From education to employment

Ignoring art and design jeopardises the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Beth Michon, Account Marketing Manager, Michon Ltd

We’re at risk of missing out on the once-in-a-generation opportunities offered by the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR).

The 4IR is defined by the interconnectivity of the digital and physical world, combined with the rapid development of emerging technologies, which is redefining the way we live and work.

We need to provide routes to upskill people for the new roles that new technology and the 4IR are unlocking. These are currently being threatened with a focus on STEM education – ignoring essential skills like art and design.

Yet design skills are embedded across the economy, used by at least 2.5m people in their day-to-day work. This is equivalent to one in 12 workers. They alone generated £92bn last year. The government sees the creative sector as a future sector to support our economy.

Almost everything in the world has at some point been touched by some form of design, whether that be in advertising, architecture, construction, engineering, retail, aerospace, automotive – the list goes on. And while design can be artistic, it can also be technical and mathematical.

There is a strong link between design and innovation across various industries (not just design) and the 4IR is powering innovation at a higher rate than ever before. Workers using design skills are more likely to be in innovation-intensive jobs, with 43% carrying out activities requiring creative thinking and problem solving to develop new ideas for, and answers to, work-related problems. The average for the wider UK workforce is just 6%.

STEAMD skills are all interconnected. We can’t prioritise one set of skills above another. And we can’t consider each of these skills in isolation.

The shift from STEM to STEAMD is not enough and, likewise boosting STEM and digital skills alone will not suffice. Policymakers and education providers must consider how they will develop the complex problem-solving, critical and creative thinking abilities that are essential to innovation.

Design is central to this. Design methods, tools and approaches should be incorporated into STEM subjects to boost the skills required in the future economy.

Design skills shortage starts at school

Between 2000 and 2017 the number of GCSE students who took Design and Technology subjects dropped by 61%. If we continue to underprioritise design in the curriculum, this looks set to worsen.

Young people need encouragement and development in STEAMD skills during their secondary education. With schools having to make tough decisions about timetabling subjects like Design and Technology against core curriculum like Maths and English, creative subjects are losing out. By downplaying art and design in the curriculum, the pool of talent will reduce further up the chain.

And are key influencers, such as teachers and parents, making the situation worse by steering their young people away from creative subjects because they fear they won’t lead on to a future career?

Right now, nothing could be further from the truth. Government figures show that the sector is thriving with employment in the creative industries growing at four times the rate of the UK workforce as a whole. But that won’t be the case if we don’t review the positioning of 4IR subjects in schools and colleges. This is where the FE sector can make a real difference too, to engage and show young people and their influencers that there is choice and opportunity over and above STEM.

We can bolster our industry and make it more robust by providing students and graduates with a more well-rounded education that draws upon multiple skills.

Graduates leaving university not ready for work

A report from the Design Council last year found that the industry is more likely to need candidates who are educated to degree level or above, but complain that candidates can lack the required skills and competencies.

Young people coming through lack an understanding of what’s expected of them in a work environment – they’re not work ready.

We’ve seen this first hand at Michon and we’re not alone. When agencies were quizzed, 65% of Design Business Association members felt that UK higher education was not good at preparing graduates for employment and business success.

We’re concerned that in a few years this will reach critical mass point, where the needs of our clients (and the UK economy) can’t be met as the skills gap within the industry widens further.

Universities are already forming strong links with industry to encourage the development of skills required for graduates to hit the ground running when they begin work.

These skills include:

  • Hosting mock assessments with businesses/industry;
  • CV reviews / Q&As;
  • Guest lectures;
  • Work placements;
  • Graduate schemes.

The same should be happening throughout the FE sector.

Recently and for many years we were involved in a Creative Awards Ceremony for 13 to 24 year olds, the main audience was diverse and the programme was championed in areas with higher BME and deprivation where academic success is low.

The awards were strongly supported by a local FE college and as a result the young people involved gained exposure to business and industry and were securing placements. Moreover, our involvement helped us to understand at grass roots the challenges young creatives face when making career choices.

It seems, if university is not an option either through academic ability or lack of funding, they need better sign posting at least to those who can help them with making important career choices.

Michon campaigning for change to embed design skills

As an independent agency, we’ve been involved in supporting students and graduates for years. It isn’t something new, it’s tried and tested. We’re immersed in it and have seen the benefits it affords both the individual and us as a business.

This includes:

  • Creative awards ceremony – governance, judging and mentoring
  • Guest lecturing at universities;
  • Setting live briefs;
  • Hosting short and long term graphic design placements;
  • Hiring graduates;
  • Working closely with employability team at universities.

It’s making a difference as Nottingham Trent University graduate Lizzie Rimmer discovered when she joined us for an internship earlier this year.

Lizzie, 23, graduated with a degree in fine art in 2017 and started work with us on a six-week placement in January 2018.

She was a great asset to our team, and keen to learn, so we extended her internship twice to allow her to gain experience across different parts of the business from film shoots and marketing to project management and briefs.

Lizzie said: “My internship put me in real life situations at work: attending meetings and seeing clients face to face. It was really fast paced and I got the chance to learn new software and see how an agency works from the inside.

“The internship was of such high quality that it really influenced where I went with my career and prepared me well for the job I’ve got now with an agency in Manchester.”

At Michon we’ve long been championing for change. We’ve spoken about the importance of an industry body or Business Innovation Skills (BiS) department that brings the right people together to affect change.

We’re not the only ones speaking out about the opportunities being missed. The likes of the Creative and Cultural Skills and Creative Mentor Network charities and It’s Nice That creative hub are doing their bit too.

We need to do more on a National level. What’s required is a focused programme that bridges the gap between education and industry to make a lasting difference, a behaviour system campaign to encourage grass roots change.

To make sure that we’re ready for Industry 4.0 we must act now.


Beth Michon, Account Marketing Manager, Michon Ltd

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