Editorial – Making it easier to break into the industry

Last summer, as news was breaking that universities would be able to charge up to £9000 per year in tuition fees, I remember discussing with colleagues a follow-up piece that would look at alternative routes into the design industry for people who were unable to afford to pay for a degree course.


The problem, we quickly realised, is that there really aren’t any other ways to break into design, other than the well-trodden path of degree, internships and first job.

Gone are the days where you could start out, with few qualifications but bags of talent, on the bottom rung of the ladder – making tea, delivering post – and quickly work your way up in the industry.

Read Mike Dempsey’s evocative blog on how he broke into the industry in the early ‘60s – taking evening classes before blagging a job as a messenger/driver/sweeper in a creative studio and it’s hard to imagine his story transposed the present day.

The current situation leads not just the obvious problem of a glaring lack of social diversity in design but also (and let’s be cold-hearted and pragmatic for a minute) a lack of decent talent coming through to consultancies.

Last year’s Design Commission report on education made the clear conclusion that design education isn’t serving the industry properly, while Design Business Association chief executive Deborah Dawton has suggested that a poll of DBA members suggest they want diversity in design, though not for diversity’s sake.

Earlier this week, the Associate Parliamentary Design and Innovation Group held a forum to examine alternative routes into design and ways in which the industry could better engage with education.

Three suggestions arose: better mentoring, changing the way universities structure their courses, and promoting the value of apprenticeships.

Mentoring of young people is obviously hugely important, as this can be the first contact they might have with the industry.

Restructuring university courses to better serve the industry would be a huge step towards making students more business-savvy and combating graduate unemployment (interesting, recent graduate Alan Clarke suggested integrating a year in industry into courses in a piece we ran last year).

Potentially the most interesting suggestion is a reappraisal of the role of apprenticeships. As APDIG manager Jocelyn Bailey points out, apprenticeships are in desperate need of a rebrand and could become a very different thing from how people currently perceive them.

A degree-equivalent apprenticeship, the forum suggested, with an integrated year in industry, could provide a viable route into the industry and result in better-skilled graduates, ready to hit the ground running in their first jobs.

The advertising industry, it was noted, is leading the way in apprenticeships, through the IPA’s Creative Pioneers scheme. And certainly, for an apprenticeship, mentoring or education change programme to work would require a huge buy-in from the design industry.

But when there’s not just a moral imperitive to improving access to design, but a clear business necessity, then is it something consultancies can afford not to take an interest in?

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  • Justine Wright November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    CSD has long been concerned about the lack of effective collaboration between industry and education, along with the clear lack of diversity across the workforce, accessibility and understanding of skills development to support the design sector and developed the CSD Course Endorsement Programme to address these issues.
    1.Courses applying for a CSD Award are enabled to differentiate themselves as being fit for purpose – courses are reviewed by peers from industry – NOT educationalists, or public sector bodies, but practicing designers who have taken time out of their working lives to work with education
    2.Courses are assessed against the key criteria and core competencies that lie at the heart of being a professional designer, contextualised for design disciplines and relevant, transferable and appropriate, making it accessible to students, education and industry
    3.The aims of the CSD Course Endorsement Programme are to encourage greater harmonisation between what courses are offering at specific levels of learning and industry needs – the professional body is not seeking to determine the values and requirements, but to enable the development of skills through the organisations both delivering and requiring them.
    4.The programme and indeed the Society aims to deliver a strong network of new designers in the UK with fit for purpose skills – promoting professionalism and the profession of design.
    The CSD Course Endorsement Programme is rapidly gaining momentum and recognition with some of the key design universities and a handful of FE colleges -all interested in becoming endorsed. Yet, as Education institutions are required to pay for the application and if successful to pay an annual licence fee (max of 5 years) to maintain an award, we do not expect that every course will apply, given the squeeze on budgets, but the current level of interest would indicate a strong commitment to continuing relevant and fit for purpose design education in the UK.

    CSD welcomes the debate on accessibility and movement from Learning to Earning™ currently underway, particularly in light of the consultations into Chartered Designer status.

  • Matt November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    I am a 20 year old assistant designer, I skipped uni, started my own magazine, built up a portfolio of design work, got a job in Marketing and Design and the age of 19 ahead of 10 graduates and I am now an assistant promotional designer for a large sports retail company.

    I chose not to do a degree based on the fact I am not totally sure what I want to do with my life long term. I have design and art talent from an early age.

    If you work hard and make your own chances you don’t need a degree in Graphic Design, I am looking at doing qualifications close to degree level while im working to boost my future prospects but experience and contacts in this industry are key.

    I think uni degrees are misold and hyped up especially to the younger generation.

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