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National Apprenticeship Week 2021

To celebrate National Apprenticeship Week, we take a look at the benefits of apprenticeships as an alternative, but complementary, route to architectural education and qualification, combining practical experience in an architectural practice with academic training from a university.

We spoke to our project architect Gemma, who undertook her Part 2 RIBA Office Based Examination (OBE) at Oxford Brookes (now known as RIBA Studio), and our associate Laura who heads up the studio’s recruitment programme, to discuss the benefits and challenges of apprenticeships.

What are the benefits of the apprenticeship route for aspiring architects?

Gemma:

The obvious consideration for me was the significantly reduced cost as my fees were covered by my practice at the time. I was also drawn to the idea of maintaining a salary while studying and benefitting from the valuable, hands on experience I was getting in practice. The course provided me with a huge amount of flexibility to choose hand-in dates around my personal circumstances and even select my own tutor. The office-based approach also put me in good stead for completing my Part 3 as I had a longer time to gain the necessary experience on live projects, and a much more detailed understanding of how the practice was run.

Laura:

As an employer, we advocate students getting as much in-practice experience as possible. We know that developing professional skills in a real-life environment is invaluable for aspiring architects, as is collaborating with, and learning from, colleagues and other professionals at all levels.

With all our staff we have a long-term commitment to their professional development, learning and growth within the studio. This can be more challenging with the traditional, more transient Part 1 role, which can last just 12-months. Apprenticeships provide the potential to nurture longer-term relationships which benefit both parties: students can offer a more meaningful contribution to the practice over a prolonged period of time, and employers can confidently invest in the student’s ongoing learning and career development.

What challenges should be considered?

Gemma:

To study in this way I learnt very quickly that I needed to be very strict with my work, study and personal time. Working a full-time job and studying at the same time can be very stressful, so I was fortune that my practice understood this and supported me by setting manageable deadlines that didn’t lead to overtime. This allowed me to manage my evenings and weekends around course deadlines while also planning in essential down-time with friends and family.

Laura:

The challenge for us with all our students and architectural assistants is ensuring they get the best possible experience and support to help them develop into talented and well-rounded architects. This is especially difficult in the current climate where many of our staff are working remotely. The passive observation of everyday studio activities, overheard conversations, collaborative problem solving and lessons from colleagues, is challenging in a virtual world. We are trying to tackle this in several ways. Whether virtually or in person, we offer support to all our students and architectural assistants through our in-house learning programme (PTA University), peer mentoring scheme, weekly studio catch-ups, regular project reviews and informal, social meet ups.

Why are apprenticeship schemes becoming more important for the industry?

Laura:

With many UK students now required to pay up to £9,250 per year in tuition fees, coupled with the demanding syllabus, long hours and late nights, the traditional route to architecture has become increasingly inaccessible to many. At Pitman Tozer Architects, we believe it is in all our interests to facilitate and promote alternative options to ensure the profession, and in turn the built environment, is as inclusive as possible. We see apprenticeships as a key pathway to achieving this and opening the profession to a more diverse range of ideas, experiences and conversations.