Agencies play dirty in face of skills shortage

Recruitment must be one of the most lucrative areas of the design business. With consultancies crying out for senior creative staff as well as “suits”, particularly in identity and branding, specialist recruitment agencies aren’t short of work. And with commissions of around 20 per cent of the first year’s salary charged for successful placements, you’d expect them to be awash with cash.

But it isn’t that easy. We are frequently told of skill shortages in some design sectors, with vacancies hard to fill regardless of the financial package on offer. Digital media and interiors spring to mind as areas where recruitment agencies have their work cut out to meet the consultancy’s brief.

Then there are the number of clients advertising top-flight creative and design management jobs, not least in Design Week’s pages. Though this is great for design as a whole, it eats into the pool of people available to consultancies which can’t necessarily compete on salaries.

Many prospective employers prefer to act on word-of-mouth, but recruitment agencies still play a key part in design. But while our listings play up the positive attributes of favoured agencies, we constantly hear stories of unscrupulous dealings by recruiters desperate to secure commissions. Consultancy bosses complain of staff being poached in ways that challenge the notion of ethics, would-be employers speak of agencies fielding candidates unsuited to the job and candidates tell of not being properly briefed before the interview. All concerned must be on their guard and make sure all relevant information is out there on the table before spending time and emotion on interviews.

A growth area for design recruitment is the number of international appointments on offer. With consultancies such as digital media specialist Deepend opening offices across the world and global identity networks such as Enterprise IG, FutureBrand and Interbrand expanding, opportunities for staff to move abroad, particularly to the US, have never been greater.

And it isn’t just on the consultancy side. A number of US retailers and manufacturers are trawling for talent here, partly because of the UK’s reputation in these areas, but possibly because Britons are relatively cheap. Then there are the one-offs, such as Design Museum director Paul Thompson’s move to head New York’s Smithsonian Institute design museum.

The world is open for those with experience in the UK design business. Accountant Willott Kingston Smith says the result is inflated salaries in the UK, but how well can the industry support them?

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