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Building soft skills in the creative economy: Creative intermediaries, business support and the “soft skills gap”

In recent years, the UK government and policymakers have sought to maximise the impact of the creative economy via a programme of targeted intervention. Intermediary agencies − those organisations that sit between government and policymakers on one hand, and creative practitioners and microbusinesses on the other − are increasingly seen as crucial to the functioning of the creative economy. This article reports on the activities of one creative intermediary − Cultural Enterprise Office − based in Glasgow, Scotland. CEO’s remit is to help creatives become more ‘businesslike’, and they provide or facilitate access to training and skills development. The article draws on interviews conducted with CEO staff and clients, and ethnographic material gathered from observation of CEO’s working practices. I explore how creatives narrativise their personal and professional development in relation to intermediaries and demonstrate the tension at the core of CEO’s practice − between their remit to support a skills and employability agenda and their understanding of the limitations of this agenda. I also explore the emotional component of business support, which arises in response to the extreme individualisation associated with creative work, and the precarious working conditions that creatives face. The rationale for writing this article stems from the fact that the creative economy is now a globalised concept, with many countries looking to the UK for guidance on growing the sector. Yet little is known about what services creatives draw down from intermediaries, why and when, or how they understand the role of intermediaries.