Bridging the commercial skills gap

How can the architecture community come together to reignite the importance of commerciality, asks our Director, Ken Earl. In this the second of two blog posts, he outlines the practical steps that can be taken.

In my last post, I outlined the importance of commerciality and how a sea change in the profession should begin with our education system. But I want to examine the more practical steps that we can take in our respective practices and as an industry.

Mentoring is a vital part of the continuous professional development of architects – particularly at the early stages of a person’s career.

One of our associates, Toby Harling, is a passionate supporter of mentoring. As a young architect, he was a mentee and has since been a mentor within the practice.

Toby talks passionately about how young architects are thrust into a working life of budgets, dealing with clients and time restraints – all of which can be daunting for a student or recent graduate. Having a mentor that they can turn to for advice and guidance helps develop the confidence that an architect needs to lead jobs and win work for their practice.

At Box, we have long recognised the importance of mentoring. We created a mentoring programme, Box Academy, which facilitates structured career development for all members of staff – not just those with us on short-term placements or new recruits. It also includes initiatives such as developing stronger links to local schools and universities. In fact, two members of staff are lecturers. Our senior architect, Ken Lowrie, is a lecturer at Kent College and Lee Holmes is a tutor at the University of Huddersfield.

Continued professional development should be high on every practice’s agenda. RIBA, our professional body, provides guidance on suitable areas of learning and highlights CPD Core Curriculum subjects which must be covered.

The subjects have recently been updated and now include the following:

  • Architecture for social purpose (new topic)
  • Health, safety and wellbeing
  • Business, clients and services
  • Legal, regulatory and statutory compliance
  • Procurement and contracts (same title as the previous curriculum)
  • Sustainable architecture
  • Inclusive environments
  • Places, planning and communities
  • Building conservation and heritage
  • Design, construction and technology

I am encouraged that the business, client and services section of the core CPD includes understanding the client’s commercial drivers, having commercial understanding and value adding activities through design and services. This aligns strongly with the client-centric principles which are fundamental to our business culture at Box. Even so, I would still like to see them receive greater emphasis than currently afforded, to adequately address the shortcoming within the profession.

Project reviews are also an effective and important part of the design process within architectural practices. They offer an excellent opportunity to ensure the commerciality aspect of a scheme is thoroughly interrogated – and that value is added.

Here at Box, we incorporate commercial and added value criteria to our project review process to ensure the commercial benefits of our schemes are maximised for our clients. Collaborative shared learning also provides staff with the opportunity to impart their knowledge and experience with other team members.

I believe a commercial skills gap remains within the profession and that a fundamental change in the architectural education system is required to address this. There is, however, much that can be achieved through our professional body. And within practices, we can and should do more to ensure this issue is addressed and that the profession develops a commercial sensibility which is fundamental to its success and reputation.

What are your thoughts on commerciality? As a profession, are we embracing commerciality in architecture? What do you feel needs to change or is the perception unfounded? I would be most interested to hear your thoughts, so please do post your comments below or email me at