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The long-awaited green shoots of recovery in design are breaking out into the open, which is good news if you’re a junior designer left out in the cold during the recession or an experienced freelance looking to fill a skills gap. Emily Pacey assesses the potential

The design business is cautiously emerging from recession into slightly more prosperous – if uncertain – times. This is good news for the recruitment market as consultancies start to invest in expansion once again, although they are likely to be keeping new recruitment drives fairly modest. In 2011, juniors and middleweights will be top of their shopping list, representing a cheap way to inject new vigour into a design team. But while design groups might be on the lookout for fresh talent, the recession of the past two years has left it in short supply.

Those consultancies that are beginning to unbatten their hatches and stick their heads out into the cool air of the recruitment market are finding it hard to source junior and middleweight candidates with the right level of experience. The then-necessary employment freeze of 2008-09 has left an inevitable shortfall in the number of designers with one to three years’ experience. Many of them simply upped sticks and went travelling for a year or so – great for personal development, but not so good for the honing of design skills.

The situation for graduate trainees is also likely to worsen over the next few years. Last month saw violent clashes between students and the police as the former expressed their anger about proposed rises in tuition fees. Meanwhile, October’s public spending review revealed a very big axe looming over art and design education. Taken together, these two funding issues will probably threaten future numbers – and possibly the quality – of design graduates. One bright spot for future graduates is that as supply wanes, trainee salaries are likely to rise.

Next year could well see a slow upswing in graduate recruitment, but further up the career ladder there are a lot of senior staff looking to make a move after time spent hanging about while the worst of recession played out. Research released this summer by Gabriele Skelton found that a massive 43 per cent of designers were waiting for the end of the recession to change their jobs. January always sees movement in the recruitment market, but the start of 2011 could be shaping up to be a particularly busy time. Consultancies may find themselves raising salaries and offering bonuses in an effort to keep their most treasured employees.

Average salaries in the design industry fell by 6 per cent in 2010, according to the Design Business Association’s Charge Out Rates and Salary Levels report. This continued the trend for belt-tightening that was revealed in Design Week’s salary survey in March, which saw London managing directors’ salaries dip by 4 per cent. In contrast, London creative directors’ salaries rose by 15 per cent in the 12 months to March 2010, indicating that to survive the ravages of recession, consultancies believe that creativity is paramount. Recruitment in interaction design is, as usual, faring better than for many other disciplines. The digital and interaction sector’s continuing growth and development is likely to see branding consultancies appointing more and more digital specialists in 2011, particularly those with specialist or technical skills. In contrast, interior design is still languishing in the doldrums as a result of the property sector’s massive slowdown in 2009. If at any point interior design picks up again, consultancies will find a dearth of new talent in the sector and may have to come up with inventive ways of enhancing their interior design offer.

The freelance market is on the rise, with freelances achieving an average 5.7 per cent pay rise in 2009-10, according to Design Week’s freelance salary survey published in September. And freelances’ good fortune looks set to continue into 2011. Together, the leading recruitment agencies for design are predicting that freelance pay will swell by 8.3 per cent next year, with one reason for its success being consultancies’ continuing expansion into emerging markets. Demand for staff training courses was significantly up in 2010 on the previous year, according to the DBA, which provides a range of continuing professional development courses. This is in part due to a couple of enlightened Government initiatives that have sprung up recently offering the creative industries and other businesses generous training bursaries. These have miraculously survived the public spending cuts, and their continuance will help CPD to flourish in 2011.

Training courses that teach senior staff good leadership skills have proved particularly popular in 2010, a trend that is set to continue. This can only be a good thing in light of a Chartered Management Institute report issued in 2010 that found that 60 per cent of the workforce in the creative industries believes that the prevailing management style is ‘negative’.

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