Prolonged US Unemployment, The Non-Recovery & What it Means for Young Designers

Paul Krugman’s op-ed in last weeks New York Times neatly summarizes the dire economic and political situation presently facing the United States and eloquently addresses the long-term impact of prolonged unemployment.

    “Unemployment isn’t just blighting the lives of millions, it’s undermining America’s future. The longer this goes on… …the more young people will find their prospects destroyed because they can’t find a decent starting job.”

At ICON Worldwide, we are very close to this issue, we see a lot of recent college graduates and have a very clear sense of how difficult the US job market remains.  And, we are committed to not letting the economic pressures of today, knock talented people out of the design business. For graphic designers the market is flooded with recent graduates, as well as more experienced designers competing for these very scarce job openings.

Amazingly, the most exciting growth area in marketing and design for the last several years has been interactive and social media.  Here there ARE jobs for designers who are trained and have real experience implementing programs, but university design programs do not teach these skills.  University curriculums have not kept up with the times, and are not providing designers with the skills they need to be employable.  It’s astonishing to think about a recent college graduate leaving a university design program without any formal training in website screen design.  From my perspective this is a real failure of design programs to prepare their students to be employable.  And, as a result, design firms like ours end up picking up some of the slack in helping to develop these marketable skills. (Related post: University Design Programs are Failing Young Designers.)

In the ICON internship program we typically see two types of applicants; recent college graduates, and those who have been in the job market for one to three years. The interns who have already worked as designers arrive here knowing how competitive the job market is and how hard they will have to work to succeed in the design business.  They use this internship as a time to develop new skills, especially in the interactive and social media area, and are extremely successful in finding full-time employment in big agencies when they return to the US.

For students preparing to enter the job market, so much of the news and messaging they receive is negative and anxiety provoking.  The HSG Talents Conference at the University of St.Gallen is the largest job fair in Switzerland, and for the past two years we have worked to bring a spirit of optimism into the design and headlines. We worked collaboratively with student teams to develop the marketing platforms each year. In 2010, we worked under the line “Choose Your Path” and in 2011, “Create Your Future”.  Both lines are reflective of our belief in inspiring recent graduates to rise to meet the challenge of this tough job market, without sacrificing their professional ambitions.

This economy separates the passionate and gifted from the rest of the pack.  We know if takes tremendous chutzpah for a recent graduate to move to New York, Chicago, Atlanta or San Francisco, to follow their career ambitions.  And, when they get there, they need to work harder and keep up the stamina for several years until they hopefully get settled. Long-term, it is important not just to the advertising and design industry that young talent is cultivated and supported, but to our society at large.