The design world has got off to a great start in 2011, with consultancies beginning to hire again and work flooding in. Emily Pacey asks if this is an indicator of even better things to come. With research by Suzanne Hinchliffe
It has been an incredible start to 2011,’ says Blue Tree Recruits director Claire Vidler. She asserts that the number of jobs on the agency’s books is back to pre-recession levels, while Creative Recruitment manager Diane Scally agrees that the year has commenced with ’a rapid surge in hiring throughout every sector’. Also adding their voices to the happy chorus are recruitment agencies Become (formerly Mac People) and Gabriele Skelton. The latter’s managing director Karina Beasley claims that the general atmosphere has ’vastly improved’, while Become’s Sue Pilgrim reports pre-recession vacancy rates and a ’relatively robust market’.
But not everything is as it was pre-recession. Vidler says, ’Clients are being incredibly specific about what they want and if a candidate does not fit this exactly then they are not being considered.’ Beasley agrees, saying, ’While the jobs are there, employers are very risk-averse - they want candidates who have been doing exactly what they do. There is not a lot of lateral thinking going on.’ Adds Nudds, ‘We are increasingly having to strategically and proactively headhunt for hard to fill roles as good candidates are hard to find.’
The outlook for recent graduates
Junior roles are finally starting to flourish. My advice would be for graduates to strengthen their integrated knowledge as much as possible.
Diane Scally, Creative Recruitment
One of our candidates sent me a pair of socks with the words ’If you hire me, I’ll work these off’. It took her no time to secure a job. Graduates who take the time to research a potential employer and put together work that is relevant to the role they are applying for will achieve the best results. Competition is fierce and they must make sure they stand out from the crowd - in a good way.
Claire Vidler, Blue Tree Recruits
We are constantly speaking with companies that are taking graduates on placements as part of growing their teams from the bottom up.
Matt Nudds, Purple
We are seeing an upturn in graduate and junior briefs coming in from our clients. It’s still not easy for graduates and they do often have to complete quite a number of placements before they find a job, but the situation has definitely improved.
Karina Beasley, Gabriele Skelton
Social media-savvy graduates with digital design qualifications will do very well because, for a design group, what better place to start out in digital than with a graduate who can offer them expertise?
Justin Moore, Become
We were disappointed by the overall calibre of graduates entering the market in 2010 and hope this improves in 2011 for our graduate work experience programme.
Ang Banks, Design Studio People
Generally, recent graduates are advised to gain work experience, as most consultancies are looking for candidates with at least a year’s experience for junior roles.
Kim Crawford, Periscope
_Who is in demand?
After a major cull of client services staff during the recession, consultancies’ job lists are filling up again. As a consequence, design groups are keenly recruiting account executives, client services managers and new business developers to look after new clients and projects.
The shortage of middleweight and senior candidates, long predicted as a hangover from the recession, has indeed come to pass. Periscope, Purple and Gabriele Skelton are particularly aware of this phenomenon, as demand increases across all levels. Many are also expecting a rise in demand for juniors as 2011 progresses.
Several groups also identify packaging designers as much sought-after at the moment.
Freelance remains buoyant as consultancies continue to use freelance services until thoroughly convinced of a reliable flow of new business. Says Pilgrim, ’Freelance business is positively blooming, having grown consistently for the past five quarters, and is now running at levels above the recessionary period’. Purple’s Nudds hopes that ‘there is a point at which, like the housing bubble, this freelance bubble takes a turn in the other direction, otherwise we might find ourselves running purely on freelances as an industry.
But encouragingly for design’s long-term health is that, at long last, ’permanent is now a seller’s market’, according to Beasley. Vidler makes the point that, ’consultancies need staff who buy into the group’s long-term business aims and are part of the team culture, which only permanent staff can really do and be’.
Across consultancies and clients, digital skills are in high demand, with a particular emphasis on mobile communications developers and experts. Games design is also a growing sector. ’Workers with skills in these areas are commanding higher salaries than other creatives, since there is a shortage of talent and experience,’ says Pilgrim.
Become’s Justin Moore adds that despite public-sector spending cuts, ’I expect to see an increase in this skills sector for both public and private, since digital design solutions are seen as a cost-effective medium these days’.
One downside to the digital revolution is a reported increase in inequality between male and female, young and old in design. ’Demographics, ageism and gender are all conspiring against the digital sector, ’ says Pilgrim. ’At the mobile app seminar Become attended this year, 90 per cent of the audience was male,’ she adds.
_It’s all about the money
Although the contracts are rolling in and both permanent and freelance vacancies are up, there is little evidence of a really significant increase in salaries, which many staff are likely to feel they deserve after their years of loyalty through pay-freezes. However, at least one recruitment agency records that the salary cuts clients asked their staff to take in the past couple of years have now been corrected.
Become’s Pilgrim points out that the pay picture changes according to where you are in the country. ’The London and South East picture is somewhat more assertive and driven by slightly different skill shortage issues to the rest of the country, so salaries are starting to creep up again by an average of 3 per cent,’ says Pilgrim.
_It’s NOT all about the money
However, overall the figures suggest that consultancy staff outside London are benefiting from the biggest salary rises, closing the gap on their South East-based peers. Reliable signs of 2011 pay increases will (or won’t) materialise in late spring or early summer, when most consultancies conduct their annual reviews, but salary expectations are definitely on the rise.
’Designers are getting better at marketing themselves and confidence is returning, so they are expecting salary increases,’ says Scally. Beasley claims that ’a high proportion’ of designers are willing to leave permanent jobs in favour of freelancing if they do not receive decent salary increases. However, designers are known to be particularly highly motivated by non-financial incentives such as good working environments, interesting projects and frequent training opportunities.
Says Beasley, ’Those who worked really hard during the recession and who feel they have been extremely loyal now want to be rewarded - monetarily, certainly, but also by being valued by their consultancies.’
Last year saw training more enthusiastically embraced by consultancies than in previous years, partly because of the pressure on designers to skill up digitally, and partly because several Government-run funding programmes allowed consultancies to indulge in leadership and other courses at little expense.
’If you want to work with the best it is to your advantage to offer training,’ says Periscope managing director Kim Crawford. ’Training across all aspects of the job is important, from presentation skills to process and new technology’.
Besides training and other traditional perks such as pensions and health insurance, consultancies are starting to offer more ’soft benefits’ such as flexi-time, duvet days, opportunities to work from home, healthcare and even extra-curricular activities such as art classes, gym membership and language lessons.
’This is a really important trend,’ says Crawford. ’Candidates are particularly looking for a better work/life balance and are wanting soft benefits, like having more days off’.
_What the figures say
Averages are famed for veiling significant inequalities, but they are useful when compared over time to show the general direction of growth of an industry.
Last year saw an average rise of 7 per cent in design salaries, compared with 5 per cent in 2008-09, indicating a sustainable, if rather slow and steady, increase. However, the 7 per cent figure belies a more tumultuous reality in which people are experiencing very different salary effects depending on their role, sector and geographical location.
At one end of the scale are those working in the digital sector outside London, who last year benefited from a tasty 19 per cent rise in salary. At the other end are designers working in the capital, who received a relatively meagre 2 per cent average increase across all levels. Those in junior and middleweight positions are particularly suffering, with low salaries continuing to be offered.
Production and project managers appear to be struggling to command strong salary rises, no matter where they work, with cuts reaching a nadir of -19 per cent in the London digital scene.
London-based creative directors’ generous 2008-09 increase of 15 per cent was dramatically reduced to a 1 per cent pay cut in 2009-10, which could be explained by a natural levelling out of one overblown annual salary rise. On this principle, we may expect a similar lowering of salary rises in the digital sector outside London next year.
_What we did
The tables are drawn from a questionnaire circulated to recruitment agencies active in the design arena. The figures are based on salaries for 2010, but the commentary includes projections for 2011. Recruitment agencies happy to be identified are Gabriele Skelton, Periscope, Creative Recruitment, Design Studio People, Blue Tree Recruits, Gallery Resources and Become (formerly Mac People) and Recruitment Holdings.