What does ‘Work readiness’ mean in a creative discipline?

Posted by: Kellyann Geurts, Senior Advisor, Learning and Teaching, Design and Social Context College, RMIT University.

It’s only natural that some of RMIT’s six graduate attributes (Work-readyGlobal in outlook & competenceEnvironmentally aware & responsiveCulturally & socially awareActive & lifelong learnersInnovative) align in different ways to different programs. Educators and policy-makers at RMIT have always acknowledged a ‘complex conception’ of these attributes; in short, that they mean different things in different disciplines. Fine art students, for instance, can be seen as work-ready graduates, having been through a degree structure which is studio-based and involves the continual feedback and critique of artists (peers, lecturers and visiting industry professionals). Their study years prefigure the life of a working artist.

But I now have another convincing position about employment prospects in fine arts with the recent expansion of the internship program in the School of Art:

VART3510: This is a Work Integrated Learning course designed to facilitate a practical working relationship between you and selected arts and cultural organisations. You will participate in an internship or artist in residence program in an arts or cultural organisation, company, festival, gallery, museum or studio, through dual negotiation with the industry and School. You will be expected to work as negotiated by the host organisation, to address and solve real issues in an arts industry workplace environment.

Open Day always buzzes with energy and eagerness for the RMIT School of Art offerings. It is an opportunity for students to ask questions directly to faculty. One stands out; maybe because answering it with certainty tended to be quietly problematic. The question, framed in all sorts of ways, is essentially: “What employment opportunities exist for me when I complete my fine art degree?”

Foremost on my mind was the employment prospects for graduates referred to in a recent post on ArtsHub: “…only 2%, will make a decent living from it (an art practice), the rest will usually have to supplement their earnings as artists with a second or third income, and even then they will earn less than most people” (Isbel, 2012). 

Investigating further, I found supporting evidence in the report published by Australia Council for the Arts titled: “What’s your other job?”, a census analysis of arts employment in Australia (2010).  This report states that the average annual income for visual artists occupations in 2006 was $31,200.  More recent figures from the Graduate Careers Australia (2011) state the median salary for Bachelor Graduates for visual/performing arts is now around $40,000 (under 25 years of age it reduces to $38,000).

On Open Day, I preferred to follow along these lines:

  • Our highly qualified staff train students to: practice as a professional artist; work in a studio; exhibit locally, nationally, internationally (with Artist-run Initiatives, commercial galleries, public spaces); apply for funding, commissions and residencies opportunities; enter major art awards and contribute to the ever-expanding arts and creative industries.
  • You may go on to further study ie. Honours, Masters or PhD. Often I needed to elaborate why they would wish to do this; according to the Graduate Careers Australia, in 2011 the median salary for artists with further study increased to $50,000
  • Teaching is a real option with good employment prospects.  Here’s a brief overview:
  1. Secondary teaching – you will require a Diploma of Education in addition to your Bachelor degree
  2. TAFE – you require industry experience, an established art practice and a Certificate IV Training and Assessment
  3. HE academic and research positions – you will require industry experience and an established art practice, as well as devoting a substantial period of time to postgraduate studies (MA or PhD).  In addition, all ongoing HE staff now require a Graduate Certificate in Tertiary Teaching and Learning and quality contributions to the body of knowledge in your specialist area.

Regarding ‘industry experience’ – this may encompass the arts industry, the creative industry and cultural industry. This can be confusing and clarification was often requested from the prospective students (and their parents). Regarding an ‘established art practice’ – this requires dedication to practice and generally a significant outlay of money to establish an artist profile so, in the meantime, most will probably need another job…

Introducing the internship opportunities seemed to be well placed at this point. Keeping in mind that most of the aspiring fine art graduates will not make a living from their work but instead need to be realistic about what related professional position is best able to complement their practice, if indeed they wish to practice. Students need some time to consider where are the graduate skills and knowledge best placed in the industry and identify at an early point in their study, what skills and knowledge they need to develop to meet industry needs.

So, back to Open Day, in the last couple of years I have been able to continue with something like this:

  • In your final year, we offer an arts internship program that helps position you in a related field of work (that may serve to complement your practice).  Preparations can begin as early as first year:

VART3510: Learning in this course is primarily ‘on-the-job’, complimented by a series of tutorials and workshops aimed at assisting you in identifying and developing employability skills, develop an awareness of the arts and creative industries and workplace culture, prepare for placement and be able to demonstrate reflective processes in response to the experience.

I was enthusiastically engaged in expanding the internship program for students over the last two years to better prepare a higher number of undergraduate students for industry related employment and professional practice. Enrolment numbers have tripled in this time, the interest continues to grow and real employment outcomes are possible for students. In many cases students who have completed their placement continue relationships with their chosen host.

Informing our prospective students and first year students of the placement opportunities begins the discussion around career planning and identifying employability skills. From first year, students can prepare with industry-related volunteer positions, making contact with RMIT Student Services for Work and Careers resources, leadership (LEAD) and mentorship programs.

My hope is that the course continues to strengthen, providing more opportunities for students to meet RMIT’s graduate attributes. Work-readiness and its allied principle of career development should be seen as a uniting principle in the learning and teaching strategy. There is more work to do in establishing richer relationships with hosts and a clearer picture of how industry would like to work with us.

For the majority of art students who are not able to ‘make it’ as a professional artist, (remembering that this may only be the first phase of life, and of their artistic lives, after their university study) it’s important to have a solid plan in place to build confidence and prepare them well to contribute to the culture that nurtures art practice.

Share your ideas about internships, work readiness or any of RMIT’s graduate attributes in the comments below!

References:

Stuart Cunningham, Peter Higgs, Simon Freebody and Peter Anderson (2010), What’s your other job? A census analysis of arts employment in Australia, The Australia Council for the Arts, Sydney
http://www.australiacouncil.gov.au/resources/reports_and_publications/subjects/artists/artist_careers/whats_your_other_job

David Throsby and Virginia Hollister (2003), Don’t give up your day job: an economic study of professional artists in Australia, The Australia Council for the Arts, Sydney
http://www.australiacouncil.gov.au/resources/reports_and_publications/subjects/artists/dontgiveupyourdayjob

Paul Isbel (2012), What it takes to become an artist for keeps, artsHub
http://www.artshub.com.au/au/news-article/opinions/arts/what-it-takes-to-become-an-artist-for-keeps-188632

Australia Council of the Arts http://www.australiacouncil.gov.au/

Australian Association of Graduate Employers Ltd http://www.aage.com.au

Graduate Careers Australia http://www.graduatecareers.com.au/research/researchreports/

Arts Hub Australia http://www.artshub.com.au/au/

RMIT Graduate Attributes http://www.rmit.edu.au/teaching/graduateattributes

RMIT Strategic Plan 2011-2015 http://www.rmit.edu.au/about/strategy

RMIT Academic Plan http://www.rmit.edu.au/browse/OurOrganisation/AcademicPortfolio/AcademicPlan/

Work and Careers at Student Services http://www.rmit.edu.au/careers

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