Australia’s creative economy surges

More than half a million Australians now work in the creative sector, making it one of the fastest-growing, most dynamic segments of the national economy.

Newly analysed data from the 2011 census shows that Australia’s creative employment has grown from 463,500 people in 2006 (5.1 per cent of the workforce) to 531,000 people in 2011 (5.3 per cent).

“The creative industries, and sectors which employ creative professionals, gained around 70,000 jobs in the five years 2006-11,” says Professor Stuart Cunningham, director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation (CCI) at the Queensland University of Technology.

“This is well above the rate of growth in the Australian workforce in general – and it confirms the trend evident in the past two decades: that the creative sector is rapidly emerging as an economic force to be reckoned with.”

The creative sector encompasses advertising and marketing, architecture, design and visual arts, film, TV newspapers and radio, music and performing arts, publishing, software and digital content. Salaries and wages paid to those working in creative employments rose from at $26 billion in 2006-7 to over $36 billion a year in 2011.

“Creative professionals now outnumber mining sector employees three-to-one, and those of agriculture fishing and forestry two-to-one,” Professor Cunningham says. “This gives some feel for how this sector is emerging relative to two traditional ‘backbone’ industries.”

“Remarkably, growth in creative employment in Australia has held up well in the teeth of the Global Financial Crisis. From 2006-2011 the average annual growth rate of creative employment was 2.8% - which compares with 2% for the Australian workforce in general, says his colleague Peter Higgs.

CCI’s latest report card on the creative economy (attached) indicates there were 370,000 Australians working directly in the creative sector in 2011, and a further 161,000 ‘creatives’ working in the broader economy in areas such as banking, manufacturing  and government.

“Importantly too, the products of the creative sector touch the lives of almost every single Australian every day of the year. They are all around us – in our media, banking, health industries, in our work and recreation,” Mr Higgs adds.

The CCI analysis reveals that slow growth in the cultural products industry (1%) was more than offset by a dramatic 4.5 per cent expansion in employment in creative services – more than double that of the Australian workforce overall (2%).

While the publishing industry shrank during the Census period – mainly due to newspaper cutbacks – this was counterbalanced by dynamic growth in photography, digital content and software development, and also in activities like architecture, advertising, marketing, digital content, where creative people deal on a business-to-business basis rather than a business-to-consumer basis.

Peter Higgs notes there has also been particularly strong employment growth in digital publishing, which grew at a cumulative annual rate of 14% between 2006 and 2011. “You could say this is one of the star turns of the Australian economy.”

Equally eyecatching was a growth rate of 7.8% for creative artists, musicians and performers, which Higgs attributes to more people ‘going freelance’ or becoming self-employed.

Among other notable results, graphic arts consulting services, product design and fashion design grew by 3.8%, while professional photography surged by 5.5%. Another strong performer has been film and television, as producers make the transition to the era of digital content.

The big picture trend, according to Stuart Cunningham, is that growth in occupations like design and marketing is being driven by the digitalisation of the broader economy.

“Basically, the quite embedded nature of needs for services into the digital economy are driving the need for creative workers.

“Overall, it's a good news story, even if there are some black spots like newspapers and traditional arts. Australia’s creative services are mainstream, thoroughly embedded across the economy, and growing rapidly.”

Read the Creative Economy report card