Is it time to rethink Part 1 placements?

Having returned to tutoring, Lee Holmes casts the net for potential Part 1 placement students prior to the annual influx of student CVs. Here, he examines whether the time has come for the sector to reconsider its approach to gaining work experience.

At Box Architects, the process of interviewing potential Part 1 students starts early as we naturally want to ensure we attract the very best undergraduates.

March marked National Apprenticeship Week. It reignited an ongoing debate within the profession and within the practice about placements and the route to full qualification.

A Part 1 student who has spent 12 months in either our Leeds or London office will potentially seek varied experience at another architectural practice for Part 2 of their course. What this means is that a competitor will reap the benefits of all the time and effort that has gone into giving the undergraduate the best placement possible.

There is an unspoken issue within the profession: unpaid interns. We offer short-term work experience placements for pupils and undergraduates. But as a RIBA chartered practice, we do not support long-term unpaid internships. Too many architects accept working excessively long hours for no extra pay. This is detrimental for the individual, their health and wellbeing. Ultimately, we believe that it is counterproductive for the industry, undermining our ability to compete commercially on a level playing field. It also drives fee levels down across the field.

But we recently broke the cycle with newly qualified architect, Rob Miller. It is testament to our commitment and proactive mentoring that Rob chose to complete his Part 1 and Part 2 placements with us. His decision has encouraged us to take another look at our placement offering.

We are now considering offering a non-standard Part 1 placement centred around a two-year offer. Whilst this goes against the desire to reach qualification quickly, we feel it offers the student a differentiator to their peers. An increase in skills and experience in practice means that in year two, we see the commercial benefit and can increase the amount of mentoring and training offered in year one.

And industry perceptions of the standard year out placements and apprenticeships are also changing. Many are mooting the idea of a collaborative work placement revolving around multi-disciplinary teams; structures and MEP. This ‘cross-fertilisation’ would give the student first-hand experience of how multiple disciplinary design teams work.

RIBA is also promoting alternative pathways to qualify as an architect through its RIBA Studio offering and its newly established apprenticeship initiative. Having tutored students who took the office-based examinations route to qualification through Oxford Brookes University, I am an advocate of undergraduates exploring alternative routes. The profession is broad and manifold, so why shouldn’t the routes into it follow a similar meandering course?