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Students ready to work for free

‘Desperate’ students unable to gain a placement turn to unpaid work

Almost half of architecture students looking for work experience in their year out would be willing to work for free, according to the AJ’s State of Architectural Education survey.

With almost two-thirds of students still unable to find suitable work experience, the AJ’s online study of more than 400 students revealed that 46 per cent of those seeking placements would not demand payment. Over 70 per cent said they would try to find paid work elsewhere to subsidise their architectural experience.

Jessica Noel, a third-year student at Strathclyde University, said an ‘air of desperation’ was forcing aspiring architects to offer themselves for nothing.

Noel said: ‘Some students feel desperate after finding that the university is unlikely to take on students into fourth year if they are unable to gain a work placement. Others are willing to work for free because they want to get through the system as quickly and painlessly as possible.’

But the RIBA said the trend was ‘potentially damaging’, both for graduates and for the profession. David Gloster, the RIBA’s head of education, said: ‘Although unpaid work can have value as experience, it is essentially exploitative if the relationship becomes protracted.’

Stuart Piercy of Piercy Conner Architects agreed: ‘I am fund­amentally against working for nothing. It is clearly a very privileged position for the lucky few whose parents can afford it, devalues what we do and sends the wrong messages to our clients.’

But Lorenzo Dwyer, a sixth-year student at Sheffield University, defended the decision by some students to work for free.

He said: ‘Non-paid employment is one of the few real options now remaining for out-of-work student architects. Free work is a strategic, long-term move to secure future paid employment and advance one’s architectural know-how.’

Read Kieran Long’s leader: ‘If students work for nothing, only the middle classes will become architects’

Readers' comments (13)

  • This is ludicrous and, again favours those students with parents willing, or able to support them. What about people who need to pay bills? Wages for part I are low enough already, without offering services for free. It's nigh on impossible for a graduate to support themselves after plunging themselves into huge amounts of debt. 'Non-paid employment is one of the few real options' is a pathetic statement. Well done chaps you keep the profession for the smug middle classes...

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  • I'm very releaved to hear the opinions of people such as Stuart Piercy on this subject. I hope his views are echoed by the profession at large. Accepting students who want to work for free is quite immoral, and it is exclusionist.
    We don't want to end up like the fashion industry, who's figureheads throw money around and then complain that they 'can't afford' to pay their interns.

    Moral reasons aside, having to pay your staff for the work they do is one of the things that keeps an architects feet on the ground and in the real world.

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  • I totally agree with the above comments and think it is ridiculous that students would undersell themselves by working for nothing. Have we not worked hard enough during our degree to earn something near a suitable salary? I have recently been made redundant from my practice but fortunately have the required experience to go on to part 2 in September. My parents have no chance of supporting me while I work for free so I will unfortunately will leave the profession for a few months to gain paid employment. I have massive compassion for students coming out of university this year.

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  • Students from all classes have an uncanny way to make do financially. Third year students are still eligible to free student overdrafts as well as what is now a 0% student loan and grants from the governments Student Finance. On top of that many Universities offer hardship funds and other grants and scholarships to assist students throughout their education.
    Many degrees require students to take years in industry to complete their degrees, without the promise of a wage to fund the year, people should stop being so ignorant, what does the profession currently know about the hardships of student finance, none. They aren't a student today. A few more thousand pounds of free debt is effectively an investment in a lifetimes career. However a solution is not in how much a part 1 should be paid, the educational process of architecture itself should be readdressed to educate the architects of tomorrow without burden, making practical experience the responsibility of the money grabbing Universities.

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  • Students should not work for free. Architectural practices and other businesses that allow this should, at the very least, be brought within the remit of the National Minimum Wage Legislation and prosecuted.

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  • If you are going to work for free, at least do it for a 'worthy' cause, such as Architectes Sans Frontieres, Architecture for Humanity, etc, or other community-based housing / arts projects or charitable organisations.

    To offer your services for nothing to a profitable firm just degrades your own self esteem and further contributes to erosion of industry value. Architects are already generally terrible accountants and economic forecasters, we don't need to add this in a new precedent. Once this trend has started, it will be irreversible, regardless of underlying economic climate. RIBA should step in to nip this in the bud.

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  • When are the RIBA going to act on this and PREVENT any member offcie from employing people for 'free'? It only devalues the proession.

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  • Who says the only people who can work for no salary are those who have parents who will fund it?! I'm sure these people exist, but don't tar us all with the same brush. There was very little work when I graduated so I set up my own practice with nil help from parents... I just worked very hard!

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  • A tough one, but lets be honest, the road to becoming an RIBA registered architects is one single route. SO inevitably, there is going to be a shortage of jobs for students, part one is effectively an art and design based degree, so there is no reason why students couldn't apply for jobs in a variety of different design fields, in fact there is no real reason why if you have studied a design based degree, you cant take on a part 2 degree. The old argument that to become a doctor you can take a variety of paths to your chosen goal is applicable here. RIBA on a whole is too old fashioned, and this has led to bottle neck of students either graduating, or looking for placements - change the parameters, and guarantee this will change!

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  • While most people will remember their final projects and the stresses that they were under, it seems that no one can truly rememebr how it felt to have that pressure alongside the almost certain knowledge of unemployment.
    I'm currently doing my Part 1 placement overseas, in Malaysia purely because I spent a good part of 4 months searching to no avail last year. I was lucky though, and managed to secure a position here. I think many people people forget that this is not a new problem for the 2009-2010 year out students. In fact, the best advice that the tutors told me, was to go on a holiday, because "The recession wont last more than the summer of 2008.
    Just before getting this job, I was contemplating working for free, but then it was more out of neccessity, just as it is now. The last thing that students need is to have practitioners feeling sorry for students, but all the while knock down free work.
    It isn't exploiting students, when they choose to do it.

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  • Michaela Sedova

    I have graduated last year and even though I have graduated with 1st class Degree and Awards I have been unable to get any paid placement at all!
    From October till now I had 4 different jobs - obviously unpaid.
    It is true this is causing a serious damage to the industry. Its absolutely outrageos that businesses must make this excuse of the reccesion as a reasoning to employ a student "servant" without paying any penny! Businesses are using this as much as they are allowed to! Because there are no restrictions only a guidliness how much the graduate should earn! Hello?This works only in your dreams.
    Yes I am having bed experience and this is extremly depressing forcing some extremly talented individuals to give up - I know many. = industry is loosing out on some future big names.
    Something needs to be done and fast!
    In the reality yes we need to pay bills, eat and live. Why cleaner should be paid more than me with an education? Does cleaner work for free at first? No! No other profesion does. Placement does not mean slaver for free.
    Industry needs to get over this issue and have a realistic grown up attitude. Yes working for free with a curtain limit - its widely used and ABUSED!

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  • I graduated last year and have been unable to find a placement. I cannot afford an unpaid placement as the rent and bills have to be paid every month.
    I am working, training to design fire sprinkler systems in Leeds so at least I am in the construction industry but resigned to the fact I will be designing sprinklers for the next few years.
    Many other people are in this situation, and will become disillusioned with architecture and get pushed into other things and never go back, which will create a lost generation of perfectly good architects.

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  • I feel sorry for young people who studied architecture and were led to believe that this is an exciting, well-paid profession. It is not. The architecture departments live in a fantasy world and even convince students that they are gaining useful transferrable skills. They are not, it's just design, design, design. Read my blog and book

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