teaching adults). Future Classrooms 2013 highlighted the role of three Creative Learning Centres who have spearheaded the agenda of creativity and engagement within the schools and the youth sector in Northern Ireland. Funded by the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) and managed by Northern Ireland Screen, they are Studio ON in Belfast, The Nerve Centre in Derry/Londonderry and the AmmA Centre in Armagh, acting as hubs for spreading skills development in digital creative media among teachers and young people as well as building new curricula, and collectively work with more than 250 schools. Over 1500 teachers and 3000 young people have benefited from the advice, workshops and resources of these centres. This model of strategic support beyond the school walls has enabled teachers and schoolchildren to explore creative and mobile technology on their own terms, and provided a level of friendly mediation between the often baffling array of ‘Ed Tech’ providers and the end-user.

credit: Creative Learning Centres 2013

credit: Creative Learning Centres 2013

Averil Morrow, Director of the AmmA Centre states “We have seen a huge increase in demand recently for training from teachers and from school management teams in the use of mobile technologies, particularly tablet devices. Head teachers want to be shown how to deploy this technology and how it can help improve the learning process for their pupils.”

Highlights of the Day

The first neologism of the day came from Stephen McGowan, Head of Creativity DCAL who told us of the concept of ESTEAM (I’m assuming that’s how it’s spelt); a neat way of highlighting Enterprise and STEAM– the future components of creativity that the economy craves. This seems very close to Creative Skillset’s new philosophy of Fusion skills, which you’ll hear more about in the months ahead. It’s a good sign that policy makers are starting to understand the power of creativity, as David Willetts has recently been pronouncing on STEAM, but ESTEAM sounds like it may soon supplant this as the acronym de nos jours, which enriches our lexicon. The Creative Industries have been too slow to create adopt snappy terms that encapsulate what’s needed, and gain good PR to promote change.

Education conferences such as this have many stakeholders- educationalists, politicians, young learners and industry representatives, and so the stage is often set for conflict, with teachers who often are the recipients of misplaced and historical school policies, and stern industrialists who chide the system for not supplying todays talent to their specifications, and bemoan having to cope with skills shortages that were precipitated further down the talent timeline. This conference wasn’t one of them.

Bro McFerran MD of Allstate Northern Ireland

Bro McFerran MD of Allstate Northern Ireland

Bro McFerran is Managing Director of Allstate Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland’s largest IT company, employing over 2300 people, of whom around three hundred have been sourced from Europe and India. His keynote speech was refreshing. He explained that the paradigm of the last few years, with education agencies asking business to ‘tell us what you need’ doesn’t work anymore- businesses simply don’t have the ability to project skills supply and demand into the future, so they need to support a proactive education system. Telematics and Analytics are his future growth areas, but he needs an education system that supplies ESTEAM workers ready to adapt. He sees a real shift from the passive “computer point-and-click generation to the mobile tap-and-swipe generation” as the main challenge for schools. He recognises the folly of businesses being too prescriptive about what they want out of schools today, but that businesses need to simultaneously be more supportive within the classroom.

Peter J Scott, Director of the OU's Knowledge Media Institute

Peter J Scott, Director of the OU’s Knowledge Media Institute

Professor Peter J Scott, Director of the Knowledge Media Institute of the UK’s Open University took some of the themes of mobile learning further, reminding us that television itself could often deliver learning by stealth. 8 million viewers saw theBBC’s Frozen Planet, and that this essentially was an OU course. 300,000 people engaged with the OU through this partnership. He explained that the TV programme was the ‘sit back’ gateway that brought you to the ‘sit forward’ and often mobile-enhanced interactive learning possibilities. He also made it clear that pedagogy in this area is always open to change as platforms change. There are 156 postgraduate and 397 undergraduate courses on offer through the OU, and the advent of the semantic web and the leveraging of big data analytics will have an impact on that provision. Scott talked about one of the major design challenges for his team in the future is to provide connectiveness that encourages students to talk and solve problems together.

Back to School

David Cleland of Wallace High School

David Cleland of Wallace High School

Such speakers supplied a kind of grown-ups context for learning, but the picture of tomorrow’s school classrooms came alive forcefully with a school case study presentation by David Cleland, Vice principal  of Wallace High School who talked of their journey into mobile learning. They’d had positive experience of Moving Image Arts (MIA), the first A-Level in the UK in digital film-making, assisted by the Nerve Centre and accredited by the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA), and this had spurred on a deeper investigation into technology.

In 2010-11 he’d noticed that over 140 pupils had mobile devices, and so germinated an idea that led to the equipping of 530 students at Key Stage 3 (ages 11-14) with an iPad 2, the first 1:1 initiative in Northern Ireland. Cleland told how parents had inspired and permitted such adoption, whilst teachers drove the initiative. Open evenings with parents and pupils together gave confidence that the quality of learning would benefit. That was September 2011.

He cautioned against sudden and deep disruption, likening ICT to a double decker bus, were the journey should be one of small progress between stops, and where the next stop is only visible from where you are, not the end of the journey itself.

Cleland also highlighted the need to bring on board naturally wary teachers, and how a “Photoshop and Digital Media” teacher training course had little take-up until it was re-branded as a “Get the most from your digital camera” workshop and re-scheduled before the summer holidays. You have to bring people with you during major changes, and the formation of staff working groups led by Cleland created a new integrated ICT policy.

Schoolchildren immersed in the accompanying exhibition

Schoolchildren immersed in the accompanying exhibition

It took one and a half years to get iPads into the classroom, but only three days intensive training were needed for staff partially because of the near ubiquity of iPads in the home, and a summer to test out teaching issues.

Now the school continues to exploit new learner centred technologies, using Cloud services, and utilising Google Docs with a VLE for their learning materials. Training is integrated and ongoing, and pupils use free Apps as well as Garageband, iMovie, Keynote, Pages, and Numbers. The School is now creating a library of App textbooks for future cohorts.

Nerve logoJohn Peto, Director of Education at The Nerve Centre point out that using the same standardised and connective tool (in their case, Apple’s iPad) across different subjects can lead to important interdisciplinary learning, with the children bringing ideas from other Apps work in other subjects into their current classroom. He talks of some children learning French by default, and how at every stage the parents need to be involved, and how support needs to be constant. The launch of the Creative Classrooms site, produced by the three creative learning centres is a careers resource to support the KS3 curriculum for Thinking Skills and Personal Capabilities, and Employability. Students are asked to think about what it means to be creative, and lessons have been designed to encourage students to explore their own nascent creative skills.

Attendees at the conference were also given copies of the new “Mobile Technology handbook for all schools in Northern Ireland” a guide to spreading best practice from planning, preparation to deployment and evaluation. With its objective of one device to one user in the classroom this presages an exciting future to learning in schools, led by teachers and parents, informed and supported by the creative learning centres. The Handbook is crammed with examples of technology currently being used in Schools across Northern Ireland, and the guide leaves it to the schools which mobile technology they should choose, putting power into the hands of the teachers, not the hardware suppliers.

A useful guide to Mobile Learning

A useful guide to Mobile Learning

The handbook reminds us “We are yet to see how new mobile computers will change the ways in which technology is managed, accessed and utilised in schools. However, no matter the mechanism or device the key to success will always be a pupil-centred approach where questioning, creativity and learning are paramount. It is vital that the use of mobile devices in schools is rooted in School Improvement and the enhancement and enrichment of learning at all levels”.

Conferences about education can be heavy on theory, policy and foresight, but the accompanying “Have a Go” Exhibition showed that the future classroom is actually here. Over lunch curious delegates passed through a room of industrious children, seemingly oblivious to the attention they garnered, immersed in their tablets, creating stop-frame animations, solving maths puzzles, and even printing out models on a 3D ‘Makerbot’ printer. Whilst we grown-ups struggle with the ‘internet of things’ and cloud computing, these children are engaging and learning new technologies like 3D modelling and design on a site full of historic resonance- where no doubt some of their grandfathers once built ships out of steel, they build imaginative models out of thermoplastic polymers, ready for tomorrow’s industries.

My thanks to Barry Brennan of Studio ON for arranging my visit.claymation