Considering the recent statistics published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), suggesting hourly output rates have fallen by 0.1% from April to June, and the Office for Budget Responsibility’s forthcoming analysis also stating that it has persistently over-estimated UK productivity levels over the past seven years, we at Design Council feel that this only reinforces the need that design must be a part of any solution to the UK productivity puzzle.

For the past decade, the UK has been beset by stagnant productivity levels, meaning the country’s workforce is working harder than it was before the 2008 recession to produce less. Not only has this added to pressure on living standards, but as the country negotiates its exit from the European Union, we have fallen significantly behind our international competitors, with German workers 35% more productive. 

Whilst there is no one cause for, or simple answer to, the UK’s productivity puzzle, there are two key ways typically used to improve productivity – investing in better machinery and equipment, and improving processes that enable workers to increase the quality and quantity of their outputs. Design has a key role to play in implementing both these solutions, and helping advanced economies such as the UK make the most of the technological and scientific advancements of the fourth industrial revolution.

Forthcoming research to be published by Design Council in late 2017 finds that workers using design skills are more productive. Based on gross value added (GVA) per hour worked, people using design skills are 47% more productive than the average UK worker – delivering an average of £10 more per hour.

Yet there are concerns across the design economy that the future pipeline of these design skills is narrowing. In 2017, 165,815 students took design and technology subjects, a 64% fall in student numbers since 2003. Added to this, there has been a substantial decline in both the number of teaching hours dedicated to arts and technical subjects such as design, as well as in the number of associated teachers. This potentially narrows the pipeline of future designers, who have the skills the economy will require in future. As such, if we as a nation want to return to high levels of productivity and wants to avoid a “new normal” of stagnant productivity levels, then design is definitely a good place to start.  

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