RMIT, industry partner to fill design skills gap

We speak to RMIT, REA Group and GreenHat leaders about how a joint partnership is working to address the growing need for a new set of design skills thanks to digital and UX transformation

Design has played a critical role in the emergence of many of Australia’s leading digital organisations. But with total demand for designers estimated to be growing upwards of 13 per cent annually, new solutions are needed to ensure a steady supply of suitable workers equipped with the specialist skills needed for modern design challenges.

In January, RMIT Online joined forces with a group of commercial partners including Canva, REA Group and Accenture-owned digital agency, Fjord, to boost both the total numbers and industry-readiness of new design gradates through the creation of three new human-centred design courses.

RMIT Online product manager, Li Tan, told CMO one of the core goals of the partnership is to ensure graduates have the skills needed to be work ready. Hence the new courses combine training in technical skills and knowledge of design thinking principles with the ability to identify and solve business problems.

REA Group executive general manager, Jonathan Swift, said it is important for employers to come together to solve issues that are relevant to their long-term performance.

“We do see ourselves as one of the premier digital employers in Australia, and as such we are really keen to shape that next generation workforce,” Swift said. “Not only does that benefit us as a company, by bringing great talent and getting them market ready, it also allows us to pay back and make sure we are still contributing to the industry as a whole.

“We want to attract the best people we can, but we also want to raise the waterline of the entire industry and raise the capability of all designers by widening the talent pool and creating more opportunity for everybody.”

Tan said the goal of the new courses is to satisfy emerging demand for specialist designers across a range of categories relevant to digital industries, such as product design.

“In the last three years, we have seen 42 per cent compound annual growth for digital product designers in Australia and then 24 per cent compound annual growth in mean salary, which is really reflective of fast-growing demand in digital product design,” Tan said. “This emerging role of the product designer encompasses a need for connecting design strongly back into the business strategy, with industry tending to be a step ahead of where education is.

“And there are about 500 jobs at the moment on SEEK for digital product designers.”

Tan continued further examination of the market has revealed other specific areas of skills deficiencies, such as user experience (UX) design.

“That gap continues to grow in line with the needs of the workforce,” Tan said. “Looking out into the education landscape, there really isn’t a lot out there that offers the depth and breadth of helping people change into being an experience designer.”

This initiative has been good news for many industry participants, including Stuart Jaffray, managing director of Melbourne-based B2B marketing agency, Green Hat. A former managing director at Starcom and general manager of marketing at BMW Group Australia, Jaffray said the idea of bringing more specialist design skills into the market in areas like digital product design, user experience design and user interface (UI) design is welcome.

“Brands have cottoned on to the fact that UI and UX ultimately delivery engagement,” he said. “And then during the pandemic, businesses have accelerated their digital transformation and their adoption of ecommerce, and there is a significant requirement in for UI and UX skills.

“People’s expectations are higher and if the brand doesn’t deliver against that at first time of asking, they are unlikely to come back.”

For Jaffray, the need for specialist designers has been exacerbated by a lack of clear career development paths into these roles. Often, they’re filled by graphic design professionals who have changed their careers without formal training.

“Graphic designers are concerned with aesthetics, but aesthetics is only one component of UI/UX, and ultimately your UI/UX specialist should be much more concerned with learning about human behaviour in order to improve engagement,” Jaffray said. “You need someone who can actually do and understand both of those things.

“We need more UI/UX capable designers in this country, so when I sat down with the team at RMIT to talk about it, I said this is fantastic and we need more of this.”

Swift said the partnership builds on an existing long-term relationship with RMIT and has seen REA Group contribute its own staff to the training program.

“We’re bringing our design leaders into the course to help shape how people are thinking about design and how young designers are thinking about their career opportunities and the paths ahead of them as well,” he said.

The RMIT partnership is also an opportunity to help REA Group achieve its stated mission of reimagining the way the world experiences property.

“That is where design has a massive influence, to take that human-centred approach and iterate and ideate on problems,” Swift added.

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