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How the profession mistreats its young

We may be redundant, says architecture graduate James Perry, but this generation is far from lost

I am redundant: I count myself among the registered 1,290 unemployed architects and, as a graduate of 2008, have slim prospects of finding work in the profession over the coming years.

The Observer of 15 March stated: ‘On average there are 10 jobseekers for every vacancy advertised in the UK.’ To anyone responsible for recruiting in the architectural profession, figures like this won’t come as a shock. During my search for employment in the latter half of 2008, I spoke to staff in several offices, some employing no more than 12 people, who admitted to being overwhelmed with 350 applications for just one Part 2 position.

Last week, rumours disseminated that the RIBA Council had proposed to subsidise practices to employ Part 1 graduates, while others in the profession, like Robert Mull and the Association of Consultant Architects, have proposed the opposite, by waiving post-Part 1 experience. Somehow, Part 2 graduates seem to have evaded the RIBA’s concerns. The brutal reality is that many of us face years of trying to find work in related and alternative sectors, with employment in practice having become a lottery, largely regardless of experience, education or talent.

During my brief spell in employment, I experienced the excesses of an office Christmas party in Lille in northern France at a speculated cost of £45,000. Less than a month later, the same office began a programme of redundancies, targeting the youngest Part 1, 2 and 3 members of the office. The move not only showed poor management, but a complete disregard for the training of their young staff and the value that graduates bring to the studio.

We have to question the value of the training that makes graduates so disposable

Come June, a new wave of Part 2 graduates will further exacerbate a worsening situation. Solutions are unclear, but can only come from the profession as a whole, openly discussing the issues. The RIBA, as a representational body, could begin by debating the state of the profession with graduates, but this would require an openness currently lacking in the institution.

The recession has exposed the weaknesses of the profession’s ability to weather market decline. It is forcing questions to be asked about the training of architects, the difference and distance between practice and academia, and the extended education of architects that leaves graduates apparently without the skills demanded by practice. The celebration of RIBA’s 175th anniversary could be defined by an opportunity to reflect on the very nature of the profession, rather than the champagne-swishing occasion it is more likely to be.

While academia seems content to accept rising student numbers into the profession – by 6.7 per cent this year – we have to reflect on and question the value of the training that makes graduates so disposable. Waiting for the industry to solve itself is like waiting for the banks to solve themselves; you can neither trust them, nor sit waiting for them to stop scratching their own backs. As graduates we have to proclaim that we are not a ‘semi-lost generation’ (AJ 26.02.09). We have a voice and we should start by using it.

James Perry is an unemployed Part 2 graduate

Readers' comments (3)

  • Suggested change in title: 'how the profession eats its young'

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  • I can't understand why nothing is being done? I've been out work for three months and there are literally no jobs for Part II's.

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  • Sorry. There are jobs if you can speak fluent Armenian or have five years experience? Do we have any takers?

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