This week’s article is going to look at where graduates from Built Environment courses who finished their studies in 2012 are today? What experiences have they been through a year on after entering or attempting to enter the construction industry? Ever wondered what kind of jobs graduates are tasked with when they enter the office environment or what kind of pitfalls they are facing. This week I hope to give a small insight to explore these questions.
The experiences of the individuals within this article are not exhaustive of the entire industry; the intention is to give you a qualitative representation of the ‘real’ world experiences of recent graduates.
I guess if I am to summarise my experience as an architecture graduate in one word, I’d say “unpredictable”.
I am currently working as an architectural assistant in a leading Scandinavian design practice while living in Shanghai – one of the global economic hot-spots. However, exactly a year ago I was a desperate architecture graduate frustrated over the fact that I cannot get a job … in fact forget the job, I could not even get an interview! But after 3 long months of CV’s, applications, and many disappointments, the door finally opened for me and I landed on a job in Denmark.
I got an offer to join the concept department of a truly inspirational design practice deeply rooted in the Nordic architectural traditions based on democracy, aesthetics, light, sustainability and social responsibility. It sounded like the dream job for me but it didn’t all come easy. As an inexperienced graduate I was not offered any salary at the beginning which made it extremely difficult for me to accept the position. However, I decided to embrace this opportunity as a way for personal development which may lead to something better in future.
One of the first things you learn in practice is that just like in university, you have to constantly apply yourself and keep developing your skills. It is not just about getting the job; it’s about making yourself a valuable asset to the workplace. Within the first few weeks of my internship I realised how little I knew about the real world of architecture. It was a steep learning curve. I had to learn not only new software skills but also the entire process of carrying out a project – from inception to completion.
I realised that it’s a brutal world out there, not only for graduates fighting over that one spot in practice. As an architect you also have to fight for your commissions. And that is what I ended up doing – architectural competitions, which is how most practices get their work in. As the office specialises mainly in cultural buildings – hospitals, libraries, galleries and recreational buildings I had to deal with many social aspects during the conceptual design stage, which is something I’ve been interested in for a long time.
SHL’s democratic approach aims to keep the building as open as possible, to invite the public in. This way the building will not stand alone as a monument for itself but always bear in mind that whenever you build something, you take something away – a piece of land or site so the building has to give something back to the community and reinforce the environment. This for me is what true sustainability is about. The social aspects are just as important as your carbon footprint.
I feel during my time in practice I’ve learned many valuable lessons. It is a different kind of knowledge than the one you get in university and I’m extremely glad I decided to take this opportunity. Just as I was hoping for, my first real experience in practice did have a positive turnout. 4 months after the start of my internship in Denmark, I was offered an extended year contract as an architectural assistant. This time not only was I getting paid but I was also relocated to SHL’s office in China. And this was the part I was mostly excited about – being immersed into this new culture and traditions so far from anything I’m familiar with broadened my design sense and views on architecture.
Designing democratic buildings in the context of a communist country is a whole new challenge for me. China’s construction industry still has a lot to learn. There are pressing issues on the quality of construction, site safety, life-span of buildings and environmental pollution. Also in many of the projects there is a huge governmental involvement, which adds an extra pressure on designers here. For sure it is not an easy setting especially for foreign architects but these are all valuable lessons I’ll take away with me in future.
(In regards to BIM) I do believe BIM system is fantastic; you can monitor a building so fast and efficient. I know a lot of architects say “oh no, it’s too ridged, you can’t be creative with this system” This is why in a lot of projects we use two parallel systems, where software like Rhino and Adobe is predominantly used for more organic 3D projects and BIM model is developed in the competition stage for wind studies, light analyses and keeping track of the gross net areas of the building very efficiently.
I do believe BIM is picking up (especially in Europe) and it’s becoming something employers like to see on a CV. As I said getting the job is all about making yourself a valuable asset and this comes with the skills you can acquire during your time at university. And no matter which branch of architecture you are aiming to pursuit BIM would always be an essential tool for future graduates.
So if there is any piece of advice I could possibly give to future graduates I’d say embrace every opportunity, keep working on 100% and don’t be afraid to try out something new. Eventually it will all be rewarded.
After leaving university in April at first I found it hard to find some work, I was doing freelance cad work before I found a job in October as an Architectural Technician in a small architectural practice. This did not work out because it was too small and had no room for growth. Luckily I was recommended to my current company (Atkins) by the company I did freelance work for and I started at my current place in January.
In my first places it was mainly just CAD work while shadowing an architect. My current place is working with PM’s, surveyors and engineers on mid scale projects, up to about £5m, as either an architectural technician or on one of my projects as a part project architect. I’ve been responsible for drawing work, setting up planning documents and drawing sets, writing specifications, space planning and producing some 3D models and architectural renders. There’s been other little bits here and there but that’s the majority of what I’ve done so far.
(Rob has now progressed onto taking on a project manager role)
Paul M – Building Surveying
After graduating from University in 2012 I thought that employers would be queuing at my front door to employ me, regardless of the economic climate. Why? Because I had achieved a First Class Honours in Building Surveying and I had also been awarded both the RICS Prize for Outstanding Student and the Deeley Group Prize for my final year group project and also because I was and still am willing to relocate to anywhere to get a job.
I therefore believed that this showed to employers that I had the ability to operate effectively as part of a team and reflected that I am a hard-working, flexible and motivated graduate. Yes it does show this! In fact after graduating I received an interview primarily based on the fact that I had achieved a 1st class degree.
So why do I feel that I am still unemployed? Well for lots of reasons, but I feel this is mainly because it is very much still an employer’s market, a lack of experience and because of my inability to crack psychometric testing.
For example, some graduate schemes have turned me away based on the fact that I have no experience, primarily gained from a placement year or a summer placement. Now the University does provide for this opportunity but unfortunately I was unable to get on to a placement year. However, I could have applied for a summer placement! In addition other graduate schemes have turned me way because “the other candidate had undertaken voluntary work”.
I would also like to stress at this point that some graduate schemes will not even allow you to apply unless you’re A levels/UKAS points meet a certain amount of points which is often very high. I do disagree with this as I feel that it undermines the fact that you have a degree, but it is an Employers market, they want the best for little, but they have the pick!
On another occasion I was short-listed from over a 100 applicants to the final interview, which was between me and another candidate. I did not get the job and based on the feedback that I requested, this was because the other candidate had 6 weeks experience and more experience in undertaking CAD work. Therefore Building Surveyors do not shy away from doing any additional CAD work where you can; ATs will not always do it for you in practise.
In respect to psychometric testing I have lost two of the best graduate schemes out their due to this, even though I gave it everything e.g. books, practice tests etc. for weeks on end. You could have the best C.V in the world and the best application in the world but do not underestimate psychometric testing! A past graduate who also graduated from University in 2012 said “passing the psychometric testing was harder than passing a degree”. Indeed, these are extremely difficult tests, so practice, practice, and practice more! If you pass you will then be sent to an assessment centre to do it all again.
Lewis Jones – MEng in Civil Engineering
Upon graduating from University with an MEng in Civil Engineering I began working at Fugro GeoConsulting (FGC) Limited in July 2012. Fugro GeoConsulting is part of the larger Fugro group which has offices worldwide. FGC is an offshore geotechnical consultancy which specialises in performing offshore site investigations, laboratory testing and a wide variety of design work related to the foundations of both temporary and permanent offshore structures.
In my role at FGC I am mostly tasked with performing analyses for numerous geotechnical engineering problems, assisting in offshore site investigations and producing reports for our Clients. As I write this I am due to go offshore for the first time next week aboard one of Fugro’s offshore site investigation vessels.
I am greatly enjoying my new job and I find it highly rewarding. I would recommend all undergraduates to pursue a career in the offshore industry.
As you can see from the qualitative evaluations within this article there are opportunities out there for people who are willing to push themselves and at times even work purely for the experience on offer. This I feel is something that graduates need to understand, that not all opportunities will wrap themselves in a nice attractive bubble of financial security. Some may be weighted more by the opportunity of gaining valuable real world experience. This can be seen in Nadia’s case where she initially had to take on work without the security of a salary! I know this cannot be an option for many graduates as there are many who simply leave University with too many existing overheads such as mortgages and the costs of kids etc. but for those who are in a position to take on this kind of opportunity it’s a valuable insight. Similarly Rob moved onto what he feels was a better opportunity for growth via an initial freelance job, and it looks like the hard work has paid off for him as he’s now embarking on a project manager role with his new company.
On the other hand we have Paul who left with a strong degree and a wealth of awards yet has struggled to find work due to a lack of experience and maybe more surprising a lack of CAD skills as a Building Surveyor. Another important point for all those perspective building surveyors out there, hone your CAD skills!
Then we have Lewis who has ventured into the lesser known world of the offshore industry, something that not all Civil Engineers would immediately think of upon graduating. Yet it appears to be an extremely rewarding experience for Lewis.
Overall I think there are some really interesting insights into what graduates are getting up to in the big wide world of industry. As you can see, post UK education graduates are having to look for opportunities both locally and globally! This may be seen as a negative or a positive depending how you look at it and whether or not the graduate has the globe-trotting urge or will. I’d be interested to hear what your experiences are as a fresh graduate in the built environment? Or as an employer of graduates, what skills are you looking for or what skills do you feel graduates are lacking when approaching your company?