RIBA President Alan Jones has issued a response to the Future Architects Front open letter from students and architectural assistants.
Dear Future Architects Front,
Thank you very much for your letter and the time you have taken to gather such extensive comments and support.
I emphatically accept your invitation to work with RIBA in order to build a more equitable future for architecture and am keen to arrange this as soon as possible.
I am deeply concerned to read the accounts you have shared of appalling experiences whilst working or looking for work in practice. I wanted firstly to ask you to encourage those who have experienced unprofessional or illegal behaviour to report it. Where this involves a RIBA member or chartered practice, a complaint can be reported to email@example.com and would be investigated in line with our published procedures.
I note that you have requested a detailed response addressing the five demands set out in your letter. I will do my best to be clear about the actions the RIBA has taken, signpost where information and support is in place, and highlight areas where we need to do better. This response is by no means exhaustive and I look forward to meeting and discussing these matters in much greater detail.
I agree that significant change is needed in order to better support students and graduates and to develop a diverse and inclusive profession.
We take seriously our leadership and example-setting role on behalf of the architects’ profession and the wider construction industry and our focus is on setting — and strengthening — standards for all our members. Our current requirements include a responsibility to create fair, safe, and equitable working environments for everyone. The evidence clearly suggests that standards are not being upheld consistently in practice, and this is particularly impacting students and those at the start of their careers. Practice leaders need to prioritise the wellbeing and development of their staff, and the RIBA plays a key role in holding members to account.
Looking in more detail at your five points:
1. End unpaid overtime in all RIBA chartered practices
RIBA Chartered Practices are required to have an employment policy in operation. This includes a requirement that all staff within the practice are paid at least the National Living Wage as defined by the Living Wage Foundation.
We are planning a review of the employment guidance we provide for practices. More detailed requirements could be added in future, such as a requirement that all overtime worked beyond core contracted hours is remunerated. Membership requirements are subject to detailed consultation and RIBA Board approval.
2. RIBA must regulate how practices employ Architectural Assistants
We need an education system that integrates professional experience and removes all barriers to progress to registered/chartered status.
We are currently piloting The Compact, a new ethical framework to enhance students’ experience in the workplace. The Compact draws together obligations which all parties — practices, schools of architecture, students and the RIBA — must meet, with a focus on improving practical experience outcomes. The Compact includes a requirement for no unpaid work.
We expect requirements of The Compact to become a mandatory component of the Chartered Practice requirements from 2022, and form part of the RIBA school of architecture validation procedures from the 2021/22 academic year. Following the pilot phase, we will offer training for practices in how to implement it.
Additionally RIBA is promoting and supporting architecture apprenticeships, recognising the potentially important role they may have in removing barriers by offering an alternative route to professional qualification.
3. Greater transparency in the RIBA’s budget and spending decisions
RIBA publishes an Annual Report online, including a great deal of information about allocations to different activity areas. The report is the subject of an Annual General Meeting, and any member is welcome to attend and ask questions. This information is retrospective, though we are investigating the potential to publish an Annual Plan earlier in the year including summary budget information.
Elected members, including representatives for RIBA Students and Associates, scrutinise financial performance, budgets and significant spending decisions throughout the year, holding the RIBA to account on behalf of the wider membership.
We are trying to achieve greater transparency. We have started to report annually on our diversity and inclusion progress and are planning to also provide carbon reporting.
4. Establish a more representative governing body
RIBA Council members, which include representation for student and associates, are elected through a democratic process, as is the post of RIBA President. The majority of the RIBA Board trustees are elected members of RIBA Council. Associate and student members are eligible to vote in Council and Presidential elections.
We know that senior positions are currently not as representative as they should be and this needs to change.
We have recently appointed our first ever Director of Inclusion and Diversity, to guide our work to create a more diverse workplace and inclusive profession, with targeted actions.
We want to attract a greater diversity of architects and students to get involved in the governance of the organisation. We would encourage your members to get directly involved and help us change.
5. Accountability for exploitative work environments
We recognise the career development challenges faced by architectural assistants and the longstanding issues of low fees and profitability, business skills, salaries, long hours, and overtime.
We have made some changes in recent years to tackle some of these issues, but there is more to do. The RIBA Codes of Professional Conduct and Practice were extensively revised in 2019, in response to the recommendations of the RIBA Ethics and Sustainable Development Commission, and now include much wider and more explicit provisions in relation to Employment and Duties as an Employer.
We recognise that it can be challenging for individuals to make a complaint about their employment conditions. We are further developing our whistleblowing processes, including enabling the RIBA to raise complaints against chartered members and practices under the disciplinary procedures on the basis of verifiable information.
I am aware that you are already in touch with the elected representatives for students and associates – Maryam, Victoria and Lewis. I would appreciate the opportunity to meet together, as a small group. I feel confident that we can find solutions to improve the opportunities and experiences for students and graduates.