'Ignorant' reskill ads mute creatives' applause for Cultural Recovery Fund

Government adverts telling creative industries freelancers to retrain are continuing to take the gloss off an otherwise welcome covid-19 emergency funds package for their clients.

In fact, praise at the government’s move to hand individual theatres, venues and other outfits cash from a £1.57billion ‘Cultural Recovery Fund’ to help them through the pandemic is being undermined by the campaign.


Although they were not commissioned now -- in the midst of coronavirus-induced job losses, but instead date back to an IT skills push in 2017, the adverts were condemned last week as “crass.”

But not just by creatives (‘horrendously timed,’ ‘spectacularly ignorant’), but by the government’s own culture minister Oliver Dowden, whose department represents the likes of ‘Fatima,’ a ballerina who features in one of the criticised adverts.

“Fatima’s next job could be in cyber,” states the ad, picturing her tying her point shoes. In brackets, it adds “she just doesn’t know it yet.” The strapline is, “Rethink. Reskill. Reboot.”

'False suggestion'

Awkwardly for Rishi Sunak, the latter three words mirror the chancellor’s recent stance when asked about workers whose livelihoods have been upended by the pandemic.

The similarity was enough to confuse a national broadcaster, who Mr Sunak got in touch with to reject the idea that he thinks creatives ought to retrain as techies if they want to find work.

“An earlier ITV News tweet falsely suggested I thought people in arts should retrain and find other jobs,” the chancellor tweeted.

“I'm grateful they have now deleted that tweet. I care deeply about the arts which is why our £1.57bn culture package is one of the most generous in the world.”

'Rishi's next job could be in Wagamama'

But the Fatima ads have been deleted too, or at least taken down by the government from bus stops, billboard frames and other displays.

The removal has not stopped humorous recreations of the adverts however, including one which replaces ‘Fatima’ with a photo of Mr Sunak working as a server for a high street chain.

 “Rishi’s next job could be in Wagamama,” says the mock-up, showing a smiling, name-tagged ‘Rishi’ carrying plates of food like a waiter. “He just doesn’t know it yet.”

'People in all walks of life need to adapt'

Shown the Fatima ad, an adviser to freelance creatives told FreelanceUK: “The issue of the government urging several self-employed sectors to retrain as a consequence of the coronavirus crisis is becoming increasingly apparent.

“While the chancellor seemed to initially single out those specifically in the arts and music industry business, he subsequently clarified his position…saying people ‘in all walks of life’ will need to adapt for their employment going forward.”

Yesterday, much the same message was issued by employment minister Mims Davies, when she said the government is taking steps to help prepare “all workers” for the “post-covid economy.”

'We aren't a viable business'

But it is clear that it is creatives who feel picked on the most, even though the original 2017 series of retraining adverts also targeted builders, engineers and police officers.

“It’s going to be tougher, especially [for] people like me in creative industries,” one Twitter user said yesterday, in reference to London being placed under Tier 2 lockdown measures.

“I’ve just been told to find another job, basically because we aren’t a ‘viable’ business at the minute.”

“What’s ‘unviable’ here is the chancellor’s proposal to help those in need to retrain,” chipped in a blogger for broadcast union Bectu, taking issue with another of the chancellor’s words which is used in the eligibility criteria for his Job Support Scheme (announced at the Winter Economy Plan).

'It isn't what we want'

“While I’m sure the chancellor is very sincere in his desire to help workers in the entertainment industry find work by offering the opportunity to retrain, it isn’t what we want”, Ali Waggie, the blogger, wrote, adding.

We don’t necessarily want to become nurses or accountants or anything that he deems a ‘viable’ career, or accept any role shelf-stacking, admin-based or as a teaching assistant…just to pay our bills.”

Trying the consultative approach, albeit seeming to agree that creatives do indeed need to rethink their skills offerings, the Mayor of London’s Cultural & Creative Industries Unit yesterday posted a ‘skills and training’ survey.

'Better support'

“What skills and training opportunities would be useful to you and your business?” the CCIA asked online. “Let us know, so we can better support you and London's creative industries. Our short survey takes just three minutes.”

Asked yesterday by FreelanceUK for its reaction to the creative worker retraining push, and the adverts in particular, the Creative Industries Federation said that officially, it had no comment to make.

On social media however, the federation’s position seems clear. “The creative industries are viable,” the CIF tweeted, seeming to correct anyone who suggests the contrary. “They’re also one of our most vital.”

'Spectacularly ignorant'

On the ground, creatives themselves are being even more straight-talking. “I'm afraid to say those ads were absolutely calling out for the response they received, “ said Selina Vesey-Hauge, a senior marketing manager, in an online thread about ‘Fatima.’

“Not only were they crass at best, they were also spectacularly ignorant.”

“Absolutely horrendous timing to re-release it,” denounced Gemma Ashley, the owner of a company that specialises in events. “Baffles me how it got sign-off”.

'Experienced creatives are on their knees, or just quitting'

Another creative, who mentors others in addition freelancing as an arts director is sympathetic, but also sounds painfully aware that for some, the ‘reboot’ may be both inevitable and underway already.

Posting to LinkedIn, the creative heavyweight, Victor Martinez explained: “I’ve seen talented, experienced creatives brought to their knees in the last few weeks. I talk to fellow creatives whose mental health and physical health are on the edge.

“And the thing is, some parts of our industry are to blame, from agencies dropping creatives over the edge to make sure the books still look good to cutting freelancers rates by 40% -- even though the same agencies have been working through this [pandemic] at maximum workload.

“In the past two months alone, I’ve had three dear and talented creative friends of mine decide to leave the industry and retrain, [and seen] other colleagues accept full-time jobs in positions they don't want."


20th October 2020

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