Why demand for apprenticeships is on the increase
The RIBA estimates that around 150 practices currently employ an architectural apprentice. Given that the scheme is still relatively new - many of the large trailblazer practices that helped draw up the curriculum are only in their first year of it - the numbers suggest demand for places will only increase.
Luke Murray is MArch Course Director at London South Bank University (LSBU), one of the earliest adopters of apprenticeships among architecture schools. From his perspective, the biggest limiting factor is from the supply side: the number of schools offering them.
There are currently eight institutions providing Level 7 apprenticeships (the equivalent to Parts 2 and 3) with another three lined up to start in the 2020/21 academic year. Two currently offer Level 6 (Part 1) apprenticeships.
“The majority of practices so far have favoured internal candidates for apprenticeships, as the students are known to them and some will have been in practice a number of years,” Murray points out. “This is an easier route. But momentum will definitely grow as more institutions join the scheme”.
For students, the appeal is clear. To progress to full accreditation while working, with all tuition fees paid (by the government and partly by the practice) is an attractive alternative to huge amounts of student debt.
Nelton Barbosa is one of two Level 7 apprentices at Pollard Thomas Edwards (PTE). He was an internal candidate, having joined PTE last year after his Part 1. Being an apprentice entails no change to his salary, and no more tuition fees to pay for his remaining education.
Money aside, he believes that the apprenticeship route is a more efficient way of training compared to the traditional full-time Part 2 that his peers are undertaking.
“You contribute to real world projects alongside university projects, so you can compare and contrast,” he points out. “A traditional Part 2 is more theoretical; you gain much more practical experience as an apprentice.”
At PTE, he has been working on a variety of bids and competitions: there is no such thing as a typical day. He has actively participated in meetings with clients’ engineers and has contributed to the process of design revision; he continues to do so at planning application stage. Site visits to discuss issues with contractors have given him a valuable insight into construction processes and the composition of buildings.
PTE partner Patrick Devlin is one of the two apprentice mentors at the practice. He confirms that apprentices engage in the same work as their Part 2 contemporaries.
“We give them as much responsibility as they show they can take,” Devlin states. “It is not limited by whether they are apprentices or not.”
When it comes to design reviews, they receive a little more focus and support than an early-career architect would, but otherwise they are treated like the professional employees that they essentially are.
It is in the practice’s interest for the apprenticeships to work out. They would like to retain their apprentices afterwards and have signed a three-way contract between practice, apprentice and university. As with any sensible professional contract, no party is unreasonably bound were situations to change.
Both of PTE’s apprentices were internal candidates. It is their first year, and only the second for London South Bank University, the academic partner that both apprentices attend one day a week. There is a ‘block release’ option - several weeks in practice, several weeks at university - but Devlin thinks the day release works better, even though it is more challenging for the apprentice in terms of time management.
“We thought that the block release would miss out on the cross-fertilisation benefits of work in the office. We are being as supportive as we can, and trust in our apprentices’ maturity to let us know if their schedules and workloads are tight.”
PTE is making preparations for the university’s summer break, identifying complementary tasks for the apprentices, such as research or engagement projects, that relate to the practice’s schemes. The practice is also setting up a peer support group with three or four other London practices, so that apprentices and their mentors can share any issues.
The practice is still considering what to do next year, discussing the possibility of offering apprenticeships to external candidates, as they have received several enquiries.
At PLP Architecture, one of the ‘trailblazer’ practices, its three Level 7 apprentices were all external candidates and attend three different universities. HR manager Sonal Rathod explains that, as at PTE, the apprentices are on day release.
Some of the post-degree apprentices are a little less experienced in working in a studio environment than their Part 2 contemporaries and have required some additional support. And Level 6 apprenticeships, which are the equivalent of a Part 1 degree, will require more of a time and support commitment, which she says PLP is probably not yet quite ready for.
She has no doubts about the value of apprenticeships, however.
“It is such a good scheme for opening up access to the profession,” she enthuses. “We hope the experience gives apprentices a commitment to staying here.”
Thanks to Luke Murray, Course Director, London South Bank University; Nelton Barbosa, Architectural Assistant, Pollard Thomas Edwards; Patrick Devlin, Partner, Pollard Thomas Edwards; Sonal Rathod, HR Manager, PLP Architecture.
Text by Neal Morris. This is a Professional Feature edited by the RIBA Practice team. Send us your feedback and ideas
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