Profession needs a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work

Words:
Alan Jones

Changes of attitude in education and practice will help architects become more valuable and effective

A development company was recently challenged on when it would respect archi­tects’ practices, and its reply focused on salaries: ‘We’ll respect you when you respect yourselves.’ There wasn’t an opportunity to query the developer’s appreciation of keeping a contemporary practice in business – from lawyers’ fees for bespoke contracts to the increasing cost of professional indemnity insurance, IT and securing new work. 

Practice is an art, a science and a business. Efficiency and effectiveness, entre­pre­neurship and professionalism receive a light­er touch in architectural education, but surely it is the learner slopes of the profession where the habits of the future practitioner are formed.  Where does the culture of long hours and minimal business planning begin?   

A valuable education involves significant personal change. It supports students as they learn but there is also a responsibility to prepare people for the world beyond academia, especially when higher education costs so much for so many.   

But transformation is avoidable. Erik Erikson and, more recently, Mirjana Domakonda identify ‘extended adolescence’ which implies a tacit agreement that ‘we will be gentle on you, if you, students, are gentle on us’.  Education leading to a profession must surely be affected by this? 

In Defining Contemporary Professionalism, edited by yours truly with Rob Hyde and published by RIBA in September, ­Peggy Deamer sets out her well-argued case for ­unionised practice, with an understanding of economics, transparency of fees and salaries and calling out poor professionalism.

In the same publication, Chris Boyce outlines the case for making money, professionally, and Indy Johar calls for a move away from fees related to construction cost towards the value of problem solving and environmental and spatial stewardship.  Peter Holgate and Paul Jones question if universities are an appropriate location for creating future architects. 

These contributors highlight the interdependencies of education, business, hours and salaries, with value. It is a complex ecosystem that requires acknowledgement of our generational differences, a holistic approach and a team effort towards a common goal.

Some might argue that we knew what we were letting ourselves in for before embarking on the journey to become an architect.  But I believe we can change our situation if academia, practices, graduates, employers and the RIBA work together. 

Enter the RIBA Code of Practice, stage left and a pilot of The Compact, stage right. 

Only RIBA Chartered Practices are committed to the RIBA Code of Practice (2019),  requirements that are above minimum employment legislation, to champion fair and diverse workplaces. That gives confidence to members working in those practices. Anyone can contact professional.standards@riba.org to report an example not meeting the Code. 

The Compact is an agreement between graduates and chartered practices employing them. It addresses the transition to the workplace and promotes best practice for the benefit of all.  The pilot will start in January 2020, with the aim of chartered practices and validated schools meeting its requirements by 2021.  Representatives of our schools have already given an encouraging reaction. 

Chris Boyce challenges us to acknowledge that we work to earn a living, and only the privileged few can say otherwise. To increase the diversity of our profession, we need to be more valuable and effective through education and practice.

We are taking the high road of more impact, responsibility, expertise and value.  

Hence, we must support and challenge each other to be better.  We can start by defining what we expect of each other. If you wish to participate in the pilot of the Compact please email compact@riba.org


RIBA DEMANDS ACTION ON HOUSING, CLIMATE, SAFETY – AND BREXIT

The RIBA has called on the political parties to step up and tackle the serious crises in housing, climate and building safety in its 2019 manifesto, published in November. The RIBA’s Future Trends survey shows that ongoing political uncertainty is affecting confidence in the wider construction sector, and practices are reporting project cancellations. The RIBA is calling on the next government to resolve Brexit so that the UK can start building.