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Q&A: Stuart Coleman on architecture apprenticeships

As one of the first cohort of Level 7 architecture apprenticeships qualifies, the director of Coleman Anderson Architects explains his firm’s support for the scheme

Stuart Coleman, director of Coleman Anderson Architects.
Stuart Coleman, director of Coleman Anderson Architects.

You employ one of the first cohort of Level 7 architecture apprentices, who has just qualified. How did that come about?

Sam was doing his year out with our eight-strong Kent practice, and enjoying working. He applied for a part-time diploma, but London South Bank University proposed the new apprenticeship, launched in 2018. He could qualify by studying one day a week while earning, and we got stability as he’d be with us for at least three years. Our willingness also stems from my objections to conventional education: it’s too long, expensive and divorced from practice. This is a better way to train well-rounded architects. We’ve since taken on two more apprentices.

What’s involved for the practice?

The government pays 90 per cent of the course fees and we make up the rest. We also opt to cover travel and other costs, and pay a full-time salary. The apprenticeship is arduous and stressful, so it’s only fair to give proper support. We also commit time to meeting with tutors, and to mentoring – making sure apprentices meet the workplace requirements. As year-out staff sign up for apprenticeships six months before starting, we have to decide that they can handle it quite early. That could be a gamble, but our apprentices have completed first degrees, which shows maturity and commitment to architecture.

How has it worked out?

For apprentices, it is incredibly tough. They study three hours a night plus weekends, needing good time management. It’s also hard to switch between, for example, the sort of drawings made for a tutor or a client. Some have suggested that apprentices miss out on creative development, but they get stimulation at university while learning how to talk to contractors and win jobs. I underestimated the breadth of experience they need to get in practice, but luckily in a firm of our size everyone sees everything, and we’ve organised CPDs to fill gaps. As a practice, we’ve benefitted, as creative juices are flowing and they bring in new skills. It does stretch resources – they are too busy to take on paid overtime – but that just needs good practice management.

Do you recommend it to other practices?

Absolutely – maybe every practice should offer them. As early adopters we learned on the job, and the university did too, but requirements are now clearer to employers, with support in place; it helps that our apprentices are at the same university. We’ve seen the benefit to the practice and the apprentices, and it’s incredibly fulfilling to experience their whole journey to becoming an architect.

 

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