Netting a small fortune

Sara Manuelli explores the reasons for the recent boom in salaries for Web designers. An increase in demand for websites seems to have pushed up the value of specialised skills

Salary survey figures just published by Corps Business, the recruitment, training and new media agency, confirm the healthy condition of the digital media sector, but have raised questions as to why salaries are growing at such a rate.

According to survey figures, pay in the creative computer market is accelerating faster than the national average of about 4 per cent, with Web designers being offered over 50 per cent more than last year.

The survey was conducted by questioning over 2200 clients and job candidates who registered with Corps Business between May 1998 and June 1999. What emerges is that while new media and new technologies offer high new job potential, there is a shortage of specialised skills. This leads employers to offer higher salaries than might be expected to candidates who fit the bill.

According to the survey, while “traditional” roles in the creative computer arena, such as the artworker, are still in demand, there is a trend towards more technical skills. “Multi-tasked” specialist artworkers are in huge demand, with senior candidates obtaining salaries in the region of £33 000.

There is, however, “a shortage of good creatives and a huge demand for people with big ideas, both for print and for screen”, says Karen Norris, recruitment manager at Corps Business. “These people often prefer to go freelance or set up their own consultancy.”

The figures also show that the multimedia sector has settled down, due to the increase of multiskilled designers who can cross over with Web technologies.

The real boom in salaries is for Web designers, though not everybody agrees on its extent. While Corps Business says its clients are offering 50 per cent more than last year, Simon Lamb, new media team leader at recruitment agency Recruit Media, says the increase is probably far lower, at about 10-15 per cent.

A good graduate in Web design who would have once earned £12 000 a year can now expect about £18 000. According to Lamb, a middle-weight designer who combines programming and Web design skills can earn between £25 000 and £30 000. These salaries are mainly due a to shortage of skilled people and to companies’ tendency to hold tightly to their staff with pay rises. “Once a client finds the right person, it will play ‘the money game’ and offer as much as it takes to snap him or her up,” says Lamb.

The freelance factor also affects the full-time employment market. Freelance Web designers can earn anything from £25 per hour to around £100 000 per annum, making it a much more attractive option to full-term contracts. “Every time I go and work for companies, they offer me a job,” says Kip Parker, a freelance Web designer who works for big corporations via recruitment agencies as well as with smaller design groups.

So shortage of specialised skills and freelances are among the reasons for Web designers’ high salaries. But, above all, it is the explosion of the digital media sector over the past two years that has raised the stakes. Big corporations have realised the economic potential of the Web and have decided to invest in it. They have now plugged into the joys of e-commerce, on-line auctioning and share dealing. The Internet has transformed itself into a money investment tool and the people designing and building these systems have become invaluable.

As a consequence, demand for database developers, systems management and technical support is increasing, and with it the demand for higher wages. According to Corps Business, this is another growing sector, with clients offering salaries in the region of £28 000.

“Technical support with real development experience can be the most expensive cost in our teams,” says Neil Churcher, director of Edwards Churcher, a London Internet design group which specialises in on-line financial information and e-commerce. “Skills to develop real transaction services as software start at around £70 per hour.” On the design side, Edwards Churcher has found that graphic designers with skills in software like Shockwave are becoming a valuable commodity. “Only the Ravensbourne course in interaction design has actually produced consistently good students with those skills, and that’s why they get snapped up so quickly. Luckily, we have those skills on board,” says Churcher.

Diane Scally, managing director of agency Creative Recruitment, sums up the digital media sector as a “a candidate-driven market”. Her agency has graduates on its book from Central St Martins, Southampton, Middlesex and London College of Printing, but also from Silicon Valley, Australia and South Africa.

“The great thing is that we can view their work beforehand, and when they arrive in the country, they usually have about 30 jobs lined up for them already,” she says of designers from overseas.

Her agency works with both small design consultancies and large financial corporations, where salaries offered are often between £50 000 and £60 000. “It’s hard for smaller companies and new design groups,” she says. “But ultimately, the candidate has to decide whether he or she wants to work for money or with good designers.”

Gary Lockton, chief executive at the Deep Group which owns Deepend London, has a different opinion. He says recruitment agencies’ salary figures are over-inflated by big corporations who try to attract people to do less exciting corporate work.

“We have a 77 staff team and none of the creative people have been found through a recruitment agency,” says Lockton. “Most designers are recruited through colleges such as Central St Martins, the Royal College of Art, Ravensbourne and Plymouth. They come to us because of our reputation in design.

“Most of the work we do is for the lower end of the value market like museums, charities and non-Governmental organisations. Money is not the main focus for the company nor for the people who work in it.”

Razorfish creative director Olof Schybergson says that although there are noticeably higher expectations in Web design salaries, people who work at Razorfish do so because it’s a creative, growing environment.

“Everybody who works here is paid what they are worth,” says Schybergson.

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