How to improve your employability

In the era of the gig economy, one of the core skills all artists and arts workers need to master is how to be employable for life.
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While the rest of the world is waking up to the pros and cons of the “gig-economy”, characterised by short-term contracts and casual employment, the creative sector shrugs its shoulders and asks, ‘Hasn’t it always been that way?’

Well, yes and no – David Throsby’s latest survey for the Australia Council on professional artists’ earnings and work practices, noted that the forces of globalisation and casualisation of employment have also been felt in the arts, with an increasing number of artists reporting moving to a portfolio career.

This is where, instead of being employed by an institution in a linear trajectory of development, a professional artist must navigate a range of contracts, development opportunities and employment to continue their creative practice.[1]

Unfortunately, in the arts as in other sectors, being employable is sometimes equated with being “exploitable”, where you get trapped in a situation that neither supports or values us; instead it keeps us stuck in a situation out of someone playing on our passions and our fears.[2] 

While the employers might own the jobs, no-one is going to be responsible for our career but ourselves. 

Therefore, one of the core skills we need to learn as an emerging or early career artist or creative worker is not just how to get that one specific job, but how to be employable for life, that is:

  • Develop your own personal brand – what you want to be known for as a person as well as an artist.
  • Understand your value in different job “markets” that have need of your skills and experience.
  • Manage your time and resources across commitments, including being responsible for your own self-care.

Some people are naturals at pulling all this together – and we wish them well.

The rest of us can develop our capacity to becoming more employable and valuable in this new world by focusing on the following:

  • Get to know yourself: Understanding your core values and motivations will help you make better choices from the options in front of you at any one time. Stop fitting your square peg self into a series of round holes just because it pays well or the job title looks good. Instead, make choices that align with your values and put you in work environments where you can express your true self and work on projects with meaning and purpose for you.
  • Develop resourcefulness: Become resilient to changes outside your control, confident in making the changes you want to or need, and creative in how you develop new opportunities for your career development. Resourcefulness is critical in any career journey. It is what changes a dead end to a jumping off point and a failure into a learning opportunity. Resourcefulness is always grounded in reality – but not held down by the “told you so’s” and fears that will otherwise hold you back.
  • Become strategic: Learn how to put emotional baggage to one side, step back and assess the development of your organisation or sector, as the CEO of your own career. Recognise your reactions and triggers and learn how to give yourself space to make strategic choices about opportunities and options. Develop how to discern between well-meaning interference and actual informed and non-judgemental advice. Be able to trust your gut based on practice of making choices that suit your true self best – and not the narrative others have for your life.

In this way, the path to becoming employable is the same path to a satisfying and fulfilling career.

Judith Bowtell
About the Author
Judith Bowtell is a former head of strategy and policy at Arts NSW, Screen NSW and Film Australia. She has worked in the arts, creative and community sector for 25 years, and founded Albany Lane Consulting in 2012. Albany Lane supports arts, creative and community workers through leadership, strategic and career development - coaching, workshops and consulting. The opinions in this article are hers, and hers alone.
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