The Dubai Statistics Centre recently quantified what we all see happening: expansion in the local economy (up 4.6% in 2013) and a return to major construction projects throughout the region. Yet, we seem to be missing a crucial piece of the puzzle.
How does all of this activity support our new graduates, recently out of design school and ready for the real-world? I am, unfortunately, in the position to witness first-hand the challenges facing graduates from architecture and interior design programs since the downturn a few years ago, as they struggle to transition from the bubble of the academic world to one where they can begin to leave their mark on the world.
The first job of a recent graduate is very important. It is in this position where many develop their design character, professional habits and skill sets that will be carried throughout the rest of their career.
Having been there ourselves, we all know the initial years after design school are a critical extension of the learning process where every day can provide a chance to grow and develop, but the enthusiasm of a new graduate who is engaged in projects can also bring an added dimension to the office.
The impact is so profound and yet for many new graduates in the current environment, the first job is taken out of desperation.
When the economy is robust and active, and with offices busy, it is the ideal time to bring these young, creative talents in and provide their professional “first”. While job changes occur throughout our career, I am confident every designer can provide a detailed account of not only their first job but also the opportunity that was provided!
I maintain it is our duty to nurture and support the next generation of design professionals. While they are expected to be inexperienced, it is our responsibility to offer a fair and reasonable wage for the work, allowing these young people to earn a living and survive on their own after many years of school expenses and negative cash flow.
In return, a practice can gain graduates who are first and foremost eager, able to provide up-to-date technical knowledge, want to get their hands dirty on construction sites, excited to work with clients, and bring their own (often naïve) reality and unencumbered view of the world. This can sometimes prov-ide a much needed perspective. It is not a one-way street, nor should it be perceived as a burden.
I have always been (as both academic and practitioner) an ardent promoter of the role the profession plays in developing our future generation of designers. I constantly hear from practice leaders that schools are not producing graduates who meet the needs of the contemporary design practice.
However, over the past five years, I can count on just one hand the incoming requests from industry professionals to contribute in some way happening in the college. Further, the acceptance rate for invitations to participate in activities at the universities is likely in the low percentages.
In addition to a greater commitment for productive internships and entry-level positions, with so much happening on a weekly basis, professional participation opportunities including involvement on juries and interim critiques, mentorship initiatives, exhibitions, competitions, focused seminars and special events, are always available and needed!
Professionals who take the initiative to actively participate with our regional design schools have much to gain. For a short while we can take a break from the budget constraints and unrealistic scheduling demands of a project, and become an idealistic designer engaged in a dialogue over a theoretical idea. We can sketch, debate, mentor and collaborate without the risk of missing an over-promised and unachievable deliverable, and in just a few hours recapture our design innocence, momentarily living life again through the eyes of a design student.