Continuing Professional Development in Liverpool City Region’s Arts and Cultural Sector (2010-11)

In 2010, the ICC’s Head of Research Kerry Wilson was commissioned to undertake a study on the continuing professional development (CPD) needs and expectations of the cultural sector workforce in the Liverpool City Region. The project was funded by the North West Development Agency (NWDA) Innovation Voucher scheme and commissioned by Culture Campus and Liverpool Arts and Regeneration Consortium (LARC).

Research objectives included:

  • To identify and profile current CPD needs amongst the sector workforce in terms of skills, professional practice, knowledge and expertise;
  • To explore levels of engagement in CPD activities both locally and nationally;
  • To investigate attitudes towards higher education (HE) provision including perceived advantages, disadvantages, barriers and incentives towards participation.

A summary of headline findings follows – for the full research report and recommendations please click here.

CPD in the cultural and creative sector: context and conditions 

The culture of cultural CPD 

CPD with an emphasis on long-term professional or career development is still in an emergent stage within the city’s arts cultural and creative sectors.

Those organisations with a CPD lead, e.g. designated Human Resource Development (HRD) co-ordinator, are more likely to be proactive in supporting CPD and embedding a culture of professional development.

Consortia arrangements such as LARC and the COoL Collective have been particularly effective in enabling an improved CPD culture within the sector in terms of learning from one another and running joint CPD schemes such as the LARC Emerging Leaders Programme. This illustrates the value of collectivism and collaboration in the sector.

Practitioners and sector leaders alike express a strong desire for a culture shift in terms of support for CPD, and a more embedded systematic approach to long-term career development. 

Sector heterogeneity and implications for CPD: interpretation and relevance 

The professional characteristics of the wider arts cultural and creative sectors are extremely diverse, and as such CPD needs vary according to sub-sector, artistic and professional practice, commercial and/or public sector orientation, size of organisation/business, and roles and responsibilities within them.

It is therefore inappropriate to think of the wider sector as a homogenous professional community with a ‘one size fits all’ CPD market.

Where CPD needs are superficially common, they can be interpreted differently by different types of cultural practitioner, e.g. leadership in a commercial SME can have a different orientation to that in a large publicly-funded organisation. The former practitioners are more likely to think of leadership as a form of business acumen linked to commercial growth and development; the latter will perceive leadership as a form of political acumen linked to negotiation and more tacit forms of personal leadership.

There is also a tension between ‘generic’ and ‘sector-specific’ CPD needs, and preferences within arts cultural and creative communities. Some practitioners are happy for example to engage in generic leadership training programmes that are targeted towards a range of sectors and professions, others prefer tailored leadership training opportunities that are set within the context of their own professional practice. 

Currency, timeliness and value 

As it stands, CPD needs are often instant and approached on a needs-must basis, e.g. keeping on top of technological developments, project-based skills needs etc. Arts, cultural and creative practitioners work according to different time-scales, and skills gaps often need to be filled as soon as they are identified.

In this sense, HE curricula and the bureaucratic process in universities is slow to respond. On the flip side, universities are trusted, reliable sources of learning and development, thus creating a tension between what is instantly available to sector practitioners and what is potentially regarded as a high quality product.

CPD needs are often set within the context of wider public policy agendas, and may not be explicitly associated with arts cultural and creative practice. The Find Your Talent programme for example required relevant practitioners to expand their knowledge on health and well-being, child development etc.

CPD providers therefore need to anticipate sector needs, and be responsive on an inter-disciplinary basis. Universities should not assume that practitioners will only look towards arts and media departments – business and management, education, health and social science departments are just as relevant.

 The practice of CPD in the sector 

CPD needs and development priorities 

As a snapshot of current CPD requirements, the following broad categories are most commonly represented:

  1. Management skills and expertise (e.g. HRM; project management)
  2. Business skills and expertise (e.g. Business planning; marketing)
  3. Professional skills and expertise (e.g. Curating; choreography)

Specific CPD priorities include: leadership skills; business/strategic planning; HRM/line management; applied [evaluation] research.

Practitioners also have a ‘rolling programme’ of other generic CPD needs associated with public-facing organisations and services, including customer care, health and safety etc.

A wide range of other CPD needs were identified in smaller numbers, illustrating the diversity and complexity of the wider sector. 

CPD activities and engagement 

Preferred CPD activities and methods invariably involve taking time and space away from the workplace, e.g. external conferences, exhibitions, courses and training events.

Indicators of effective CPD opportunities include opportunities for networking; peer support; currency and relevance; time/space away from workplace; active problem-solving; applied learning.

Respondents instinctively cite limited ‘time and money’ as a barrier to CPD engagement, yet sector leaders indicate a willingness within organisations to provide support for the ‘right’ CPD opportunities.

Group discussions revealed that different types of CPD needs are more appropriately met by different types of learning opportunities and environments, indicating the need to tailor CPD opportunities to both learning need and practitioner profile. 

Information, quality and guidance 

Arts, cultural and creative practitioners have access to and receive a wide range of information relating to CPD opportunities and training providers. This can often be difficult to discern due to volume, but respondents did not report any significant problems in ‘finding’ information, other than in relation to HEIs.

Email alerts are the preferred/most accessible source of information, and these are available [and widely used] from a range of sector-based organisations.

In choosing CPD opportunities, some degree of quality assurance is preferred amongst practitioners. In this context, practitioners will often return to providers that they have used before and value, rely on peer review and recommendations, and seek out providers that are perceived to be credible, trustworthy and reliable – this is where HE can have a competitive advantage.

The sector’s CPD relationship with Higher Education 

Who? Where? When? Limited knowledge and awareness of HE’s CPD offer 

The majority of arts, cultural and creative practitioners have no knowledge or awareness of what CPD opportunities exist within Liverpool’s higher education institutions (HEIs), and do not receive information directly from them, despite receiving, or having access to, frequent and regular information from a wide range of other providers concerning CPD opportunities.

Active engagement with CPD in HEIs was subsequently marginal amongst research participants.

Those with personal and professional connections within HEIs are more likely to be aware of HEI courses and opportunities, and to be proactive in engaging with the HE community. It is acknowledged that there are ‘pockets of brilliance’ within universities.

Those with no existing personal or professional connections find it difficult to engage with HEIs, and do not know ‘who to speak to’ within ‘faceless’ HE organisations. Even amongst those practitioners who have a reliable contact within HE, it can be difficult to navigate the organisation beyond their initial point of entry and ‘pocket of brilliance’, reflecting a lack of connected working and professional linkage in HEIs. 

Initial versus continuing professional development and HEIs 

HEIs are most commonly associated with entry-level qualifications, and with providing an initial programme of learning that qualifies practitioners to begin working in the arts, cultural and creative sectors.

HE conversely is not readily associated with continuing professional development, or as providers of CPD learning opportunities that are relevant to professional practice.

Respondents have identified a number of alternative providers of CPD opportunities within the region, some free of charge, which are considered to be reliable and appropriate to their needs.

The HE community is also more commonly associated with research, which in itself is valued as a form of CPD, particularly within fast-changing commercial creative sectors. Participants also report limited knowledge and awareness of what research exists within HE, and that they usually have to ‘dig deep’ to find out about it. 

Contingency value and resistance to the ‘hard sell’ 

Despite such criticism, a high contingency value is placed on HEIs in the city and in their potential as CPD providers. They are respected institutions, and cultural practitioners value having the option to engage with them.

In an ‘ideal world’, many cultural and creative practitioners aspire to and express an interest in postgraduate study, but do not feel able to commit the time, money and energy required in a real world professional context.

Practitioners are extremely resistant to what they perceive to be a ‘supply and demand’ sales pitch from HEIs, whereby arts, cultural and creative sectors and organisations are the customers. Participants felt ‘over consulted and under engaged’ by universities in terms of establishing a meaningful professional development relationship between the two sectors.

Practitioners are however very interested in improving dialogue and communication with HEIs, and moving towards a mode of co-production and co-delivery in terms of a CPD offer. In this respect, HEIs will be providing CPD opportunities ‘with’ and not ‘for’ the sector.


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