Fit for purpose?

There’s general agreement that students leave college short on practical skills, but do graduates and employers really share the same view of the problem?

Employers and graduates alike agree that students haven’t the practical skills needed to practise. What else can they agree on? And where do they disagree? The RIBA Appointments Skills Survey sheds light on unsaid expectations.

1. It is agreed: students and graduates ‘lack the knowledge to build what they design’ (86% of employers and 82% of students/recent graduates). Even worse, a massive proportion of those surveyed said they lack even the practical skills needed to practise architecture (80% and 73% respectively). The newly qualified are notably a bit more optimistic than those having to take them on.

2. Think you can work in a team, network, think creatively, make decisions? Your boss might not agree. These ‘soft’ transferable skills are found to be lacking in students and graduates by over half (53%) of employers. Students have more confidence, only 35% of students notice their absence. An even larger number of employees (65%) admit they often struggle to find someone with the right skills and experience.

3. Something needs to be done about architectural education: the fees are too high and theoretical knowledge is put above practical ability. It would probably help if students spent more time learning in practice. Nearly four fifths of both employers (79%) and students (77%) think it should be tried. Alternative routes into the profession – such as apprenticeship – would also be welcomed by 54% of employers and 62% of students/recent graduates.

4. Students and graduates expect to get paid more than employers are expecting to shell out. But while in 2011 this was around £4000 more at Part 1, the figures now are only out by £500 (£19,259). The gap is still pretty substantial as students move through the system: Part 2s are expecting £2300 more (£25,830), and Part 3’s £3700 more (£32,340). The office might know you are working all hours but those sorts of sums only come with extra experience.

5. There are some biggies when it comes to expected knowledge: building regulations and standards, design and specification, planning process, BIM and RIBA Plan of Work. But fewer students are likely to claim knowledge of these than might please employers. Notably at Parts 1 and 2 there are major mismatches between students and employers around the expected knowledge about planning (a 13-14 percentage point difference in students’ expected knowledge) and other ‘real world’ issues like practice and management.

6. By Part 3 many more students are confident of their knowledge in such practical areas. But employers by then are expecting knowledge of the RIBA Plan of Work and contracts and law that outstrips the students and recent graduates’ claimed knowledge.

7. Your boss will expect you to be able to hand draw. Whether this is a generational or a cultural gap it is pretty major. This is seen as a core skill by 70% of employers but only 33% of students and recent graduates. Another old fashioned skill, writing, is also expected – with around one-third (31%) of students/recent graduates seeing it as a core skill against 59% of employers. Oh yes, and of course your boss will expect you to be able to do BIM.

For the full RIBA Appointments Skills Survey report click here