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Enriching Our Work in Culture: Professional Development in Ontario’s Cultural Sector

May 26, 200826 May 2008

Cultural employment and training

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This study, prepared for the Cultural Careers Council of Ontario (CCCO) by Ipsos-Reid, provides information about professional development practices in Ontario’s cultural sector, including data about “how much training is pursued, the types of training, and who is paying for it”.

There were two phases to the project. The goal of the qualitative study was “to review in-career skill building strategies elsewhere and to see how Ontario measures up to national and international standards”, while the quantitative report “surveyed Ontario artists and arts organizations to determine actual professional development practices and spending in the province”.

Like the Canadian Conference of the Arts’ creative labour force report, the CCCO study highlights the fact that “artists may be models for the way we will be working in the future – independent, entrepreneurial, and more reliant on individual networks than conventional organizations”.

Three separate reports are provided on the CCCO website: an Executive Summary, a 104-page integrated report on the qualitative and quantitative phases, and the initial phase one qualitative report.

The quantitative findings, provided in the integrated report, are based on separate surveys of artists and cultural organizations in Ontario. Some interesting findings for individual artists:

  • 84% of professional artists participated in professional development in the past year.
  • Those artists who did participate in professional development spent an average of $1,700 of their own money to do so.
  • The key reasons for pursuing professional development are to upgrade existing artistic skills and to learn new techniques within their artistic field. However, artists also indicated that they need more administration and management skills, such as proposal preparation, grant writing, marketing, promotion, contracts, negotiation and business-planning skills.
  • Financial barriers are most significant in preventing artists from pursuing professional development, including the cost of training and the loss of earnings during the training period.
  • In order to improve their professional development, artists suggested that there should be better availability of programs or courses that complement or enhance their artistic field, more grants for artists, and more funding in general.

Most cultural organizations provide some opportunities for professional development. However, given that most cultural organizations are very small, many do not have a specific budget allocation for professional development. Overall, cultural organizations in Ontario spend an average of $43 per artist or cultural worker on professional development, much less than the overall Canadian business average of $914 per worker. Similar to the findings for individual artists, cultural organizations indicated that financial barriers prevent them from providing more professional development opportunities, including the cost of training and loss of work time during the training period. Despite the low spending in the cultural sector, about 90% of the cultural organizations surveyed agree that professional development contributes to artists’ career advancement, income growth and enhanced creativity.

The literature review of professional development in general in Canada finds that many workers are undertaking training at their own expense and that informal training is becoming more important. Barriers to training include cost, being too busy at work, conflicts between training and work schedules, and family responsibilities.

The qualitative research report also notes that, in Canada’s cultural sector, there is a weak culture of human resources, a serious gap between skills and compensation levels in the sector and increasing demand for non-arts skills. In addition, “a highly educated workforce with low relative wages and a high rate of self-employment and under-employment all contribute to the complexities of career development.” As in other sectors, technological and demographic changes also contribute to skills gaps and professional development needs.

In the cultural sector internationally, key trends include a focus on professional development for administrators, a focus on leadership and succession planning, as well as the fact that federal governments’ policies regarding training and professional development are reflected in the Australian and UK cultural sectors. In some jurisdictions, small, local programs have achieved success.

The consultants’ report recommends that:

  • artists and cultural organizations be encouraged to budget at least some money for professional development;
  • the need for business-type training among professional artists be highlighted;
  • the “economic story for professional development” be established, through success stories about economic gain through professional development; and
  • a network of like-minded organizations in Ontario, Canada and internationally be created to “develop a Best Practices literature for professional development in the cultural sector”.

The CCCO, which “considers professional development as an urgent issue for the cultural labour force”, recommends that additional training opportunities be made available, through conferences, partnerships, learning strategies and leadership initiatives. The CCCO also wishes to pursue a network for discussion of professional development initiatives and research into best practices. The CCCO also wants to promote “a policy of establishing dedicated budget lines for professional development” among cultural organizations, based on the principle that “professional development is an investment, not a cost”.

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