Creative arts graduates in this country get jobs faster than anywhere else in the world
A production by the Academy Drama Theatre. Pic: Facebook/<@The Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts

The stereotype on creative arts graduates is that they’ll be hard-pressed to get jobs outside their local fast food restaurants. That may be hold some water elsewhere, but certainly not in one island nation.

Hong Kong’s Academy for Performing Arts’ (HKAPA) School of Theatre and Entertainment Arts boasts an almost perfect (98 percent) employment rate among its graduates, South China Morning Post reports.

“There are many job opportunities for our students, whether it’s design, technology, lighting or sound – they are all needed,” Professor Gillian Choa, the school dean since 2013, said.

Hong Kong is home to a Disneyland Park and a quick ferry ride away from Macau’s entertainment district. When both venues first opened, Choa said “thousands of technicians” were sought from the school.

“We couldn’t fill the vacancies even if we gave them all our graduates.”

The school has also been approached by Universal Studios in Beijing about possible job opportunities for its students when it opens in 2020.

“Our students graduate as professionals and they can assist or work independently with all the practical training they received thanks to the six schools at the academy, which present 13 productions every year,” the dean said.

Unlike degrees such as pharmacy, engineering or education, creative arts graduates do not have an accredited vocational pathway to treat once they graduate.

Creative careers go through more informal processes based on “who you know”, previous experience, and quality of creative work instead of formal application processes. It takes time to build a name through internships, active networking, mentoring, and short term project work, before landing a job.

That doesn’t seem to be the case in HKAPA’s specialised wing. Choa traces the graduates’ high employability to the school’s location in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong students, Choa said, enjoyed a competitive advantage in spoken and creative languages, even on the international market.

Ryan Lo, 22, from Toronto, once worried about getting jobs with a degree in set and costume design but the anxiety soon left Lo as “offers poured in during my final year”.

Even before receiving his degree, Lo had landed a spot as an instructor at the general education unit of the University of Hong Kong.

“I will first have some fun and learn by freelancing. Recently there was a demand for designs of haunted houses since Halloween is coming,” Lo, who now works as a freelancer, added.

For Zora Lai Lok-yan, a 2017 graduate in costume technology, the problem is not so much the lack of jobs, than it is about the wages offered.

“My parents were tailors in the bygone textile industry, so it’s a natural thing for me to go into costume design,” said the 24-year-old Lai who will take up an offer in Switzerland next month.

“I have no problem finding a job but remuneration is lower than what I expected. Perhaps it’s hard for people to appreciate tailor-made costumes when they can get everything cheap on Taobao,” she added, referring to China’s online retail giant.

SCMP reports that the art scene has thrived since Hong Kong’s handover to China 20 years ago. With more funding and international art fairs held on the island, both commercial and independent art spaces appear to be thriving.

Yim Sui-fong, a performance artist and founder of non-profit for cultural exchange Rooftop Institute said: “Some people have gone as far as to call this the start of a golden age. It’s certainly changed a lot in the last few years.”

“Back when I was studying for my master’s of fine art in 2010, no new graduate could hope to get an exhibition straight after graduation, or to become a full-time artist, without struggling for years first. Now they can.”

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