This summer marks the first full year completed by our apprentice architect at Walters Architects.
Here we intend to provide a short insight into the experience from the perspective of both the student and practice.
The Apprentice Architect
Will came to the office 3 years ago wanting practical experience whilst studying a BA (Hons) full time at Nottingham Trent University.
He fitted in well, worked hard and showed really promise.
After working with us for a couple of holidays, he asked if the practice would consider taking him on as an Apprentice Architect over a period of 4 years.
His promise was evident, the practice had plans to expand and were delighted to welcome him on a more permanent basis as our Apprentice Architect.
Will completed his BA and started his apprenticeship with Walters Architects and the University of Nottingham in 2021.
The academic year was divided between Term 1 (Pre-Christmas) and Term 2 (Post-Christmas). Students are required to pass 2 modules per term.
Term time is divided between Practice and University, the idea being that most time is spent in practice. Generally, students are in practice Monday -Thursday and Uni on Fridays. University teaching alternated week by week physically and virtually. Most evenings and weekends were spent on Uni work, with intensity varying as deadlines passed by.
In addition to Fridays at University, students are also allocated approximately 10 study days each term. These can be taken in blocks or weekly. In my case, a study day was taken every other Thursday. This still allowed some additional days leading up to deadlines. It was helpful to communicate these days clearly by adding them to the shared office calendar. Time planning has been very important to help balance office and Uni work.
I naively thought two part time roles would be straight forward. However, the difficulty in switching between mindsets daily took a lot of getting used to. Initially, it took its toll on both university and practice during Term 1. This was the first real challenge of the Apprentice Architect.
The two roles each felt full time which was very demanding. Also, I’d started the apprenticeship straight after my undergraduate degree. So, my mindset toward university work was still fixated on producing immaculate pieces of work like I’d been striving for in my final year at NTU.
Fortunately, UoN and WA were able to support me through this challenging adjustment period. This meant my approach toward Term 2 was more relaxed. Consequently, I was able to fully engage with the course and get as much out of it as possible.
The period of rest and reflection is just as important as the battle itself. Now that I’m able to look back on the year with a clear head, it reaffirms my belief that Architecture education is a philosophical pursuit. The biggest lessons to be learned are of yourself and your perception of the world… how can you grow as an individual and contribute the best version of yourself to the world around you?
Since starting as an apprentice I’ve been involved in multiple projects at Walters Architects. My level of responsibility on projects has definitely increased over the year. I’ve been able to complete multiple planning applications and secure approval for a number our clients. I’ve also been working on more detailed drawings, completing building control drawing packages and enjoying working out the details.
Learning about the process with hands on experience is invaluable. Through each encounter with team members, clients, local authorities and other consultants is shaping me as an aspiring architect. Gaining an understanding of their reasons and requirements builds my experience. Although it seems a slow process it is rewarding to see growth.
At university the projects have ranged from design to a Research Project which considered my own and the practice’s interests. Since reading George Orwell’s books, I’ve taken an interest in housing. I used this to focus my research on affordable housing. Leicester was my case study as Walters Architects are based here. The research allowed me to explore the history of affordable housing and the architect’s relationship with the government. Looking a delivery models from national to local level government. I was able to take the lead interviewing local experts in the field as part of the study. Something I had never had experience doing before.
Since completing the research, we have secured work with a local housing association. With this, we’ve been developing schemes which will improve the quality of living for residents in the city.
I then used the research to fuel my Design Studio project. This was an affordable housing scheme for an urban community of skaters and creatives. The project is titled SKATE HOUSING and is based in Sneinton, Nottingham.
Will is a great member of staff and does everything to the best of his ability. His attitude towards work is the very reason we were happy to try the apprentice route. The scheme is quite testing on a small office and we wouldn’t have explored it without knowing the candidate as well as we did.
The practice totally understands how difficult it is to become a qualified Architect. Sometimes, we wonder if the conventional architectural education route of 7 years is still the best method. Ultimately, it’s a vocational qualification so why not have more time in practice?
Knowing how well organised Will is, we knew he’d be a great candidate. Time management is essential to the program and this element has been led, with great success, by Will.
Most months Will is out the office for 6 days (4 university days & 2 study days). That’s over 25% of the 4-week working month. Sometimes, if he takes study leave, it can be as much as 50% out of the office. And during the holiday period, he obviously takes annual leave. This is the main draw back for a small practice, Will is a valued member of staff so when he’s away, his absence is felt.
Obviously, when he is not in the office, he doesn’t generate a fee or his work slows down. Therefore, it’s difficult to manage projects or to award him a salary worthy of his ability. We have discussed this openly and honestly and Will understands he can’t command a larger salary, save on tuition fees and be a conscientious student.
This understanding of the commercial side of practice makes us want to retain Will and is a good reason to help support his studies. He is a good designer, but he also understands the principles of running a practice. I wonder if this means the apprenticeship program is working?
Overall, we feel the apprenticeship scheme is a good system. But it is only as good as the candidate, practice and university involved. It won’t work for everyone, but it is a good alternative to the convention.
In our instance, we have a good team member and are happy with his production and attitude toward work. Therefore, we see the apprenticeship as a long-term investment to retain good staff by supporting them in their academic and professional studies.
After our first year together, we are happy to carry on…