Unpaid work placements and informal recruitment methods mean that entry into employment in the arts and cultural sectors is harder for students who are not from white, middle class backgrounds, finds a report published by higher education equality body Equality Challenge Unit.

Work placements are considered a vital way of gaining experience in the arts and cultural sector, and they play a central role in increasing a student’s employability. Disabled students, black and minority ethnic students, those with caring responsibilities and students from disadvantaged backgrounds face significant barriers to gaining work placements.

The research, Work placements in the arts and cultural sector: diversity, equality and access, was conducted by researchers at the Institute for Policy Studies in Education, London Metropolitan University. The research found that certain groups of students face extra challenges in accessing and completing a work placement.

Kate Byford, senior policy adviser, Equality Challenge Unit, said:
‘The importance of work placements can’t be underestimated for students looking to get ahead in the arts, media and other cultural sectors. In the current economic downturn, it is anticipated that even more students will depend on work placements as a way to get a foot in the door.

However, finding placements can be difficult if you don’t have contacts in the industry, or the ability to take unpaid placements, or line in big cities where arts and cultural employers are more prevalent. If you can’t afford to live in London without a job, have financial responsibilities or are a carer, for example, then your options for placements are greatly reduced.

We also found that once on a placement, the work culture and lack of diversity in the sector means that it can be more difficult for certain students and result in a feeling that they don’t ‘fit in’.

Higher education institutions need to recognise the barriers and work to provide support for students, both in finding placements in the first instance, and ensuring that the student and the employer get the most out of the placement experience. Alongside the research we have developed the staff and student toolkits to support institutions in achieving this.’