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We must improve the student workplace experience

Pick everard graduate day crop
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Following the AJ’s recent student survey, Pick Everard’s Steve Cummings outlines how his practice is endeavouring to make graduate placements more productive and enjoyable

Steve cummings

Steve Cummings, a director at Pick Everard

Steve Cummings, a director at Pick Everard

This year’s AJ Student Survey, which focused on work placements, identified a crucial need for employers to collaborate more closely with education. The survey results showed the challenging backdrop that students are working within. It suggests the need for a new strategy to foster stronger investment in student employability and provide meaningful job opportunities for new talent entering the profession.

There needs to be more investment in preparing students for the transition to employment; blending work experiences and skill development. Employers need to provide high-quality opportunities for students to apply these skills. 

The survey suggests a positive opportunity for practices to hold the mirror up to themselves and consider how much of the feedback rings true for them. We’re in an age where competition to be a good workplace is stronger than ever. The industry needs to move fast or risk losing more early-career professionals to other professions that provide better prospects and work-life blend.

The industry needs to move fast or risk losing more early-career professionals to other professions

At Pick Everard we’re striving to improve our overall people practice, while particularly supporting our graduates and apprentices as a distinct group with distinct needs. We’re finding our graduates benefit from more experienced individual mentors who provide advice on their university work and support them through their journey. The mentors also join their allocated students for quarterly review meetings with the university. 

We’ve designed a structured graduate scheme, which provides facilitated group sessions in a range of soft skill and commercial subjects, aligned with RIBA competencies. At Part 1 and 2, typical topics include Design Critiques, Presentation Skills, Effective Meetings, Communication Skills; while at Part 3, topics lead to Managing Client Relationships, Contracts and Insurance and Budget and Fee Management. These monthly sessions provide a focus, a peer-group and a familiar structure to aid transition from study to work.

The AJ Survey results showed how early-career architects often lack opportunities for site visits. These provide vital experience and inspiration in how projects and designs translate in reality.

Studentsurvey graphs 20193

Studentsurvey graphs 20193

It’s the stuff that inspires people to get into the profession in the first place and we must keep such excitement alive. A structured and co-ordinated approach to these opportunities would bring huge benefits. Using our client and contractor relationships, we have organised tours of construction projects and Q&A sessions.

Well-structured performance review meetings will ultimately help practices really get under the skin of what people need

Offering the right support to graduates in their early career has to involve meaningful conversations. Ongoing feedback, dialogue and team days are crucial, as well as on-the-job coaching. We have created a graduate community, encouraging better opportunity to share experiences to benefit from each other’s ambition. 

Nishal tailor crop

Nishal tailor crop

Nish Tailor

Pick Everard architectural assistant Nish Tailor says of his experience at the practice: ‘Fellow graduates and I have been provided with the mentorship and support we require to truly understand the construction process, develop and hone essential skills and identify a path for our future careers.

‘Pick Everard’s recent Graduate Day is a great example of how new graduates like me can gain vital experience. The day saw graduates from across our offices brought together to connect, grow their network and to share their experiences within industry.’

Well-structured performance review meetings will ultimately help practices really get under the skin of what people need. These, in turn, provide opportunities to raise issues and identify solutions to personal challenges with employers, so that many of the trends identified in the AJ survey can be proactively managed at individual level.

Mental health and support for wellbeing also needs to be high on the agenda. Assistance programmes and supportive colleagues will ensure graduates know that help is available. At Pick Everard we train our managers in stress management and dignity at work and have designated mental-health first-aiders. 

Across the industry, we have a real opportunity to raise standards if we work collaboratively on this important area. The feedback should be used to support future thinking of what each practice needs to do to support, inspire and develop the capabilities of our next generation talent in a ‘best workplace approach’ to deliver success.

Steve Cummings is a director at Pick Everard

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