09/04/2012 19:01 BST | Updated 09/06/2012 06:12 BST

Building the Creative Workforce of the Future

With over a million 16 to 24-year-olds in this country out of work, perhaps the responsibility to provide real employment opportunities for young people should fall upon areas of the economy with the greatest prospects for growth.

The creative and cultural industries is one such sector, contributing more than £36.3 billion to the UK economy every year and forecast to produce growth of around 31% between now and 2020. But if we are to provide the conditions to meet these projections, we need to build a highly-skilled workforce for the artistic and cultural sector (which is the industries' R and D engine room), and for the wider creative industries themselves. The time to begin building that workforce is now.

For too long the arts and other areas of the creative industries have been seen as a closed shop, with access to many of the often desirable roles in creative organisations limited to those who can afford to undertake unpaid, often long-term internships. This lack of fair entry routes to the creative and cultural sector has the potential to derail the progress of the industries, limiting both the talent that sustains them and their potential for growth.

The Arts Council has already begun to tackle this issue, discouraging the culture of unpaid internships by publishing guidelines that call on employers to offer high quality, openly recruited opportunities that pay interns at least the minimum wage. We also helped set up the first National Skills Academy for the creative and cultural sector to provide practical training, qualifications and support to young people looking to pursue a creative career.

But these are just the first steps in providing employers in the cultural and creative industries with incentives to take on interns and apprentices from a broader range of backgrounds, and to ensure that young people are aware of the opportunities open to them.

Alongside providing real incentives to creative employers, we want to see vocational routes into the arts workforce properly developed; we want to forge links between employers, further education and youth services that we hope will have a real impact in attracting young people to cultural jobs and give them the skills they need to flourish. And we want to provide flexible support for employers of all sizes, so we provide apprenticeship opportunities for young people to join the legion of creative freelancers and innovators that are the lifeblood of the industries.

We're not underestimating the scale of this task; one that requires both financial intervention and a significant cultural change in organisations whose businesses have traditionally relied on a steady stream of unpaid labour. But if we do nothing, we risk excluding a generation of young people from our increasingly valuable sector - something that could create a vacuum for future cultural leaders and damage our prospects for both artistic development and economic growth.

By joining the dots between a million young unemployed and the need to develop the creative workforce of the future, we can make sure the arts haven't just taken their share of the cuts, but that they can also play a more significant role in economic growth and recovery.