Colleges should come clean on job prospects

Things are getting pretty fraught at colleges across the country as design students rush to complete their projects for the all-important final-year show. A lot hangs on how their work is received and by whom, with regard to their future in design.

Things are getting pretty fraught at colleges across the country as design students rush to complete their projects for the all-important final-year show. A lot hangs on how their work is received and by whom, with regard to their future in design.

The very best, in terms of design, will have more than one chance to show their wares. These are the high-flyers who have won prestigious awards such as RSA Bursaries or British Design and Art Direction’s student prizes due to be announced in June.

For this happy band a job in design, doing creative work, is more or less assured, but it isn’t so for a high proportion of design graduates. With some 62 000 designers coming out of higher education last year, and most likely a similar number this year, there simply aren’t enough jobs to go round. It’s not a new situation, but so little has been done to soften the blow.

Design industry players have talked about apprenticeship schemes or placements to hone consultancy skills in graduates. But that still doesn’t guarantee a permanent job at the end of the process, and there’s a limit to the number of inexperienced start-ups the industry can take.

The colleges, meanwhile, are keen to tempt back people with first degrees to undertake post-graduate courses that make them ever more specialist and, in theory at least, more employable. But that solution is often as much about raising cash as fitting students for the job.

What is sadly missing is honesty from the outset of a course that a degree doesn’t automatically mean a job in design. There is much talk in the average curriculum of “transferable skills”, but how often is it spelled out to students exactly what that means? Despite that neat little phrase, they have not been encouraged during their studies to think of the richness of experience they are gaining and that design is as valid a degree subject to fit them for a variety of careers in or outside design. The upshot is that graduates remaining unemployed, say, 12 months on feel they have failed in their vocation.

It’s been said so often before, not least in this column, that an education in design gives students a great grounding, teaching process and teamwork, as well as unlocking creativity. It is in the industry’s interests that only the best make it into the profession, but that doesn’t belittle the creative contribution others can make in other aspects of life. Wouldn’t it be great if colleges were more honest. The morale of design graduates would improve and we wouldn’t have to keep pointing out the failure of the system.

Lynda Relph-Knight

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