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Building for the future

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We can help students get the year-out experience they so urgently need, writes David Lumb

As director of a new practice, I’m lucky if I can find an hour every other day to consider how practices currently struggling to survive can actually ease, if not solve, the growing year-out student crisis.

For the past few months, I’ve been promoting the idea that there must be a way to supplement or replace the massive reduction in paid positions for year-out students in practice.

Since then I’ve been receiving messages of support from affected students who consistently declare their willingness to be infinitely flexible if it will enable them to gain a position in an architectural practice - whether temporary, part-time or unpaid. They’ll do anything to obtain some exposure to the real world of architectural practice, no matter how limited or difficult that may be. 

My practice is currently able to employ just one year-out student and one part-time student. I imagine we are typical of most practices, in that we have the space and the infrastructure to accommodate one or maybe two more students. The problem is that we do not have a sufficiently robust earnings forecast to commit to their employment and the funds to pay them.

Given the feedback I’m getting from students, this isn’t the real barrier to offering them the opportunities they are desperately seeking; the barriers are the constraints provided by the Professional Experience and Development Record and the parameters that have been set to ensure that they obtain the optimum breadth and depth of experience – and, most importantly, to ensure students are not taken advantage of.

I have no argument with these checks and balances – they have served the profession extremely well – but these are extraordinary times. We urgently need to accept that there is a very high likelihood that at least one, if not two years of a critical part of the architectural education of students, both currently and imminently expecting a year out, will be lost.

Although I’m pessimistic that the plight of year-out students is worsening by the day, I am optimistic that, as a profession, we can establish a ‘ground-up’ self-help package that is of equal benefit to both practices and students alike.

If I can only find that hour every other day to stimulate others in practice to consider the year-out situation, then maybe the currently increasing number of disenfranchised students will not be condemned to assisting Tesco in achieving their £5,000-a-minute profit. Instead, some of them may be provided with an opportunity to help design one of the 142 new Tesco stores projected for this coming year.

David Lumb is director of architecture519


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Readers' comments (1)

  • Give students and established architects a sensible framework through which to connect. Surely the industry includes some of the brightest, most creative and forward thinking individuals in the world. Can a solution not be found?

    The Host Practice scheme, which I see architecture519 are part of, is a great idea. Though it would appear very few practices signing up. This does not however offer much hope to the many independent graduates like myself who cannot afford to live without an income.

    Is it wrong that firms exploit free labour? That is certainly something which should be debated. But such talk takes time and will not help those who need help now.

    Can RIBA and the ARB not approach the Department of Works and Pensions and Jobcentre plus, to propose that working for a practice without fee should constitute actively searching for work and as such should qualify for jobseekers allowance from day one. Not only following six months of unemployment. Surely it is better to get newly qualified students into paid work, even if this would effectively mean them being subsidised by the government.

    This should be the year where through direct contact with the industry we are finally able to discover if we are suited to the profession. Not the year we have to give up and do something else simply because we are not paid the bare minimum we need to go on.

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