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Reed warns of storm over student low pay

RIBA president Ruth Reed has warned of a potential ‘perfect storm’ in response to new data which shows that more than a third of post-Part 1 students earn below the minimum wage

According to an Archaos survey of 500 students and qualified architects, 38 per cent of students working in practice are paid less than the £12,500-a-year national minimum wage.

‘There is very real danger architecture will become the preserve of the rich,’ said Reed, who added that practices risked crippling the UK’s pool of architectural talent if they continued to pay ‘completely unacceptable’ wages.

She said: ‘With student fees likely to treble and some practices choosing not to pay their students, you couldn’t cook up a more perfect storm if you tried.’

Post-Part I students in employment

Source: Archaos

Post-Part I students in employment

Post-Part I students paid less than the national minimum wage

Source: Archaos

Post-Part I students paid less than the national minimum wage

Employers must pay interns the national minimum wage (which rises to £6.08 per hour in October) if they work under a ‘written, oral or implied’ contract of employment. But 53 per cent of students receiving hourly pay reported annual wages of less than the legal minimum, while 32 per cent of salaried workers were paid under £10,000 a year.

David Lomax of GRID Architects said: ‘We can’t afford to have the talent of tomorrow wander away disillusioned.’

Sean Griffiths of FAT said low pay was a ‘symptom of deeper issues, in particular regarding the willingness of architects to work for nothing or for extremely low fees.’

Read the Archaos survey results in full


Further comment

Marcus Lee, Glenn Howells

Shocking revelation! As a profession we should uphold standards. Equally I dare say clients should resist exploiting market conditions and architects too accepting impossible demands. Remaining competitive yet afloat is a big challenge for many in 2011.

Sean Griffiths, FAT

Of course it’s unfair and wrong to not pay part I’s properly or at all and it’s not a practice that we engage in. However, it is a symptom of deeper issues within the profession - in particular the willingness of architects to work for nothing and/or extremely low fees.

This problem is particularly acute in the current economic circumstances, but it’s actually an endemic and deep seated part of architectural culture. It begins at college where students are encouraged to work long hours (the ‘all-nighter’) from day one and are indoctrinated into believing in the ideology of the design competition - a process where several architects giveaway their services for free, in order for one to get a pot of gold (which more often than not is a chimera) at the end. Until the profession acts collectively and resists these processes, the problem of low pay at all levels of the profession will remain.

Steve Davy, Stephen Davy Peter Smith Architects

As a practice we have always been against asking staff to work for nothing (to gain experience) or for a low wage below what one might expect as a graduate. If practices are taking staff on at exceptionally low wages, to keep overheads down and ultimately fees. The low fees will be harmful to us all as clients will consider this the going rate. Even in hard times we should be pushing for the right fee. Staff will then be getting paid what they deserve and quality will not suffer.

Dami Lapite, Part II

I was fortunate enough to be earning above the national minimum wage during my time as a Part I assistant. What is more disconcerting is the remuneration Part II’s are being subjected to. I am aware of two of my colleagues who are either working for free or subjected to earning just slightly above the minimum wage despite their qualifications and experience as a Part II.


Reza Torabi Parizi, WHAT_architecture

When I started here six months ago I was being paid far less than the minimum wage but I accepted this position because I was keen not to waste my year out serving in a pub, getting multiple piercings or going back-packing in Thailand.

I wanted professional experience and being in a recession and a Part One student I knew finding paid employment was going to be nigh impossible. I wasn’t just competing with UK students but all of European including those on training scholarships.The offices that do pay well are frankly boring and the ones that don’t are usually more interesting although I admit this is not an economically sustainable position.

Anyhow, I committed unreservedly and my attitude must have materialised in my work as after six months I have been awarded a contract which is worth more than my bored classmates in their bigger offices and I have a team of people beneath me and because of the work experience have started ‘criting’ at London Universities. I also delivered the inaugural speech at a Mayoral Opening of a project recently (pictured).

Reza Torabi Parizi delivering a speech

Source: Reza Torabi Parizi

Reza Torabi Parizi, right, delivering a speech

So what’s the point of this anecdote? You have to start somewhere and but if you believe in yourself you can perform and transform from tea lady to a Director of Acquisitions in six months.

Ben Channon, Part I

I am a Part 1 student from Cardiff who actually put an ad in the AJ last summer because I was so desperate to find paid work! In the end it was spotted by the Hutchinson Studio which unfortunately was not in a position to pay me. However, having no other options and with no real support from my University I decided to take the place and slept on my cousin’s sofa in North London for 3 months.

I kept applying for jobs and eventually got a paid place at KKM Architects, where I started in January. While living on Super Noodles and soy sauce for three months wasn’t ideal, it really was my only option, and I had a great time working for Hutchinson Studio. It wasn’t a scenario where they were trying to rip me off by getting free work - they were struggling at that point [and] I was able to help. I did learn a lot there and was actually very sad to leave, but obviously a paid placement has to come first.


Caine Crawford, Archaos

The statistics from the survey were no real surprise, what disheartened me most were the comments made; stories of exploitation and absolute disregard. Most practices know better and do better, but there are enough bad apples in the profession to taint a host of barrels.

Practice director, anonymous

We have a Part I doing voluntary work experience for a period of three months (she approached us – this is the minimum experience required to do Part II at university) which will turn into employment at a level of £15k pro-rata (for a further 3 months). We have also just employed a Part 1 on a permanent salary of £17k.

Jean-Paul Tugirimana, undergraduate

Even with my minimum experience in the working environment, it has become very clear post Part 1 students’ can be taken advantage because for many of them it’s their first experience of paid work within the design profession other than internships or work placements. I also believe a large percentage of these students work in small practices or those who manage low-budget projects. This is an exploitation of student’s desire to practice what they have being learning.

The recession has also played a part in the profession as thousands of high qualified people in design were made either redundant or took a pay-cut due to a lack paying projects. It wasn’t long ago when the AJ published a news article on a leading RIBA board member advising architects not to under value their working experience and knowledge through the recession period by accepting extremely low pay and participating in unpaid projects.

A growing interest on design courses (for example Architecture) in universities and college has also increased competition for jobs which means companies can offer lower wages for more jobs which entail greater responsibilities in the work place. I think what is more worrying is the lack of design students not completing their Part I or doing a Part III. 

James Kitson, Part II student

Practices only do it because they know they can get away with it.  We all know the big names who still don’t have part III or didn’t have them for a long time. So why should part one and two (BA and MA Degrees may I add) be considered as pure stepping stones just because it is considered the norm for an architectural student look at going to achieve part III?

Should we now start making nurses and dental surgeons work for free until they train enough to become doctors or even surgeons?

David Lumb, director Architecture519

What is the profession doing for the (apparent) 38 per cent of the Part I students who are unemployed? The [RIBA’s] Host Practice initiative isn’t a resounding success and the usual debate continues over how much a Part I student should be paid.  Those who have managed to obtain beneficial work experience have done well in the current climate; while those who haven’t are probably facing a deferred or alternative career path.



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