Work up

Could spring really be in the air? After a four-year slump in design recruitment, it seems that a recovery is finally underway, says John Stones

It is difficult to find a design recruitment agency that is not encouragingly upbeat at the moment. Take, for instance, Periscope managing director Kim Crawford, who says the recovery is strong and speaks of a ‘definite new sense of confidence in the market’. Or Emma Barette, senior recruitment consultant at Recruit Media, who says the market as a whole is more buoyant than it has been for three years. She sees an ’emphasis on clients investing in permanent recruitment rather than plugging the holes with freelances’, which she interprets as her clients feeling much more positive about the market.

Of course, some of the optimism can be attributed to recruitment consultants talking up their own business. However, there are signs that it is not just hot air, and recruitment agencies are certainly putting their money where their mouth is. Two marketing and creative recruitment agencies have moved into the design arena to take advantage of the upturn in business: after 20 years of independence, BDG Recruitment was this month bought by general marketing services recruitment agency Xchangeteam (the company will now be known as BDG Xchangeteam), and Blue Skies has moved into design recruitment. The strength of the design jobs market can also be seen by those who are scanning the recruitment ads.

To see what shape the recovery in the design industry is taking, what the current recruitment trends are and where these developments are going to take the industry, we sent out five key questions to the recruitment industry.

Here is what our panel of seven recruitment experts had to say in response. Which sectors are most and least buoyant, and why?

Among recruitment agencies, there is near unanimity about the two areas where there is greatest demand for designers – packaging and on-line design.

Packaging in particular seems to be the hottest area, with nearly all recruitment agencies struggling to meet demand. ‘In pure brand and packaging, there is a real lack of suitable individuals,’ says Network managing director Stuart Newman. Mustard Consultancy director Ian Coulson adds that demand is so strong for packaging designers that ‘virtually the whole of London’s freelance talent pool is employed working simultaneously all over the capital’.

BDG Xchangeteam chief executive Valerie Gascoyne puts the consistent buoyancy of fmcg packaging down to ‘consumer trends, which are becoming more sophisticated and competitive’. Controversies around food packaging are likely to intensify demand for designers (DW 3 March).

The other star is interactive and on-line design, which has come of age in convincing style. Coulson is far from alone when he claims he is being ‘bombarded with requests for designers who know how to brand clients effectively within the Web environment’. Gascoyne says interactive media is an essential part of client communications and marketing, pointing to a recent survey that suggests a significant rise in on-line advertising: on-line spend is to rise by 40 per cent, compared with a 4 per cent rise for radio and TV.

Interiors and account management are two other areas where Newman is seeing ‘strong demand and the beginnings of signs of skill shortages’.

As business picks up, suits are again needed. According to Coulson, ‘New business people who prove they can convert [clients] are like gold dust, and account managers with specific experience within key international markets are in huge demand.’

On the negative side, there are areas that have yet to see an upturn. According to Gascoyne, the corporate identity area is ‘still very sluggish’.Panel of recruitment experts:

• Network managing director Stuart Newman

• Recruit Media senior recruitment consultant Emma Barette

• BDG Xchangeteam chief executive Valerie Gascoyne

• Major Players director Paula Carrahar

• Periscope managing director Kim Crawford

• Workstation director Nathan Mayatt

• Mustard Consultancy director Ian CoulsonSectors in demand: FMCG packaging, interactive media Sectors not in demand: Corporate identity

Who is recruiting – is it the larger or smaller consultancies? What demand is there for in-house designers?

While there is clear agreement that a recovery is underway and about which areas are the healthiest, there is more divergence in opinion about who is doing the recruiting. Recruit Media’s Emma Barette says, ‘It’s not as clear-cut as to say that it is large or small consultancies recruiting – where large groups are replacing the loss they suffered in the downturn, the small groups are experiencing the natural flow of resignations and recruitment as the market picks up.’

As consultancies increase staffing following pitch wins and development of business, she says it’s primarily those ‘in vogue’ that are recruiting. Again, demand seems to be on both the creative and the account management side.

If anything, it’s the smaller groups who are doing better, as they ‘claw business away from the larger PLCs’, suggests Gascoyne of BDG Xchangeteam.

But recruitment agencies say they note an increased trend for designers who are willing to consider moving to in-house roles. Perhaps Seymour Powell partner Richard Seymour’s recent appointment to become creative director of design at Unilever, overseeing the Dove brand, is only the tip of the iceberg (DW 3 March).

Periscope’s Kim Crawford says, ‘We are getting strong demand for in-house designers – clients are becoming more interested in taking on designers and account handlers from consultancies.’

A better work/life balance, or ‘not as many late nights’, as Major Playors director Paula Carrahar puts it, is clearly appealing. But perhaps the primary driver in the trend for designers considering in-house roles is money. Workstation director Nathan Mayatt says, ‘Often in-house studios are part of a large organisation that tends to be financially better off. There has been a bigger increase in salaries at in-house studios than consultancies.’ You can expect to earn a premium of at least £2000 working in-house, but that can rise to £10 000 for senior roles, he says.

Network’s Stuart Newman says candidates can afford to be quite picky. ‘The willingness of candidates to consider going in-house depends very much on the company involved. Many are reluctant to move outside of London and we have seen small satellite offices being created just so companies can get the right people. There is still a stigma involved with going in-house in this country, whereas it is seen as just as prestigious in the US,’ he explains.

Is there more call for junior or senior designers?

The good news is that there seems to be call at all ends of the spectrum, with different agencies noting varying areas of demand. Over the past few lean years, many disillusioned designers chose to – or were forced to – leave the industry. For instance, Recruit Media’s Emma Barette says one of her agency’s most talented freelances decided to retrain as a plumber.

The slump since the beginning of the century also means that insufficient numbers were recruited into the design industry to meet demand in an upturn, such as the one occurring at the moment. This situation has left a dearth of talented middleweight designers, but a glut of juniors late to get into the market after graduation, she says.

As a result, employers are being forced to consider younger designers. ‘We are getting more and more consultancies asking for bright young things with a year or two’s experience, who are really passionate and keen to develop,’ says Kim Crawford of Periscope.

Workstations Nathan Mayatt says that while business confidence is at a three-year high, there is still underlying concern, which is slowing the recruitment process. He says this is particularly evident at the most senior appointments, with cautious clients sometimes taking an ‘extremely long’ time to finalise the process.

Are there any ancillary skills, such as languages, which are in demand?

Here there is little consensus, other than many recruitment agencies suggesting that there is a call for candidates to be proficient in software package InDesign.

However, Stuart Newman of Network notes that employers are also looking for old-fashioned skills. ‘We are seeing employers looking to see what traditional skills designers have,’ he explains. ‘There has been too much emphasis on technology. They [now] want to see if a designer can draw and present a concept in rough format.’

German, French and Spanish are mentioned as useful, as are the languages of emerging economies such as Russia, China and Eastern Europe.

What is your overall take on the current market and economic indicators for the future?

The buoyancy of the design industry means the balance of power has shifted to candidates. Employers are not only having to consider how to retain and incentivise their staff; there is also an inexorable pressure on salaries, which agencies say have risen over the past couple of months. Nathan Mayatt at Workstation expects salaries to rise by up to 10 per cent over the year, but says this could double for senior or specialist roles.

Network’s Stuart Newman agrees, adding, ‘Candidates are calling the shots, and this is creating inflationary pressures on salaries.’ He adds the concern that ‘it might then all go pop’.

As the industry regains its economic health, few suggest it will assume a radically different structure, save for a trend to working in-house and a commonly suggested requirement for designers to adopt a more flexible attitude to working across disciplines. According to Newman, ‘Designers are very specialised in this country compared with the design labour market in Europe, where is it much more common for designers to cross over. Perhaps this will develop here as well.’ He also predicts that there will be more concentration on design rather than on brand consultancy.

The General Election, for which campaigning seems already to have begun, is not something recruitment agencies see as affecting economic confidence, largely because the result is regarded as a foregone conclusion.

The economic recovery itself, however, is still in its infancy, and the fragile resurgence is at the mercy of world events. But if you are looking for a job or negotiating a pay rise, things, for the present time at least, are looking rosy.

Latest articles