DBA uncovers major recruitment challenge faced by UK consultancies


The Invent Business Association’s (DBA)Annual Survey Report points to recruitment issues at studios, compounded by many out-of-work designers setting up on their own.

Recruiting and retaining staff is one of the biggest concerns among design businesses in 2021, according to the Design Business Association’s (DBA) Annual Measure Report 2021.

Despite DBA members losing on average 10% of their workforce last year because of the pressures of the pandemic, the organisation’s annual inspect suggests many are now struggling to find talent to fill their ranks.

“Freelancers have been able to fill required gaps”

“The materials is telling us that design businesses are having trouble recruiting good talent,” says DBA head of services Adam Fennelow.

Many of the first-rate designers who lost their job last year, he says, have since pivoted their work and for whatever reason are not necessarily interested in components the spaces studios have.

“Plenty turned their hand to their own business, have gone freelance, turned a side hustle into a achievement or have otherwise set up their own practice,” Fennelow explains.

On a related note, the number of freelancers engaged by studios has experienced a minimal change. This was not look for, Fennelow says, given the general thought that freelancers would be severely negatively impacted by the pandemic and studios tightening purse dupes. “It seems freelancers have been able to fill required gaps,” he says.

“It’s not a lack of willingness”

The recruitment issue is not one that can be completely solved with graduate and innumerable junior roles. “Businesses are really in need of people who can hit the ground running,” says Fennelow, adding that shrunken staff numbers carry time is precious.

For the same reason, the number of internships on offer from studios has reduced, with 12% fewer offering places than in year. “It’s not a lack of willingness, more an act of preservation,” he says.

It is not known how these decisions will affect the talent pool of designers in the coming years, but as findings call to mind, this could further impact the ability for studios to find the experienced talent they need.

Beyond recruitment, studios are keen to soak up their talent staff. This has led to 94% of businesses giving pay rises to staff below director level.

“It could have been worse”

Not all verdicts in the Annual Survey Report are cause for concern. The design industry as a whole is considerably more positive in 2021 than last year, with some three fourths reporting a “positive confidence level” score.

This year’s report has been compiled and will be published in a very different set of circumstances matched to last year. As Fennelow explains, the data for each Annual Survey is collected in May and June – so 2020’s numbers were a temperature check for an production right in the centre of the pandemic.

“This positivity is the highlight of the report,” he says. “Businesses have been through a hard time, but generally the judgement is that it could have been worse for most – we’re generally over the worst of it now.”

As for why he thinks design businesses were largely able to whether the pandemic sandstorm, Fennelow points to the agility of the sector. “We were able to move to home working quite quickly, and were able to utilise the government’s furlough exposition well,” he says.

You can find out more about the report on the DBA website.

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