Enter the growing interior design field through FVTC degree program

January 28, 2013

From postcrescent.com: “Refresh, renew getting reboot: Demand for interior designers growing as homebuilding, remodeling recovers” — Sixteen years working in retail was enough for Ross Proulx.

When he was considering a new career, he wanted a job that centered around his interest in design work and architecture. Proulx found it in interior design.

“Many years ago I had considered going to architectural school, but didn’t,” said Proulx, 39, of Appleton. While working full time, he reviewed programs at Fox Valley Technical College and was one of the first graduates of the school’s commercial design program in 2011.

Today, Prolux works as a facilities planner for Thrivent Financial for Lutherans in Appleton, where he has done everything from helping new employees set up ergonomic work stations to reconfiguring meeting spaces.

The work varies daily, which appeals to Proulx.

“What I like about the job is it’s a different challenge every day because there’s always different things to do and at times it can be like figuring out a puzzle,” he said. “Helping people make sure they have the resources they need to do their work is what I enjoy doing.”

Proulx may have entered the field at the right time. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projected available jobs for interior designers would grow 19 percent between 2010 and 2020.

There were 56,500 interior designer jobs in the country in 2010, the bureau estimated. That number was expected to increase another 10,900 by 2020.

The recovering home new home construction and commercial building markets as well as heightened activity in home remodeling is increasing demand for people with interior design skills, said Kathy McDonald, chairwoman of the interior design department at FVTC.

She said FVTC has offered general interior design programs since the 1970s but in 2011 launched an associate degree program in commercial design and kitchen and bath design.

The timing to launch the degree program was right since it was apparent job growth appeared promising, McDonald said.

“Even during the recession, there still was a lot of work for companies that did kitchen and bathroom remodeling,” she said. “And now we’re just starting to see new construction, both residential and commercial construction, increasing.”

McDonald said she is in contact with about 200 businesses around northeastern Wisconsin that need people with interior design skills. FVTC interior design students have had little trouble finding internships or work after graduation, she said.

FVTC said about 94 percent of its 60 interior design graduates the past two years are employed in the field.

Joey Wilinski, one of the owners of Wilco Cabinets in Green Bay, serves as an adviser for FVTC’s interior design program.

Her company, which employs 72, not only builds cabinets, but works with residential and commercial customers on layouts and installation.

Wilinski said the recession was challenging for her industry, especially as new residential and commercial construction slowed.

“We do a little bit of everything, but about 70 percent of our business is on the residential side,” Wilinksi said. “There was a major effect on our business during the housing downturn because there just weren’t as many new homes going up.”

Many home custom builders and related industries found opportunities in home and office remodeling.

“When the market was down, remodeling work helped keep the doors open for us and other companies like ours,” Wilinski said. “During the downturn, there still seemed to be a steady stream of business in people looking to replace counters and cabinets.”

Homeowners also turned to remodeling to revitalize kitchens or other areas of their homes if buying a new house was not an option, she said.

Reconfiguring existing spaces takes someone with the skills to redefine a room and make it flow, Wilinski said.

Her real-world experiences has been helpful to shape FVTC’s interior design program.

“The interest will be in people who have skills to plan a new layout for a bathroom or kitchen,” Wilinski said.

Proulx said he learned the intricacies of computer-aided design and time management at FVTC.

“Auto CAD was a huge skill and I couldn’t do my job without it,” he said.

While the new home building market still is recovering, Wilinski is optimistic of the future.

In terms of job prospects, interior designers who left the profession for other fields during the recession created some demand. She said job growth is not there yet but there is potential.

“When the market does really pick up again, there will be great potential,” Wilinski said. “The opportunities I see will be for the students entering the (interior design) program now.”

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