The 2016 JCT Student Competition enabled me to address a skills shortage in the profession that I believe stems from our own failure to prepare students for what is expected of them in practice. The work placement system that I proposed to mitigate this problem has been described as a “real-world practical solution” for improving how the profession uses it’s staff and skills.
There is a current disconnect between how the architecture profession educates its students and how these students contribute to the construction industry. While design skill and creative thinking are the calling cards for the modern architect, a great idea is not worth the paper it is printed on, unless the mechanism for delivery is clearly understood and then shrewdly implemented.
The problem, is that current architecture students are not taught how to deliver their ideas within the context of the construction industry. Knowledge of technical and regulatory frameworks as well as professional conduct are sorely absent from the early years of architectural training, meaning that students are unaware of what is expected of them. Subsequently, architecture as a profession is failing to match the growth and evolution of the wider construction industry.
The introduction of a work placement system would educate architecture students about the profession and the wider industry sooner and in a more structured manner than what currently exists in their education. I propose to leave the timeline required for qualification as it is, but create a new framework for work placements conducted during academic holidays. These would be based on four weeks a year, while studying for RIBA Parts I and II, making twenty weeks in total over the course of the five years spent in full-time architectural education.
A structured framework of short, unpaid placements across all sectors and practice sizes would enable students to see more approaches within a shorter time frame, improving their base knowledge of the profession and the wider industry. Not paying students, and having short placements in one or two week increments, would ensure that the student is in an office for their own benefit.
The RIBA would be responsible for maintaining a database of registered practices for students to visit. Universities would be required to record feedback from students and the practices, allowing for honest feedback to be passed between the two parties. The day to day practice of architecture is lacking in transparency for students, and architects must commit more resources to educating the next generation of the profession.
Learning is an iterative process, and in construction it is difficult to conduct meaningful critical analysis of one’s own studies, because projects just haven’t had the chance to pan out fully. Placements would allow students to see more approaches in a shorter space of time, improving their base knowledge of the profession and the wider construction industry.
What has become clear to me in these early years, is the sheer volume of knowledge and experience that exists beyond our own profession. Architects inhabit a privileged position in construction, where materials, methods and people can be synergised to create a result that is greater than the sum of its parts. It is my belief that immersing students in this process sooner, will reinforce the value of collaboration between disciplines and ultimately create better buildings and better cities.
In construction there is an overarching commitment to delivering buildings fit for purpose, we should be educating our architects in the same vein.
I was awarded First Prize in the JCT Student Competition 2016 with the essay “Work Placements for the Student’s Benefit, not their Employer’s.”