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New research finds design skills are vital to UK productivity but businesses face a growing skills gap

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Design Council today (6 Dec) launched their comprehensive report Designing a Future Economy: Developing design skills for productivity and innovation. The research is the first-time design skills have been captured and measured against economic performance to understand their entire contribution to the UK economy.

Among the key findings are:

  • Design skills are used across the economy, not just in design firms. Ranging from technology to health, and including sectors such as banking and construction, design is at the core
  • Workers with design skills contribute £209bn to the UK economy (GVA)
  • Workers using design skills are 47% more productive than the average UK worker, delivering almost £10 extra per hour in GVA
  • Skills shortages and gaps amongst those already working in design-skilled occupations cost the UK economy £5.9bn per year
  • At least 2.5m people use design skills in their day to day work, which is the equivalent to 1 in 12 workers

The study has brought to light the need for wider recognition and investment in design skills, particularly at a time when stagnant productivity continues to challenge UK economic growth.

Crucially Design Council identify that whilst design occupations such as architecture, software or product design are well understood the wider importance of design skills in a range of occupations are less recognised. These occupations, the report finds, are often higher value jobs at the forefront of the fourth industrial revolution and the charity calls for urgent integration of design into key STEM (STEAMD) subjects and the reintroduction of Design and Technology to the GCSE curriculum.

Speaking today Design Council Chief Executive Sarah Weir (OBE) said:

“Design is all around us, it is in our homes, our offices, our travel networks, and even in our health and education systems. Yet it is precisely because design is at the centre of our lives and technological change that its value is often overlooked. Our research not only sought to change this but to truly understand the value of design to the UK economy”.

“Even Design Council were surprised by the scale of the findings. We knew design skills had a wider impact on our economy but £209Billion (47% higher productivity) is so significant it makes this research even more important, particularly when decisions on industrial strategy and skills investment are being taken – Design skills are not an enrichment they are a necessity for the UK, and it is time to act”.

“The growing design skills gap is deeply concerning. We estimate that skills shortages and amongst those working in design-skilled occupations cost the UK economy £5.9bn per year. Alongside the dramatic drop in take-up of Design and Technology GCSE and lack of additional design training provided by firms we need urgent action from the government and industry, as design and technology change the way we work and live”.

“We hope this research is a wake-up call for all of us. The opportunity for design skills to play a central role in our future economy is vast – now is the time to seize it and play a leading role on a global stage once more.”

Design Council recommendations are:

  • Active IQ EPA Button
  • Education providers and regulators embed design into the curriculum
  • Moving from STEM to STEAMD
  • Greater support and resource for lifelong learning

Designing a Future Economy is an explorative research study drawing on an in-depth analysis of UK and US data. It aims was to investigate the skills used within the design economy, and the link between these skills, productivity, and innovation.

The analysis used the definition of design conceived and implemented in the Design Economy research study of 2015. The ‘design economy’ refers to the totality of designers working in both design sectors (such as advertising) as well as in other sectors of the economy (such as finance). This new study is fundamentally about the range of skills utilised by the design economy and the link between those skills and economic value.

It has not been possible to measure the economic value of specific skills because the data that would be required to do so is insufficiently detailed. While some surveys in the UK ask detailed skills-related questions, the data is not structured in such a way as to allow in-depth analysis by specific skill. Instead, this study uses occupations (and sectors) as a proxy.

To overcome this challenge, this study developed an innovative research methodology utilising the US O*Net dataset of job characteristics, to investigate the skills which are distinctive for design. By mapping this data to UK Standard Occupational Classification (SOC), the Design Economy definition of design occupations has been employed to identify the most important skills associated with design occupations.

During this process, we identified 13 skills that are considered to be of above average importance to design occupations. This list of skills was extrapolated to identify other occupations elsewhere across the UK economy which also report using the same skills – which we call ‘Design skilled occupations.

Using these frameworks, the study then went on to utilise a wide range of economic and labour market datasets, mostly provided by the Office of National Statistics (ONS), to investigate the key research questions.

Based on the analysis of distinctive design skills, the study proposes a more developed definition of design and then builds the evidence base utilising this definition. This means the study adds value to the previous work and creates new insight, providing policy makers and other stakeholders with key intelligence regarding the role of design in promoting economic growth, productivity improvements and stimulating innovation.

The report was authored and designed by Design Council. The analysis for the skills catalogue and economic figures was undertaken by Ortus Research, following a feasibility study undertaken by RF Associates

About Design Council: Design Council is an enterprising charity and recognised as the lead authority and the UK government’s adviser on the use of strategic design. In 2011, Design Council merged with CABE, the government’s adviser on design in the built environment. Together, we work passionately utilising design to improve people’s lives with the belief that design-led innovation can stimulate business growth, transform public services and enhance places and cities. Our approach is people-centred and enables the delivery of positive social, environmental and economic change.

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