Friday, 21 September 2012

What use is architectural education?

A huge headline on the front of yesterday's Evening Standard, the London local paper,  reads 'A degree in architecture ....but all I can get are menial jobs'. The paper highlighted the plight of 24-year old Debo Ajose-Adeogun who found that his architecture degree from Birmingham University was of no help in finding a proper job. On graduation he returned to his home in Newham and, inspired by the Olympic construction, applied for jobs with developers but without luck. He had an eight-month contract with a housing association but is now a sales assistant in Stratford mall.
'I've made more than 250 applications for an entry level job as a designer, architect's assistant, surveyor or something in the housing construction sector but all I've managed is three unsuccessful interviews,' he told the paper.
The interview is part of a larger article about graduate unemployment, and another interviewee is Bradley Bloom, who studied architecture in Glasgow. After the housing development on which he was to work ran out of money, he searched for months and finally found a job in Holland. 'If I want to work at what I was trained for and develop my career, I have to leave London and go abroad,' he said.
Of course, if the paper has the details right, neither of these graduates has been trained for anything. They have architecture degrees which, with further study and experience, could lead to them passing part 2 and part 3 and becoming architects.
In easier times, architecture degrees were seen as a good introduction to a subject and, if students did not wish to go on to become practitioners, could suit them to find related work in the built environment. There was some discussion about whether those who failed to take qualifications were in fact 'failures' and 'dropouts' or whether an architectural degree could be regarded as a valuable piece of education in its own right, before going on - probably - to do a targeted qualification in something else.
What an architecture degree was never intended to be was a vocational qualification in its own right. The tragedy for these two young men is that it seems that nobody told them this. They may not have wanted - or had the resources for - further study. Instead they have had three years of intellectual stimulation and hard work, and have doubtless improved their spatial awareness and imaginative abilities. But they have not been fitted for the jobs that they so desperately want and need.
Another article in the paper, this time in the recruitment section, is called 'It's all about the face value'. This says that you don't only need to be seen in order to progress at work - you also need to be around to get the work in the first place. It gives the example of a woman who found herself a job after networking like mad while on work experience. The paper does stress that this was paid work experience. But this does seem to be another example of the truism that it is not what you know but who you know that counts. And if you have money behind you to allow you to dip into unpaid work, it helps.
I suspect that the disillusioned architecture graduates were never told any of this. Architectural education is demanding and expensive and produces too many graduates for a profession that is perilous and often poorly paying. Nobody should be discouraged from following their dreams but in this case it seems that the dreams have become more akin to a nightmare. What a shame that these two graduates were not given some insight into the true state of affairs. It might have helped them to make different decisions about the courses of study that they followed.

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