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?