Want to work overseas?
Raphael Channer, a DIT International Trade Adviser who works with London-based architects seeking to work overseas, has no doubt at all that there is a real cachet attached to UK practices that is there to be exploited.
‘Overseas firms place huge trust in UK architects and what they are able to bring with them to a project,’ says Channer.
The Department for International Trade has around a hundred offices around the world with dedicated staff who are familiar with local markets, investment programmes coming forward, and active clients.
As might be expected, branches in countries that offer more opportunities tend to be better resourced. Channer’s list of current top destinations for UK architects is headed by the Gulf States, the ASEAN nations, China, India, East Africa and the US. But if someone expresses an interest in working in Central America, for instance, there will be help and advice available.
The DIT’s key offering is its Overseas Market Introduction Service, which identifies local firms that may be interested in working or partnering with UK architects.
Trade advisers work with practices of all sizes, although much of their work is done with firms at the smaller end of the SME spectrum. Channer even has a one-man-band on his books, and he advises that no practice should rule itself out as not large enough.
The first conversation a practice will have with an adviser will usually revolve around its readiness to export its services and work abroad. This will include a good spread of management skills, sufficient resources to work abroad without putting the home business at risk, and preferably a sense of the practice’s unique selling point – what they are good at and what services they will be able to sell. And they will need a track record if they are going to look worthy of collaboration.
‘It’s nice when a practice has thought about where they want to work, and perhaps have some contacts there already, but we are happy to deal with practices who simply turn up and say they want to do something abroad’, Channer says.
For practices still exploring potential destinations, the DIT can introduce them to the Market Selection Service. Research and analysis is carried out by third party consultants for a modest fee. The practice will sit down with the consultant and work through factors such as distance, attitudes to risk, and local market intelligence to help guide their decision.
Channer will go on to develop an export plan with a practice. He likes to build a relationship that will involve follow-up sessions, monitoring progress and keeping the DIT assistance active.
The DIT, formerly UK Trade & Investment, is still best known for its trade missions, although this is just one aspect of its work.
There are many types of trade missions, from official visits with government ministers on board to far more informal groups. Channer says the more modest missions still open a lot of doors and will attract interest from government agencies, local developers and constructors, as well as local architects.
The DIT often works with the RIBA to identify a promising destination. Channer has personally led three missions to various Gulf states in association with the RIBA, which brings its own local contacts into play.
Architects can also watch for any inward missions to the UK and the DIT’s locally held ‘Doing Business in…’ events.
The DIT has regional offices around the country, and Channer is keen to stress that DIT activities are not London-centric.
‘It is not a London phenomenon at all. The regional offices tend to do their own thing, so there is generally quite a lot going on at any one time,’ he advises.
RIBA Head of International Marcus Deeley recommends reading the RIBA’s new guide, Working Internationally – A guide for practices or contacting him directly at Marcus.Deeley@riba.org to find out what activities are in the pipeline.
Thanks to Raphael Channer, International Trade Adviser, Department for International Trade.
Text by Neal Morris. This is a ‘Practice News’ post edited by the RIBA Practice team. Send us your feedback and ideas.
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