Design interns

Design Internships: opportunity or exploitation

In my work with design agency owners I’m often asked for advice on employing interns. This got me talking to a lot of colleagues. I found there are a myriad of reasons and motivations behind agencies taking on interns.

The more altruistic owners do it because they want to help young designers get a start. They readily acknowledge that it’s time consuming and expensive for the business. Many two or three person studios tell me the added cost and time are the reasons they can’t take on an intern.

At the other end of the scale I see agencies taking on an intern as a form of cheap labour.

I hear many reports about desperate graduates offering to work for nothing just to get a foot in the door.

A reality check

The most current data I have on the design industry is about Victoria. I think it’s fair to extrapolate this across the country.

In Victoria there are about 3,500 design business that employ graphic designers. Approximately half of those are not looking to employ more designers. The other half are mostly looking for designers from mid-weight to design director level. I note that many agencies are employing overseas trained designers at the senior designer level and above. This leaves very few looking to employ graduates. A check of the graduate employment sites shows that there may only be about 100 graduate positions on offer each year in Victoria.

The design courses in Victoria graduate approximately 2,000 students each year. Anecdotal evidence show that about one third of these are overseas students who will not look for employment in Victoria or Australia. This means we have approximately 1,400 graduates looking for work in a market that is only offering about 100 positions.

I suspect that this is why many graduates seek out internships. They think that it will give them a basic level of experience that will lift them above a graduate level.

The design industry needs to step up

Some employers tell me that internships are needed to help graduates become work ready. If this is the case it leads me to ask why the universities and TAFEs aren’t preparing work ready graduates.

Having many colleagues teaching in the universities I feel I know the inside story. If they are not preparing work ready graduates it’s because we (the design employers) have not told the teaching institutions what we want in a graduate. As an industry we have not researched the needs of employers and defined what skills a graduate should have.

It’s a can of worms

I think it is time to step back and look at the industry needs and consider what the appropriate entry level is for a junior designer. We should ask whether an apprenticeship or cadetship is a more appropriate way to prepare students for entry to the design work force. Should we foster an approach where a cadetship leads to employment and part time study for a degree?

We are opening the can of worms.
Come along to our first UNseminar for 2019.

Design internships

When: February 27, 6pm for a 6.30 start.
Where: Provincial Hotel, 299 Brunswick St, Fitzroy VIC
Cost: $33 inc gst. Purchase ticket here.

Don’t know what an UNseminar is? Read more here

Got a question? Want to share your point of view? Please feel free to email me.


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Greg Branson


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Greg’s passion is the research and development of methods that improve design management and the role of design in business.

Greg has developed The Design Business School to help owners manage their business better along with showing designers how to get more involved in the studio and develop their career path. Contact Greg.

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