The value of Apprenticeships

The last few years have been challenging in business; the most difficult years of my career to date. I started working in architecture back in 1996, so my work experience had been continual, positive growth up until 2008. At 33 I’ve been working for half of my life now! The next 5-10 years are I think as important as the previous 10 years, in terms of future direction.

One of my most important decisions was made (unknowingly at the time) when I started out at 16. I decided to leave school after my GCSE’s to undertake an Apprenticeship programme; to train to be an Architectural Technician. I joined Morrison Design Architects in Derby in June 1996 and spent a very happy and educational three years there. I gained a broad range of experience in terms of projects which included; Healthcare, Hotels, Leisure and Retail. I worked on the early strategic masterplanning work for the Royal Derby hospital, which is now fully complete some years later. I also worked on a number of large projects at the Belfry golf club in Sutton Coldfield. However for the first year, the majority of my time, as an office junior, was spent printing and folding drawings, and stenciling text onto tracing paper hand-drawn drawings (no CAD back then). This grass routes understanding of my profession set me up well  I think.

PrintIn January 2000 I joined a newly formed office at Lewis and Hickey in Nottingham. At the time we were only working on Boots projects, but over the following years we diversified our offer and grew as an office, and I grew with it. Today I’m the managing director of our Nottingham (and Manchester) offices – a position I am proud of, but more importantly; I recognise the weight of responsibility I now have to steer our offices and business into sustained growth.

People have said to me “how did you get to become a Board Director at such a young age?” The honest answer is “I don’t really know!” I don’t think I’ve done anything special or unique, my career progression has been organic. I am very driven by my work and I try hard to think creatively and strategically in all I do. My work experience exceeds my age in some ways, by that I mean; I should be in my early 40’s with what I have done to date. I believe I have had a lot of good luck and the good fortune to work alongside some great people over the years. I appear to have been in the right place at the right time so far. There has also been some hard graft in there too!

Key to my career progression has actually been my education route. To become a chartered architect, I have completed a HNC, two degrees and a diploma, all part-time while working four days a week. This is not an easy route to take! Evenings and weekends are hugely compromised, but the benefits are that you are working, developing your career, earning a salary and avoiding huge fee debts. Most importantly though, I have learnt my trade in a real working environment, where decisions and actions have consequences.

I recently attended a HAYS recruitment presentation and their view is that year out students and Graduates are increasingly sought after for recruitment in architectural companies now. There are probably a number of reasons for this. I think some of the stand out points are; Their fresh energy and motivation, which has not been influenced by the depths of recession, they can be very good in the latest software programmes we use, especially BIM, and of course they are at the lower end of the salary spectrum. Important in these continued lean times where fees are driven down. Clearly a healthy balance of staff experience is important.

Last year we employed a Part 1 student in our Manchester office for a years placement. Matt leaves us this week to return to Uni in September. He has been an excellent member of the team and has contributed a lot. The thing that has impressed me most about Matt is his drive to embrace as much technical experience as he can. He is a talented young man who has an eye (and hand) for design, but he recognises the importance of being able to understand how to ‘build’ buildings, in order to then be able to design them competently. I am confident Matt will do well in his career and I wish him the very best. I also hope we see back in the office in the future.

So whats my point in all this reflection about working/ studying? Well, I think young people today should be more receptive to part-time education, especially in Architecture. Apprenticeships/ Internships/ part-time study are a great way to learn and progress your career.

think-outside-the-boxAcademia is all well and good full-time, but it doesn’t teach you the real experience of worklife and designing/ building actual buildings. As an employer, the most important things I am looking for is relevant ‘work experience’, which is complemented by ‘education’. As young Architecture students now face a cost of over £100k to become chartered (fees, accommodation and living), surely part-time education will become a more favourable route to take? Otherwise Architects could be under threat of extinction in years to come – and then who knows what state our built environment would be in!

Part time Higher Education in Architecture is the future in my opinion.

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