Over the 20 years of my career there is no doubt that the architecture profession is still today facing challenges in social diversity and inclusion, writes Lisa Mcfarlane of Seven Architecture.
The requirement to become a fully qualified architect involves years of study, with architecture being one of the longest courses at university taking a minimum of seven years to complete. With the associated fees and living costs this has inevitably created problems, which I have seen first hand, for young students trying to break into the profession and for firms to recruit people from a wide variety of backgrounds. As a student from a working class background, and the first in my family to consider university, I was lucky enough to get a maintenance grant, without which the opportunity to study architecture would have been impossible.
So when the discussion around the new architectural apprenticeship scheme kick started in September 2016, I was certain that this would shape the future of educating aspiring architects, offering an alternative and more inclusive route into the profession.
When the Government gained Royal Assent for its new apprenticeship levy in Autumn 2016, firms with wage bills of more than £3m a year were charged 0.5% of their total wage bill to fund new apprenticeships from April 2017. Smaller firms which do not pay the levy are eligible for grants of 90% of their funding needs. The rules of the levy mean any industry scheme must be organised by employers, which meant that RIBA and the Architects Registration Board were not able to lead the process.
Consequently, an architecture trailblazer group was set up, with 20 practices collaborating to develop schemes that will allow apprentices to gain Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 qualifications. I am proud that Seven Architecture is one of only two small practices in the trailblazer group, working as sub-lead alongside Simon Branson from Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, to develop the Level 6 apprenticeship assessment.
Level 6 is the equivalent of a full time BA(Hons) degree and provides the RIBA Part 1, taking four years to complete. We worked hard to establish the assessment criteria which would meet the requirements of RIBA, the ARB, the IFA and universities, working closely in particular with the Manchester School of Architecture. The Level 7 will also take four years to complete and will provide the RIBA Part 2 and Part 3 qualifications. The hard work has now paid off and the two apprenticeships were approved in July, kickstarting the initiative across the UK.
Students undertaking the apprenticeship scheme will earn and learn at the same time. They will pay nothing towards their training whilst earning a wage, spending 80% of their time in practice and the rest studying. Recommended salary scales will be set for each year of study. The absence of a large student debt will be life-changing for many aspiring architects and will also enable them to learn the benefits of the ‘softer’ issues in a professional environment. Dealing with clients on a day-to-day basis for the duration of their apprenticeship will mould them into a highly professional person by the end of the process. However, it is no doubt going to require a lot of dedication and the right attitude to work.
I am excited to welcome our first apprentice into the Seven studio next year and have the opportunity to mentor and inspire future architectural talent. Seven’s mission as a practice is to inspire learning and improve lives and I am so proud to have been a part of developing an alternative route into the profession, which I have no doubt will give talented young professionals a great pathway to their career in architecture.