Computer Arts - Opinion - Where Next?
Future Publishing, August 2009

The Class of 2009 have got a rough ride ahead of them. A recent survey by the Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR) claims there has been a 24.9% fall in graduate employment vacancies this year. Yes, you read that correctly - a quarter of opportunities for this year’s graduates have all but evaporated. Ok, so the figures come from mainly commercial companies, BT, Lloyds, Nestle, etc, where competition for jobs is pretty fierce – 48 applicants for every graduate vacancy. But it’s getting tough out there and that’s right across the board.

Some might say that design graduates have always had it tough, that the rest of the graduate population are getting a taste of some healthy Darwinian competition – the fittest survive. True enough - for those that leave art or design school or university with a degree certificate in one hand and a portfolio of work in the other, the odds have always been stacked against them. A 2006 study, Design a New Design Industry, by the Design Council found that only 39% of all new recruits to design vacancies came from education, and for those in employment - only 41% of all designers hold a degree level qualification.

How, then, to stay ahead of the pack, stand out in the crowd? Start early, is my advice – research according to The Business of Design, Design Industry Research 2005, again conducted by the Design Council, concluded that a mere 29% of all design students engage in work placements during their courses. Don’t be one of the 71%; make industry contacts quick and learn from them, get out there and get some work experience, an internship or an industry placement (call it what you will) under your belt. And don’t be intent to stay home – go global, get off and intern in Berlin, New York, San Francisco where you’ll get a bigger and better entry on your CV, and perhaps more importantly - a bigger and better stab at life. Hitch, busk and sofa-surf – you’ve nothing to lose but your chains. So, you’re £20K down, what’s another £2K to add to the loan/debt (call it what you will)?

But, if as one of the 71% that have yet to get jiggy with the ‘real world’, and you are leaving school, college or university right now without a clue as to who, where or what you can show your work to, what are your options? Well, start by looking on the bright side – be positive, the chances are you have youth on your side and it is worth noting that 62% of all designers are under the age of 40. This is a young person’s game. Need another reason to remain upbeat? Research, tracking 2000 design graduates from 14 different institutions, claims that even though it takes longer to secure employment; as many as 80% are eventually successful in gaining design-related jobs. Eventually.

But you’re in the here-and-now, the no-man’s-land between the two E’s – education and employment. What should you do? Don’t panic – stay cool, hang loose, admit nothing. But do make a plan – don’t hide your head hoping that the global recession will come to an abrupt end; be positive, proactive and professional. Keep fresh, keep focussed and keep forward-thinking – decide where you want to be, decide on your pathway to that goal and go for it. And hey - don’t stress about the statistics. After all, you’re a design graduate – and we’ve always had a rough ride…

Lawrence Zeegen is Head of the School of Communication Design, Kingston University where he leads undergraduate and postgraduate courses in Graphic Design, Illustration, Photography and Motion Graphics. He is a contributing illustrator for The Guardian Newspaper and his 4th book; What is Illustration? is published in September.