Opinion

Barriers to entry for design industry graduates

April 29, 2015

New research from Think Education reveals that young designers and creatives are twice as likely as graduates in other professions to cite a ‘lack of industry connections’ as their biggest career hurdle. How do you see young designers and architects overcoming barriers to fulfilling experience in the industry?

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Article by ADR contributor, Rhys Duncan. Image above, Yale University School of Design.

In a current job market, where higher education and tertiary qualifications are considered a standard requirement for most fields of work, young people are finding it exceedingly difficult to obtain relevant employment. Many are resorting to further study options, resulting in a vast majority of young people being deemed overqualified for entry level jobs or intern positions, proving even more difficult to break into their chosen industries.

Young graduates of the design industry are well acquainted with this difficulty. New research from Think Education reveals that young designers and creatives are twice as likely than graduates in other professions to cite a ‘lack of industry connections’ as their biggest career hurdle. Almost one in five identify this as a main barrier to employment, as compared to an average of 9.8 percent in other industries.

A recent poll of 1,500 Australian workers aged 18-35 revealed that around 70 percent of all young workers believe they will progress in their career in the next 12 months. Of this surveyed group, those in the design industry were found to be less likely than average to feel ‘stuck in their job’ (34.4 percent), and more likely to have a plan for how they will get ahead (67.5 percent).

Professor Helmut Lueckenhausen, executive dean of the design faculty at Think Education, notes that although it is “encouraging to see that young designers and creatives are confident about their career opportunities, and are more likely to have a plan for getting ahead,” it is quite discomforting that, “a lack of industry connections [is considered to be the] main hurdle to career progression. This reinforces just how difficult it can be for many to make and maintain strong industry contacts.”

For that reason, the importance of networking and maintaining meaningful industry connections are vital to one’s success, for young and established designers alike. A natural progression often involves obtaining an intern position or other such unpaid work within the industry.

Internships are now an established reality for students graduating from design courses. Seen as a way of combating the lack of industry connections mentioned above, graduates often willingly volunteer for (sometimes competitive) unpaid positions.

Although some internship programs tend to be largely unregulated, other programs have the potential to benefit graduates and employers alike. Large architecture firms such as HASSELL have longstanding formalised internship programs exposing young architects to the realities of working in the industry, an aspect of formal education that is left long ignored in more conceptual university degrees. Similarly, mentoring programs and incubator style retail outlets such as Workshopped seem to be successful in guiding product designers who wish to establish their own practice.

Unfortunately many internships end up being unchecked arrangements. As such, the question remains as to how the culture of unpaid interning is shaping our professional design culture. The issues arise quickly within competitive industries such as design, when those industries are under performing in commercial markets. For those wanting to launch their own designs recent cuts to the NEIS scheme can also be seen as a barrier to young design minded entrepreneurs wanting to start small businesses.

“If you want to get ahead . . . if you want more, you have to take charge and find ways to meet new people or take that next step,” Prof Lueckenhausen agrees. It is imperative for young creatives and industry professionals alike to be aware of the challenges of being a recent design graduate.

How do you see young designers and architects overcoming barriers to fulfilling experience in the industry? ADR wants to know, what have been your experiences with graduating and interning? Comments are open on this story below.

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