Issue 53More is more: Architecture and Apprentices

Following the approval of the new architectural apprentice standards Associate Simon Branson, who has been an active member of the Architecture Trailblazer group, reflects on architecture and apprentices.

Following the approval of the new architectural apprentice standards Associate Simon Branson, who has been an active member of the Architecture Trailblazer group, reflects on architecture and apprentices.

Studying architecture as an apprentice rather than a university student is certainly not a new concept, but is perhaps a concept that, within the UK at least, has been lying dormant for a generation.

Last week, however, with the approval of the Architecture Apprentice standards, the future of architecture apprentices is now a reality again. With a structure based on developing skills in practice paired with academic learning, there is now no reason why a cohort of 21st century architectural apprentices can’t go on to achieve what their 20th century predecessors did: not least Isi Metzstein, Corb or Mies Van der Rohe.

My engagement with the process as a member of the Trailblazer group has been driven by the idea that the programme could encourage the very best spatial thinkers from diverse backgrounds to embark on an architectural career. This I believe will enrich the profession.

Something that I witnessed with a school in Moss Side, Manchester, was that talented kids could imagine spaces but didn’t think the profession was for them. Certainly, this philosophy has been echoed at recent Trailblazer meetings by both the Stephen Lawrence Trust and the RIBA who have rightfully argued that the survival of the profession is linked to how it better matches the make-up of society. In my view, diversity is certainly beneficial to the profession and therefore arguably to society as a whole. Perhaps now, more than ever, More is More. 

The Trailblazer group was set up in October 2016 in response to government policy changes and the introduction of the apprenticeship levy in April 2016. The 20 or so companies have met regularly for 18 months. We have also met with the RIBA, ARB, IFA and numerous academic institutions to debate and discuss how the apprenticeship programme should be formulated. As a group, we have not been looking to rewrite the route to qualification but simply provide an alternative within the existing ARB, RIBA and IFA frameworks. To this end, we developed a Level 6 (Part 1) apprentice programme and a Level 7 (combined Part 2 and 3) apprentice programme. It is, therefore, possible for those wishing to be an apprentice to start as a school leaver or to pick up the programme part-way through after completing a ‘traditional’ degree. 

Working on the End Point Assessment (EPA) together with Lisa Macfarlane from Seven Architecture has been a fascinating and engaging process. The IFA requires an EPA to be written for all new apprentice courses.  It is conceived as a document against which institutions across England can assess apprentices at the end of the process. It outlines what the minimum skills, knowledge and behaviours are that are required to pass the course, along with a framework for apprenticeship courses. It is a document that has been subject to significant consultation and as part of the overall package I hope will encourage aspiring architects to get involved.     

Looking ahead, one of the key aspects of determining the success of the programme will be the quality of ‘on the job’ learning opportunities available to apprentices. Much as employers do at present with year out students, finding opportunities to provide a variety of experiences to supplement their formal learning will undoubtedly shape the architects that the course produces.

This is something that we have been considering at FCBStudios for some two years as part of our engagement with the Manchester Futures Apprenticeship Programme. This apprenticeship scheme is a two-year programme where apprentices study, on day release, towards two level 4 construction diplomas. The course is based around a four-month rotation in which the apprentices gain a range of experiences, spending time with architects, engineers, quantity surveyors, project managers, contractors and the Council. These apprentices gain, in a short time, a broad range of experience that few other young construction professionals in the country will have. To this end we have been looking to immerse the apprentices in the architectural world as best we can. The Manchester Futures Apprenticeship programme is one that we remain committed to and has helped us understand better the requirements of young aspiring construction professionals.

Here’s to looking forward to restarting the age-old tradition of architectural apprentices, not to compete with the traditional model but to supplement it, broaden the reach of architecture and create a profession that reflects the society it serves.

Simon Branson

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Meeting of the Architectural Trailblazers group, October 2017