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National Apprenticeship Week 2024

National Apprenticeship Week 2024 encourages everyone to consider how apprenticeships can help individuals to develop their knowledge and employers to develop a workforce with future ready skills.

08 February 2024

National Apprenticeship Week (5 to 11 February 2024) is an annual initiative that celebrates the value of apprenticeships to individuals, businesses, and the wider economy.

This year, participants are encouraging everyone to consider how apprenticeships can help individuals to develop the skills and knowledge required for a rewarding career, and employers to develop a workforce with future ready skills.

RIBA supported the introduction of apprenticeships back in 2018 and since then, over 600 apprentices have started across the Level 6 Architectural Assistant and Level 7 Architect schemes, with the first graduates now emerging.

We spoke to some of those involved to find out more.

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Louise Jones

Louise Jones undertook the Architect Degree Apprenticeship at the University of Nottingham between 2019 and 2023 and is employed at EPR Architects. She was one of the first apprentices to start on the Architect Degree Apprenticeship standard at the University.

She passed her apprenticeship with distinction and qualifying as a registered architect.

Why did you choose this route?

"As I came to the end of my first year out after my undergraduate qualification, I felt I wanted more experience across the RIBA work stages before returning to full-time education. I had done a lot of front-end conceptual work but had no on-site construction stage experience – and that was something I wanted to see.

I think that’s part of working out if this really is the career you want to do, you need to see both sides of it to know where you might fit in.

I was asked by one of my directors at EPR Architects if I had thought about doing the Level 7 Architect Degree Apprenticeship. I looked into it, and it seemed like a good way to progress my academic learning whilst getting experience on-site and working in a professional environment.

I was one of the first degree apprentices on the programme at the University of Nottingham, and the first Architect Degree Apprentice at my practice. I worked with the university and my employer to understand what the apprenticeship would entail, what kind of work would be expected of me, and what I should expect of myself – particularly how the off-the-job training would be balanced with my work in practice.

It’s important that employers and apprentices have realistic expectations of the commitment they are making and what is expected from them.

When I first started the apprenticeship, I was a Part 1 Architectural Assistant, so was assisting colleagues with tasks such as 3D modelling or helping to set up documents and drawings while observing meetings. I was working closely with a mentor to ensure I got the fundamentals right.

The practice works on a lot of large-scale developments with big project teams, and it was a steep learning curve to understand all the moving parts of a project.

As my knowledge and experience increased, I moved from sitting in on meetings to participating in or leading meetings and design workshops, as my team had the confidence in me to go and speak to contractors and clients and take a greater role on projects. While my skills and knowledge have progressed, so have my responsibilities and the confidence my team have in my abilities.

I learn best through doing something first-hand, so for me it’s one thing to be aware of a hypothetical situation but then actually seeing it play out on site gives you a deeper understanding. Having that additional experience of things like contractual relationships, how fees and appointments are put together, and then being guided through that by my project leader and directors meant I was starting the Part 3 component of the course with a much higher base rate of knowledge.

Having come to the end of the apprenticeship I can now appreciate the real difference that having those additional four years practice experience has made. Being actively involved in live projects has definitely been a big advantage of the apprenticeship route.

I can see the difference between my skills and level of confidence, and those of my peers who went to university full-time. I feel more comfortable working in project teams and engaging with contractors and clients, as I have been experiencing this progressively throughout my learning.

Prioritising work from both sides can be very challenging, with conflicting workloads and deadlines which can easily put a huge amount of pressure on students, however I felt supported through that process by my employer and the university and the outcome for me has been really positive.

I believe that the apprenticeship has set me up really well for the next chapter of my career. "

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What about the view from practice?

David Hickman from RIBA Chartered Practice Hickman & Smith Architects shares his thoughts; their Architectural Assistant, Hashim Noormohamod, joined the University of Nottingham’s Architect Degree Apprenticeship in 2022 and is currently in the second year of the apprenticeship.

"As a practice we’re keen to be able to support people in the early stages of their careers. We have found that bringing in students and apprentices helps to keep the ideas and thinking in the practice fresh.

We’ve had fantastic experience with apprenticeships in the past but have also taken on Part 2 students, people working part-time, people who have left to go back to full-time study and then re-joined us so we have experience of all of the different options for gaining experience.

One of the big benefits of the apprenticeship route is that we retain our apprentice so don’t lose that talent from the practice. Our apprentice (currently in their second year of the Level 7 apprenticeship at the University of Nottingham) is in the practice four days a week, and as a smaller practice that makes it easier for us to manage as we aren’t losing our team member for big chunks of time and they are a consistent presence. This means they’re able to contribute more to long-term projects and the consistency helps us with resource planning.

Our apprentice carries out a really valuable role in the practice as they are able to support other members of staff on projects while they are developing their skills and knowledge. It’s great as a small practice to have a member of staff that can be brought into projects to boost production information and offer extra support.

They are getting varied experience while currently supporting the team on a project that we have been working on for some time with Leicester City Council."

David sees benefits from both apprentice and the practice perspective:

"The biggest benefit is that apprentices have more experience in practice and so they’re more well-rounded and will be better adapted to working life by the time they have graduated than perhaps someone would be on the traditional route. Our apprentice has already developed really strong soft-skills that bring all of the value-added benefits such as being able to confidentially undertake work and communicate effectively with clients.

Within the apprenticeship programme there are areas that our apprentice has to research, but as a practice we have been able to input into that and shape that to areas that benefit the practice.

So, for example, our apprentice undertook a module in sustainability and energy efficiency and we asked if our apprentice could look at that in the context of historical buildings, heritage assets, and where material changes would be influenced by planning restrictions - as these are areas we wanted to develop more research as a practice.

The outcome was that our apprentice developed a tool that we use to assess what energy efficiencies are achievable within listed building and conservation area planning restrictions.

The funding available on the apprenticeship route is also a big benefit to the practice. We were eligible for the 95% government co-investment to pay for our apprentices programme fees. As a small practice that financial support allows us to support a talented early-career staff member through their training without committing to large fees.

With the apprenticeship you don’t experience the same churn as you do with the other routes. The programme is slightly longer so you are retaining that member of staff for longer. You’re also developing someone within the culture of the practice, who are forming strong relationships with colleagues so we are anticipating that there will be added retention benefits to developing staff on the apprenticeship programme.

This means the practice is able to keep the apprentice - and their skills - in the business for longer, resulting in apprentices that can then help support other placement students and apprentices that start in that peer mentoring role. "

About the programme

Apprenticeships work as a partnership between the apprentice, their employer and a learning provider. Graeme Barker, Deputy Head of Department and Director of Practice Based Programmes at the University of Nottingham, tells us it's clear that the routes into architecture are broadening, and sees apprenticeships as an important part of the future of architecture qualifications in England.

The University of Nottingham launched its Architect Degree Apprenticeship in 2019, delivering in both central London and at its Nottingham campus. In the last four years the university’s programme has grown to see them become one of the leading providers of the Architect Degree Apprenticeship based on apprenticeship starts for 2022/23.

"We’re committed to our full-time master’s in architecture, but know the Architect Degree Apprenticeship has an important place in the suite of qualifications and pathways available. It has massive advantages for the profession, practices, and apprentices alike; and we want to support the practices and students we work with to have that option.

The crucial role of the apprenticeship has been reflected in the numbers of employers and apprentices we see engaging with the programme, which has now grown to match the scale of the existing full-time master’s programme in just three years.

There are lots of benefits to an apprentice choosing the degree apprenticeship route over the traditional one.

The costs associated with the programme are covered by the employer, who may use their Apprenticeship Levy to cover the programme fees or may be eligible for up-to 95% of the fees to be paid by the government.

Running our existing Part 3, we are aware that most candidates take at least two years to complete it so the apprenticeship is just as fast a route to qualification. The difference is that apprentices are continuing to work and earn while completing their qualifications which is enabling them to gain knowledge and experience from a live practice environment, which can then contribute to their academic learning.

The result is that apprentice’s growth in maturity and skills development goes way beyond that of the full-time programme. By the time an apprentice is reaching the end-point assessment stage of the apprenticeship, they have five year’s of work experience, so this year we have 100% achievement at distinction.

For practices, the Architect Degree Apprenticeship presents a cost-effective way to retain and develop exceptional Part 1 Architectural Assistants, supporting practices to grow and develop employees with the skills, knowledge and behaviours their practice needs.

This enables practices to mitigate against recruitment issues, as it can be difficult to employ qualified architects. Being able to train recruits within the company’s culture, while tapping into university resources to develop research into their specialisms, is a very attractive proposition.

We already had an established teaching base in the Midlands, but we have been delivering our collaborative practice programme in London for the last six years, and we replicated that delivery model for the apprenticeship. Operating from both the Midlands and London allows us to offer the best of both worlds to practices.

Another benefit is that our apprentices undertake an architecture research module during their protected off-the-job training time. This module has been designed to provide opportunities for apprentices to make live contributions to practice that result in real impact and change.

Some of the research that has been carried out on our programme to date has included apprentices at smaller practices developing new whole life carbon calculation models, which has been really important for those practices and helping to address a real need for more learning in that area for those businesses.

For larger practices the research module has provided an opportunity for apprentices to carry out client-led research which can help strengthen and build relationships with clients through understanding their projects and buildings through post occupancy evaluation. That’s been really successful in typologies such as hotels, education and workspaces.

How do you best nurture architecture apprentices so that they get the most from this education route?

We’ve design our programme to not only develop successful architects, but also to create supportive networks.

Our programme is founded on relationships and the benefits that building relationships across networks bring. Each apprentice is assigned a university mentor at the start of the programme who will stay with them throughout the programme, allowing personal tutoring to develop over time. Each programme is also assigned a Degree Apprenticeship Officer who will support apprentices with advice and guidance around the non-teaching aspects unique to apprenticeships.

The benefit to both employer and apprentice are clear. Practices are able to support talented staff members to continue their studies while they retain them in the business where they are delivering real-time benefits working on projects and contributing to day-to-day work.

For the apprentices they are able to gain their qualifications with no cost to them but are also building up all of that experience at the same time. They are finishing ahead of the game in terms of work experience and confidence.

More information

Find out more about the University of Nottingham’s Level 7 Architect Degree Apprenticeship at their upcoming architect open evenings.

Take a look at RIBA's guidance, whether you're looking to:

Want to join the conversation about National Apprenticeship Week 2024 on social media? Use the hashtag #NAW2024 and tag @RIBA

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