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Friday25 July 2014

Students hit first by recession

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Record numbers of graduates are chasing fast-disappearing jobs in recession-struck practices. Will Henley lends an ear

Graduates are set to be among the first victims of the recession — with architecture students particularly hit this year, according to leading recruiters.

The problem has been exacerbated by the sheer numbers graduating in architecture since the last recession. Latest figures show a fivefold increase in graduates between 1990 and 2007, according to Hecsu, the higher education careers services unit.

The double whammy of more competition and a recession means firms can be much more choosy, and many are opting to recruit older, more experienced staff.

One of the biggest graduate recruiters, BDP, confirms that it will take on a third fewer part I and part II graduates this autumn compared to last, while the number of applicants has gone up by 10%.

BDP HR development director Debra Larkman says graduates need to go the extra mile to be considered. “They should attend architectural events, networking opportunities and do voluntary work if need be. They need to be seen to be active and have an interest in what is going on in the architectural world.”

Peter Browne, director of recruitment consultant SIV, says that job cuts across the profession have lead to much greater competition from more experienced architects. Browne estimates job losses during September were up by 30% compared to six months ago in February, and by 80% on February 2007.

At Hunter Dunning, managing director Roger Dunning also confirms it is tougher now. “Part IIs are going to find it really hard. They are more attractive than part Is because they have more experience. But they cost more.”

A concern among recruiters and graduates is that the situation may get even worse next year.

“The issue for students is that firms can’t afford them,” says Ewan Anderson, head of Make’s Edinburgh office. “We took one on in July and it’s worked out very well, but sadly we’re not in a position to take any more.

“It’s not catastrophic yet. Most did get jobs this year — but it’s whether we can get through to next summer alright. It’s only become really bad since the collapse of Lehman Brothers. But if the downturn stretches through to next summer, it would effectively knock out a year of graduates — and that would be really sad.”

Pam Cole, head of the Association of Professional Studies Advisors in Architecture, agrees the full impact of the downturn has not been felt.

“I would expect part I students to have a much harder time gaining employment next year,” she says. “There are some students still unable to find work, but it is a very small proportion of last year’s graduates. I have heard from a few students at all levels — I, II and III — who have been made redundant. About 50% of those have been successful in finding new posts, others are finding it more difficult.”

She says the RIBA should encourage practices to keep employing graduates even when times are tough.

Graduates may also need to look at other, “spatially creative” roles outside of pure architecture, according to James Soane, director at London practice Project Orange. He adds that some are still “naïve” about the jobs scene.

“There are still people who will send their CV to Rogers and Foster’s, and wonder why they are being rejected. Many are not going to get their first choice. But I am still positive. Lots of practices are looking to work abroad, and graduates can help with that.”

But even with the prospect of work abroad in some firms, graduates are still finding it an uphill struggle.

“Firms that would have taken on part IIs are not taking any on,” says Lianne Russ, a recent graduate of the Welsh School of Architecture. Russ spent nearly three months firing off applications after finishing her part II exams this summer before she found a job at Camillin Denny in London. “No one is taking anyone on,” she says. “The responses were frustrating because they said they were impressed by my CV, but just not employing.”

Part II graduate John Weir was made redundant and, despite sending out 50 applications, has been unable to find a new job. “Every company I’ve applied to says I don’t have enough experience. But I can’t get any more experience without a job. It’s catch-22. Some companies are looking for cheaper staff who can be cad monkeys, others are looking for more experienced staff who don’t need training. I’m stuck in the middle.”

Luke Butcher, a final year undergraduate at Manchester School of Architecture, adds that even summer work experience was hard to come by. “Out of 20 or 30 students I know, only three or four got summer jobs this year. I’ve got tutors recommending staying on and doing an extra year at university. They’re saying it might be worth doing an MA straightaway because jobs are so hard to find. When people say that, you get a little bit negative.”

National architecture student association Archaos remains positive, although it acknowledges that many graduates are worried about their job prospects.

“We are not finding anyone really struggling to find work,” co-chair Caine Crawford says.

“Architects are restructuring, but some are still hiring students. A degree is flexible, so it opens up opportunities in graphic design, project management and teaching. If you’re struggling to find a job, it’s good to look at other fields.”

Graduates are already beginning to try to seek out other routes, according to Stephen Leighton, an architect and placement coordinator at Sheffield College of Architecture. “We had four or five enquiries about whether students can go straight through to their diploma without the year in employment,” he says. “Everyone just walked into jobs 12 months ago. Now, students are having to be more creative.”

But Make’s Ewan Anderson says students and graduates should hang in there. “I came out of college of 1991 and my first job lasted two weeks, so I’ve been through it. My younger colleagues haven’t, they’re a bit freaked out! I ended up doing freelance model-making for a while. If you’re prepared to adapt, you’ll be OK.”

Advice for Part II graduates

Here are RIBA director of education David Gloster’s tips for graduates looking for work:

Graduates need to:

  • Create a well designed, graphically appealing CV with good visual material (and an emphasis on the practical experience you already have) to distinguish your application.
  • Write a brief but specific covering letter to the practice you are approaching. Make it clear that you like their work and approach by referring to their projects. Generic letters are swiftly dispatched.
  • Send many CVs and letters and follow them up as practices will be inundated with job applications.
  • Target brand name offices by all means, but do not discount a local practice that will minimise your travel time (and costs) and still give you
    a decent vehicle for a part III case study.
  • Consider work overseas but beware of burning too many boats unless you are certain you see yourself as a future global operator.
  • Find out all you can about the practices you approach through your own networks.

Tips at interview

  • Edit your folio to A2 size at most as people don’t like struggling with big drawings, and space may be limited.
  • Don’t attempt to show too much work at the interview— a five-minute display of work may be enough to make a decision.
  • Let the interviewer do the talking unless they specifically ask you to offer a commentary on the work.
  • This is an interview, not a design jury so the theoretical context of your projects may be of less interest to interviewers than other issues.
  • Demonstrate you can write by including in your folio short, well illustrated written projects. n Show that you are aware of the technological context of architecture by including technology research and submissions from your part II.

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Readers' comments (36)

  • I've been working with two small practises in west london for two years now, we're still getting residential jobs in every week and (touch wood!) it doesn't look to be slowing down yet. I think students should think more about applying to smaller practises, as you have to get experience working through all parts of the projects as there's so few people in the office, it's much better than being a small cog in a big machine!! Saying that I'm hoping to start my part 1 next year, and the lack of jobs at the moment, and the sheer number of people studying Architecture makes me think it could be difficult even three years on to get into work. I suppose we've all just got to stand out and stay positive!!

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  • As the former Secretary of the RIBA Building Industry Trust (no longer functioning) and working with all 4th year students in the UK at all the then 36 schools of architecture certain facts came to light about the study of Architecture. For instance, in 1987, the Europe wide figures for students of architecture revealed that approx 1,000 students a year in the UK graduated whilst in Italy for instance 10,000 students graduated. This was explained by the trend in Italy at the time for most students of anything to choose as a first degree Architecture before specialising in another field connected or otherwise. Often has been the time that I wished for a more broadly based architecture course to do the same for students in our country because it would automatically create an awareness of design and architecture. The level of knowledge of the basic tenets of design would be raised and spread more widely in society making it easier for Architects to spread their word and increase the level of their effectivenes in a more sociall natural way. Again here and now, it requires other disciplines to be able to relate to architecture interests verbally at a lliteral level in order to attract an architecture student into their own businesses and realise the benefit of doing so. It should be a positive experience for everyone, like gaining a another limb, another way of seeing the world. Sadly this kind of understanding is rare in our Management Accountant society where conversational niceties for the sake of themselves are viewed as time wasters. A business team with different thought structures is more likely to find innovation in business solutions especially in stricken times. However, as above, the key thing is to stay involved, go to lectures, get invited to crit, speak and let it happen from there.

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  • The problem is not just the economy, it's the education system. More schools of architecture, larger year sizes, lower standards, more help for struggling students, easier courses, the influx of new universities, and 'kevin mccloud culture' - which leads to a huge amount of factory farmed gradutes chasing few jobs. It's not just in architecture though its across the board, there are only so many jobs, so graduates of archtiecture need a reality check, they may do 7 years and not get a job. Get over it.

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  • I came to England few years ago thinking that the quality of education would be much better than the one back home. I was wrong, i had an horrible experience, the teachers where nice individuals but not up for the challenge. being foreigner and not knowing the so called 'amazing system' in my school I've end up with an Architectural studies degree and now need to spend £1500 to do the ARB exam. It is really sad that i spent so much money in coming here and that is what happened. Schools are getting more and more greedy, they just accept anyone. And most of the tutors are not that good. I did manage to find a job in the end but it took me almost an year.

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  • Our current workload is holding up but two large residential jobs have been put on hold until the New Year. We advertised at the beginning of the month for a Part One student and have so far received a staggering 374 replies!

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  • Alexandra, Totally agreed with you. Hard time outside school too. I was even about to print a T-shirt saying ' I am a student NOT a migrant'. Frustrated, that's all I can say.

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  • Alexandra, Totally agreed with you. Hard time outside school too. I was even about to print a T-shirt saying ' I am a student NOT a migrant'. Frustrated, that's all I can say.

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  • Alexandra, Totally agreed with you. Hard time outside school too. I was even about to print a T-shirt saying ' I am a student NOT a migrant'. Frustrated, that's all I can say.

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  • I couldn't agree more with Alexandra's comment on how greedy the Universities are right now and also the ARB and the RIBA and in a nutshell the whole economy pushing up prices on a false economy. When I came to the UK i did not know either anything about the "amazing system" which is farther from amazing and more close to disgraceful. I tried to get the UK qualification and only got the Part I and was given no excuses for it whatsoever, however, I never had troubles finding a new job thanks due to my experience, but I guess now things will get harder , not just for architects coming from other countries but for the local architects as well. At the end, the values and knowledge of the individual will overcome the difficulties of finding a job and it will be only those very clever managers in very few practices that will eventually capitalised on all that talent, no matter what the situation will be out there.

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  • i am afraid that global recession might affect architects more adverserly, to a greater extent, as many people feel that architects spend more on designing than needed for usefulness. in this period of bankrupcy, creativeness would be among the first victims.

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