Recruiting and retaining staff is one of the biggest concerns among design businesses in 2021, according to the Design Business Association’s (DBA) Annual Survey Report 2021.
Despite DBA members losing on average 10% of their workforce last year because of the pressures of the pandemic, the organisation’s annual survey suggests many are now struggling to find talent to fill their ranks.
“Freelancers have been able to fill required gaps”
“The data is telling us that design businesses are having trouble recruiting good talent,” says DBA head of services Adam Fennelow.
Many of the talented designers who lost their job last year, he says, have since pivoted their work and for whatever reason are not necessarily interested in filling the spaces studios have.
“Plenty turned their hand to their own business, have gone freelance, turned a side hustle into a success or have otherwise set up their own practice,” Fennelow explains.
On a related note, the number of freelancers engaged by studios has experienced a minimal change. This was not expected, Fennelow says, given the general thought that freelancers would be severely negatively impacted by the pandemic and studios tightening purse strings. “It seems freelancers have been able to fill required gaps,” he says.
“It’s not a lack of willingness”
The recruitment issue is not one that can be completely solved with graduate and more junior roles. “Businesses are really in need of people who can hit the ground running,” says Fennelow, adding that shrunken staff numbers mean time is precious.
For the same reason, the number of internships on offer from studios has reduced, with 12% fewer offering places than last year. “It’s not a lack of willingness, more an act of preservation,” he says.
It is not known how these decisions will affect the talent pool of designers in the coming years, but as findings suggest, this could further impact the ability for studios to find the experienced talent they need.
Beyond recruitment, studios are keen to retain their talent staff. This has led to 94% of businesses giving pay rises to staff below director level.
“It could have been worse”
Not all findings in the Annual Survey Report are cause for concern. The design industry as a whole is considerably more positive in 2021 than last year, with some three quarters reporting a “positive confidence level” score.
This year’s report has been compiled and will be published in a very different set of circumstances compared to last year. As Fennelow explains, the data for each Annual Survey is collected in May and June – so 2020’s numbers were a temperature check for an industry right in the centre of the pandemic.
“This positivity is the highlight of the report,” he says. “Businesses have been through a hard time, but generally the thinking is that it could have been worse for most – we’re generally over the worst of it now.”
As for why he thinks design businesses were largely able to whether the pandemic storm, Fennelow points to the agility of the sector. “We were able to move to home working quite quickly, and were able to utilise the government’s furlough scheme well,” he says.
You can find out more about the report on the DBA website.