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Thematic Week: Role of Culture for Building Self-confidence and Empowerment to (re)Enter the Job Market

Role of Culture for Building Self-confidence and Empowerment to (re)Enter the Job Market

Dr.Marilena Vecco & Mrs.Nicole McNeilly (in Workshop for the experts on Culture for Social Cohesion. Outcomes and lessons learned - 26-27 November 2020)


Empowerment through cultural activity

The arts are a vehicle to address a lack of much-needed soft-skills, and the ‘intra- and inter-personal skills essential for personal development, social participation and workplace success’ strongly associated with life and employment success. We see that the arts are tools commonly used to address, or work beyond, challenges of social exclusion and intersectional and other contributory factors of unemployment or underemployment (e.g. mental or other illness, disability, ethnic minority background, economic and social deprivation, career gaps due to parenthood). While the reviewed evidence has its shortcomings, the arts, in their history of working in both therapeutic and employability settings, may be effective and inclusive tools that support confidence-building and empowerment and lead to increased employability.


Employability and empowerment

“Employability can be seen as empowerment in matters of career”, Pruijt & Yerkes (2014)

The concept of (re-)entering the workforce requires a discussion of employability. This research identifies numerous stakeholders concerned with issues of employability. Marginalised young people and those in prison or justice settings are common benefactors of non-formal creative learning or development programmes. So too are older people and the elderly, though there is an unequal focus on healthy aging and the maintenance of cognitive skills rather than the skills needed for the ‘silver workforce’ to re-enter or thrive in the workforce. There are various projects helping young people develop competences essential to the process of entering the labour market. Those that proved to be successful are ostensibly those which pay enough attention to the development of soft skills and certain attitudes, which are of equal or more importance to a focus on professional competences. More broadly, economic growth, change and instability has had an impact on employment and underemployment, leading to increased competition in the labour market. Employability and any attempts to improve this must therefore be discussed in parallel with an analysis of the labour market context, the availability of resources, and the competition for labour.We now consider two aspects of employability and skills acquisition, found most commonly in the literature and case studies relating to young people. First, the acquisition of skills that allow employment in the creative industries, and secondly, the inclusion in the wider workforce. This distinction is seen by Campbell (2019) as a distinction between the ‘incubation of the arts or creative industries career’ and the ‘youth engagement model’.


Arts and culture for learning

Creativity is not an exclusive skill of those in creative employment or the creative sectors. In the documents analysed, we find an explicit link between a soft-skills agenda, the arts and culture, and employability. The arts are reported to give access to ‘forms of knowledge which have been largely flushed out of vocational education’.85 In 1999, the UK’s National Advisory Committee on Creative and Cultural Education noted the need for the development of human capital in its future workforce through the improvement of cultural and creative education. Museums and non-standard learning spaces can ‘help to make adult learning attractive and accessible’. Museums can be a ‘natural place for educational and lifelong-learning programmes’; their content can also enliven and stimulate learning in other spaces.


Incubating future creative workers - creative (hard or technical) skills outcomes

In addition to an overall lack of jobs, it is perceived that there is a shortage of creative or innovative jobs. The challenges to a creative career (competition, barriers to progress, precarity) are frequently referenced in the literature. Ashton (2015), for example, notes ‘the tensions and complexities of higher education to creative economy talent pathway’ for creative graduates. If this is the case for creative graduates, then a graduate of an employability or skills programme using the arts and culture is even more disadvantaged.


There is also a need to discuss the acquisition of creative skills through arts and cultural initiatives and their application in non-creative sectors. Though graduates boast creative skills, many are likely to find (the majority of) their work in other industries.


Engagement through the arts - transferable (soft) skills acquisition

“People may learn new skills and feel more confident as the result of participating in community arts activity, and this, in turn, may increase their employability”, Jermyn, 2001

This concept considers ‘engagement and personal development from a broader and often remedial perspective’95 . Learning programmes may equip their participants with creative skills, but few consider employment within the creative industries as an outcome. Yet a note of caution emerges about the unquestioned assumption about the transferability of the skills provided by a creative education.

The arts and culture ‘can offer a way to engage young people in practical and conceptual learning where other forms of pedagogy may prove less fruitful’. Employability programmes using the arts and culture can deliver significant learning, skills development and social and cultural capital generation outcomes when used in suitable ways. However, in the case of marginalized young people, structural barriers to employment remain. Tackling youth unemployment is “not only about job creation, but especially about enhancing the quality of jobs for youth”. Involving young, marginalised people in creative education programmes has the potential to cultivate their interest in and redress existing exclusion from the formal arts and cultural sector, a priority of many cultural policies. 

Thematic week

Dr. Marilena Vecco is full professor in Entrepreneurship at Burgundy Business School, Dijon. She holds a PhD in Economic Sciences at University Paris 1, Panthéon Sorbonne, and a PhD in Economics of Institutions and Creativity at University of Turin. Between 1999 and 2010 she was head of research of the International Center for Arts Economics (ICARE) and Research Fellow and Adjunct Professor of Cultural Economics and Art markets at the University Ca’ Foscari of Venice. From 2011 to 2016 she was assistant professor in Cultural Entrepreneurship at ESHCC at Erasmus University Rotterdam. Her research focuses on cultural entrepreneurship and management with a special focus on cultural heritage (tangible and intangible) and art markets. Marilena has over 17 years of academic and professional experience as a researcher, lecturer, and consultant. She has researched and consulted for several public and private organisations, including OECD, Centre for Entrepreneurship, SMEs and Local Development, World Bank, and The European Commission. She is the author of several books (recently published: The power of partnerships: Necessity or luxury in the cultural and creative sectors? With E. Konrad, Creative industries and entrepreneurship: paradigms in transition from a global perspective with L. Lazzeretti), book chapters and articles published on different journals.

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