Many aspiring architects are drawn to the workplace, rather than a degree course. Chloe Mawette explains why she wants to pursue an apprenticeship

Chloe Mawette_Peter Ghobrial

Source: Peter Ghobrial

Chloe Mawette

I’m an architectural intern at General Practice Architecture + Design (GPAD). I am the first Build the Way Intern. This is a programme run by POoR Collective and GPAD to help young people gain first-hand experience in the architecture industry, so that they can learn important skills needed to work in a practice.

I want to share my insights into how I have got to where I am now - my untraditional journey and experiences of navigating the industry so far.

My interest in architecture is something that has always been there, but only began to develop into a real passion when I was 16. This is when I had the opportunity to study Interior and Architectural Design as an A-Level. Before studying it as a subject, I only knew about architecture through observing my own surroundings and the buildings around me.

After studying the key fundamentals of architecture, my perspective of the built environment had shifted immensely. It became impossible for me not to observe buildings and spaces in a different and more detailed way.

It was at this point that I felt my passion for architecture and my life journey beginning to come together. Once that had happened, things started to fall into place and form a pathway. A pathway that I’m still figuring out for myself.

I felt unsure about going to uni

My journey towards an apprenticeship started in 2018, during my second year in sixth form college. For most people, it was a priority to start applying for university to further their studies. But I felt unsure about going to uni. I knew that I wanted to carry on with a career in architecture but full time education wasn’t the path that resonated with me.

I felt a disconnect. The idea of studying architecture in a lecture hall didn’t feel right. I was very sure that I wanted a practical start in the industry, not more time at school. But the only route into architecture seemed to be through a university and full-time education.

Just as I was about to write a personal statement for my university application, the RIBA announced that they were officially introducing a new route into the industry through an apprenticeship. Once I’d seen this news, I became certain that this was the route for me.

Since then, I have set a goal to become an apprentice. I want to be able to learn on the job and be proactive when thrown into a task. I know that the workplace is an environment where I can thrive and build upon my existing skills.

…nobody knew an apprenticeship scheme even existed

I started off by seeing what opportunities I could find in my careers office in school. But because the news about the apprenticeship scheme was so fresh, it was practically impossible to find work experience if you had no connections in the industry.

Luckily, with the help of the careers team in my college, I was able to take part in a two-week work experience with Wates. I’m grateful that I was able to do this because it exposed me to other sectors and job roles that are all involved in the construction industry. It widened my perspective of the built environment. From site visits to meetings with different professionals, I was able to understand how projects progress, and the different teams that are involved.

After I had finished sixth form college, I was left to my own devices in finding a way into the industry – using all the knowledge and experience that I had picked up along the way. While I was trying to discover ways to get myself out there, I kept myself occupied by simultaneously working in an agency job.

One of the ways in which I was trying to get myself out there was by contacting practices and asking them about the apprenticeship scheme. I did this by sending emails and CVs. Most of the time, I wouldn’t get a response. It was the same even with smaller practices – with the main factor being that nobody knew an apprenticeship scheme even existed.

A huge factor which helped me get to where I am now is building upon my own connections

Even though I was faced with quite a few setbacks, unsure of where this path would take me, I still wanted to aim for an apprenticeship.

A huge factor which helped me get to where I am now is building upon my own connections. If I hadn’t started building my network, I know for a fact that I wouldn’t have been able to progress to the point I’m at now.

A big game changer for me was when I made a connection with the architecture group Black Females in Architecture (BFA). As a collective, they’ve been able to help me navigate within the industry and helped me get exposure to other great people and groups that are also looking to make changes in the profession. BFA recognise the need to embrace different possibilities around how we explore architecture.

However, just as I felt like I was making positive steps in the right direction, the covid lockdown sent me on a detour in my journey. After receiving some mentorship from the connections I had made through my networking, I began to again consider going to university.

…there was always something within me that would push me to keep on searching for an alternative

I was quite reluctant to go at first. I took some convincing, but in hindsight I am grateful for experiencing studying architecture at a degree level – even if it was just for one year.

I enjoyed my time learning at uni, but there was always something within me that would push me to keep on searching for an alternative. Deep down I had that feeling that I knew that this is not where my path was supposed to take me.

A couple of weeks before I finished my first year at university, I was made aware of an opportunity to apply for an internship role, which would let me finally experience what it was like working in an architecture practice.

I was quite hesitant in applying because I was so sure that I wanted to get an apprenticeship. But I ended up applying after all, as I saw it as another opportunity that I could learn from. I thought to myself that it doesn’t hurt to at least try and if I wasn’t successful, I’d figure something else out.

I’m quite overwhelmed and excited in taking this new step in my path

To my surprise, I was successful – something which I will always be so grateful for. Accepting the internship at GPAD meant that I had to defer my place at uni for a year.

Making the next step from an educational environment into a work environment was something I was stoked to go ahead with, so deferring my place wasn’t too overwhelming or bittersweet. It felt like the right thing to do – and so far, I am happy that it was the right choice.

As my year in my internship is coming to an end, I’ve decided to finally take my chances in applying for a spot at London South Bank University as a Level 6 apprentice. A Level 6 apprenticeship course is equivalent to obtaining a bachelor’s degree, so I’ll be able to become a qualified Part I after four years of part-time education combined with full-time work in practice.

I’m quite overwhelmed and excited in taking this new step in my path. I wasn’t too sure how long it was going to take for me to actually reach a point where I could apply, but the moment has finally come and I am in the process of completing my application at the moment. If all goes well, I can proudly celebrate my journey in reaching the milestone of starting an apprenticeship, after years of perserverance.