Let’s degree to disagree…

The Ripples managing director, Paul Crow, reflects on the different points raised in last month’s Training Special

Kbbreview kicked off quite a debate about training last month and maybe kitchen designer Jo Buckerfield had a point when she stressed the importance of having a degree.

It would certainly make recruitment easier, if we knew from their CV whether a person is capable of doing the job, but in reality it’s just not that simple. I also get Jo’s point that people offering CAD services with no ‘proper’ design experience.

But we should all ask why consumers are buying from these people. Maybe they don’t value design quite as much as designers think they do?

I didn’t go to university. Yet I respect qualifications and have done my best to guide my 18-year-old son towards university, as I believe it represents the best route to a more successful and enjoyable career.

Ripples has quite a few designers and ultimately they are measured on their sales. But when we are recruiting, we measure them on pretty much everything. They need to be able to get the client to give us their money and maintain the levels of service and standards that make them happy customers. That’s quite a big ask.

What are we really looking for? If I think about who we want serving our customers and drew up a list of key qualities, personality would be one. If they attend a dinner party with our customers, we need to know they can create a great impression of themselves and us. And that’s usually more to do with parenting than schooling.

They also need to be able to draw – by hand. There is no point having an idea if they can’t share it with the customer in the way we like to at Ripples. So we need a portfolio with evidence. This can be demonstrated by qualifications in art as well as design, but we don’t need a degree here. We then need to know they are ambitious, confident, smart, good at taking responsibility and working in a team. They also need to be technically competent. They need to be diligent enough to spot an error in a price book, an order acknowledgement or a measurement on a drawing, and they need to do all of this while keeping their desk clear and ready for the next client.

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Of course, they must be able to design. And design in the way that Jo rightly describes – not just adding new products to a space and printing it out. They must work with different materials, colours, shapes and sizes and must accommodate these together with a lighting plan that can change the environment at the flick of the switch. And they must know where they can put this switch.

After all this, they must competently and confidently present their design to the customer and be prepared to stand up for it, even if challenged by an assertive installer.

In an ideal world, I would love all of our designers to have an interior design degree or equivalent. However, the real issue isn’t whether these degrees are helpful, or important, it is finding people with them. Most bathroom and kitchen retailers are independent and creating links with universities is time-consuming and expensive. And it is here that perhaps the industry could work together more closely.

I’d be happy for Ripples to be vetted by the appropriate university to recognise the professional approach we take with all our employees. Regardless of how they get to us, they can be assured of further training in design, selling, illustration, reading body language, presenting, fitting wet rooms and making a decent cup
of coffee.

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