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The great COVID comeback - Creative salaries in 2022

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Am I being paid enough?” This is a question I ask myself daily. Of course, as a freelancer, I technically control my own salary but it’s still a nagging itch that tends to kick in at the most inopportune moments. Generally, just before I’m about to fall asleep.

For those of us in the creative industries, it’s been a particularly rough couple of years. Marketing and design are, after all, usually the first areas companies decide to cut back on when things are looking their bleakest.

However, as we begin to emerge from the COVID cocoon into a bold new world of (almost) post-pandemic promise, it would appear salaries are actually rising for the first time in years.

Don’t call it a comeback

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According to the release of the 2022 salary guide from specialist creative recruiter Aquent, salaries are surging, particularly for those working in areas of design, as the economy gets back to its feet and companies engage in the hiring ‘rush’ that has continued to gain momentum since spring last year.

The data paints a very different picture compared to the job market in 2020, where stagnating wages and looming redundancies were seen throughout most of the advertising and creative industries. 

The picture being painted for 2022 seems to suggest a boom in wages catalysed in part by a widespread skills shortage which has resulted in mid-level and senior creatives demanding higher rates of pay.

Designers are hot property

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Art directors and art designers are hot property right now. At the top end, senior art directors are seeing a rise of 21% (£15k) compared to last year, whilst salaries for senior digital designers have increased by 44% (£20k). 

This has also trickled down to mid-level and junior roles such as junior presentation designers (19%) and presentation designers (11%).

A similar situation has been seen for 3D animators, with a 28% increase for mid-level roles (£10k) and a 30% increase for senior positions (£15k) compared to last year’s figures. Other roles that have seen pay increases include integrated designers (12%), and junior packaging designers with a 9% lift on last year’s figures. 

UX and CX continue to call the shots

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Those working in UX and CX design are still some of the most sought-after individuals. Major growth is being seen in these sectors to the extent that many candidates no longer have to look for jobs. The jobs are coming to them. Indeed, only 20% of UX, CX and Service Design talent are looking for a new role but 65% would be willing to leave for the right offer. 

In terms of wage increases, both junior UX designers and mid-level UX designers have seen a jump of 33% whilst top-end senior UX designers have seen salaries rise by a whopping 50% (£80k to £120k). 

In some cases, senior UX architects have seen wages double, from 60k in 2021 to £120k, a 50% rise. Compared to data from five years ago, UX architects have seen a 150% increase and senior UX designers a 70% increase in wages since 2016. I clearly chose the wrong profession!

Show them the money

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Most companies that successfully weathered the storm of the pandemic are now back on track and are keen to find top talent to further growth. However, candidates are finding themselves with multiple job offers on the table and are asking for higher wages to sweeten the pot.  

42% of talent desired at least a 16% increase in wages before jumping ship. This is in sharp contrast to last year when applicants were willing to accept lower rates and a wider range of responsibilities in order to bag themselves a job. But it’s about so much more than just money.

The pandemic presented something of a wake-up call for many workers. Job-seekers are now demanding more from employers. The Great Resignation of 2021 saw a mass exodus of workers as people began looking for a greater work/life balance and higher wages, forcing employers to bend to the wants and needs of the talent. 

83% of employees would turn down a job offer that didn’t offer flexible working for one that does and that would never have been the case pre-pandemic.

The power is in our hands

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COVID shifted something fundamental in people and made them realise that quality of life was more important than career advancement. This has, ironically, led to a situation where creatives are being pickier and are therefore worth that much more to employers. 

Companies that fail to embrace hybrid working are likely to fall behind when it comes to attracting the best people and skills and they’re going to have to work harder to retain staff too. 

The talent gap also leaves wonderful opportunities open for junior creatives that can be unskilled over time. Companies are opening up to the idea that finding an applicant with a 100% skills match is unlikely but a 70% match with a good working record could become the ideal employee with the relevant training and support.  

It all adds up to a pretty optimistic outlook for the next few years. The power is in the hands of the talent for once and that can only be a positive thing. Right?

Header image by Khudayar Aghayarov

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