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Diversity Series Part 2: Would you pay £9000 to get into design?

The mixture of opinion on the “right” kind of training for entry into the design industry surprised even me. Candidates come to Zebra People with all kinds of CVs – many of them feature the General Assembly workshop. It’s the market leader, lasts ten weeks, and costs between £8,000-£9,000. While researching for this, the second post in my Diversity series [link here to part 1], I was interested to see what others think of it and what alternatives there are.

As you can see for yourself, it was pretty controversial! Many people expressed outrage at the cost, but others defended it, saying it gave a strong foundation in skills and mindset, with a very high number of contact hours. Others argued that any kind of training can only get a designer so far, and that the real learning would start on the job. It became quite a heated argument, which revealed just how much inconsistency there is in our industry regarding the long-term value of pre-employment training. One commenter, based in Australia, argued that the GA workshop was a great foundation for design: “Otherwise you risk wasting epic amounts of time producing a folio which won’t get you a solid job with work that you will learn from nor career capital,” Nick Petch. But another recruiter joined the discussion to point out that the basic skills some General Assembly graduates gain make them hard to place even in junior roles!

I was very interested to hear from a number of General Assembly instructors themselves. Amit Patel, who also works as a freelance UX Designer and also the Founder of Experience Haus, made a great point that students are not promised anything beyond being ready for a junior role and are aware they have a lot still to learn: “These guys just want a chance to learn some new skills, break into an industry that is pretty damn hard to break into at the moment.”

The conversation turned to the available alternatives to a course like General Assembly and some wider points were raised. For example, is there a growing disconnection between the expectations of graduates and the requirements of the industry? Or are the expectations of the industry – in terms of what employers think juniors should be able to do – unrealistic? If graduates are hoping to walk into a junior role but employers presume they’ll have more experience, then there is an obvious problem. Courses and workshops are an invaluable source of training but if they don’t meet basic expectations, if they don’t equip juniors with the skills required for entry-level positions, then they’re kinda paradoxical. Does any kind of course – university, General Assembly or otherwise – prepare candidates adequately? Senior UX/UI Designer at Velocity Mobile Ltd Sam Chamberlain said: “All types of design education suffer from a lack of industry-experienced tutors in the classroom, as design is far more than the theory.” This point was supported by a New York-based CEO, who added that he wanted collaborative employees with empathy, worldliness and a good work ethic. So, all in all, the picture that emerges is quite complex: employers do not only want their juniors to be theoretically aware and/or efficiently skilled – they also need certain “personal” qualities (empathy, drive, work ethic). Another question then arises: can such skills be taught, or do they develop over time and on the job – or, are they inborn?

As with most things, a practical solution needs to be considered. Do we need more evening or weekend workshops? More internships which are shorter but focus on specific areas of design? Maybe “career-track” positions, which offer training for a fee but then a short-term paid position at the end of it? Or maybe expectations themselves need to be managed through more dialogue – recruiters can help here by advising potential clients who are looking for juniors on what’s realistic and what isn’t. Everyone has a part to play.

Ultimately, a lot is expected of juniors and it seems that courses and workshops will only get you so far. I wonder if another missing piece of the jigsaw is mentoring and on-the-job training? I’ll cover this in my next post. I’ll also be going to the GA campus to meet the students and teachers to find out more. I’m hoping to post some of my findings here afterwards.

Meanwhile, please keep the conversation going over on the Linked In thread, or drop me an email: pritesh@zebrapeople.com.

Links to just a few alternative courses and training:

  1. https://www.dandad.org/en/d-ad-professional-development-creative-training-courses/ (onsite face to face practical workshops)
  2. You and I workshops:http://youandi.london/ (onsite face to face practical workshops)
  3. https://uxclub.com/ (its free!)
  4. http://experiencehaus.com/ – (Founded by Amit Patel who is mentioned in the blog above)
  5. Youtube (online video classes)
  6. https://www.lynda.com/ (online video classes)
  7. https://tutsplus.com/ (online video classes)
  8. http://trydesignlab.com/ (online video classes)
  9. https://www.skillshare.com/ (online video classes)
  10. https://www.interaction-design.org/ (online video classes)

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