New pathway to becoming an architect

Sydney Wheeler


Written by

Martin Bignell and Sydney Wheeler

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Martin and Sydney are both currently studying at the University of the West of England in Bristol and are about to start their 2nd year of the Level 7 Architectural Apprenticeship.

For many, embarking on the route to becoming an Architect seems like a lifetime. The traditional 7-year minimum path now includes an apprenticeship option, offering academic knowledge and practical application whilst earning a salary. Although this pathway is still a relatively new route to qualifying, it is becoming more and more popular within universities and architectural practices.

After completing our Part 1 placement year, it was apparent that the knowledge and skills you learn whilst being part of a practice surrounded by professionals is invaluable. The mentorship and guidance that we received within the year out exposed us to challenges and complexities in the industry allowing us to enhance our understanding of how theoretical knowledge translates into real-world applications. We were able to develop essential technical skills in areas such as design, software, construction techniques, project management and building regulations to gain a hands-on experience and a greater opportunity to embrace innovation for the betterment of the built environment.

When considering our next steps to qualify, we had to evaluate the options of studying full-time, part-time or on the new Level 7 Architectural Apprenticeship. The benefits of the apprenticeship route allowed for a more accessible and inclusive educational pathway, whilst still being accredited by professional bodies. Studying for 2 days a week, during term time, with the remainder of the year working full-time, we will be able to complete our Part II and Part III in 4 years. Although the timeframe doesn’t differ massively from studying full-time, completing a Part II placement year and finishing your Part III, it has the additional benefit of it being all included within 1 programme. Many people defer their Part III as they are tiresome of academia and become comfortable in their practice. However, the apprenticeship will keep us focused and ensure that we do not prolong the already extensive pathway.

95% of apprenticeship tuition fees are paid by the government with the remaining 5% paid by your workplace practice therefore no student loan is required.

 Sydney’s Personal Experience:

‘When considering the routes to qualification as an Architect, I knew that returning to university full-time was not an option. Throughout my undergraduate degree, I had countless bad experiences living in halls accommodation, coronavirus and family emergencies where I was unable to get home. Living away from home, with the long commute, proved to be a real struggle and resulted in my mental health deteriorating. The apprenticeship route has allowed me to stay close to home, whilst earning a full-time salary, and continue my studies to becoming fully qualified. As a result, I have been able to maintain flexibility and financial independence which has allowed me to successfully buy my first home and embark on growing my family by getting a dog.’

As an apprentice, there are government standards that you must fulfil which include having a specific workplace mentor. This has allowed us to gain comprehensive training and support to ensure that our development covers all the RIBA work stages whilst offering valuable feedback and supporting us on our journey. Alongside having a workplace mentor, working closely with other experienced individuals in the office allows us to grow, both personally and professionally, to become more competent and confident. The government apprenticeship requirements also require us to log ‘Off the Job Hours’. These are hours that we have spent learning something new or developing a knowledge, skill or behaviour such as our university lectures, shadowing meetings or reading a relevant book. By recording these hours, it allows us to fully understand the standard that is required of us to be fully qualified and gives us a clear path towards the final gateway. With help from our workplace mentor, we can ensure that we record our development against the criteria to gain experience in all areas of architecture.

Despite all the benefits of the apprenticeship, the work ethic is incredibly demanding and is by no means easy or easier. Having to complete all of our university work, our ‘Off the Job Hours’ and PEDR’s, alongside general living and working full-time is definitely a struggle. With just the evenings and weekends, we have had to make many sacrifices to try and complete the work however this is something that we have not yet mastered.

The combination of working and studying pushes our time management to the limits where at university we are still expected to produce work within the same timescales and standard as a full-time student, without the additional time and days. This aspect of the course was something that we were totally unprepared for. Although we knew the workloads would be heavy from our undergraduate degree, the aspect of an apprenticeship made us think that the submissions would be altered due to us working full-time with the exception of timetabled university days, however this is not the case.

 Martin’s Personal Experience:

‘Undertaking the apprenticeship means that you miss out on the typical ‘university experience’ as you have limited exposure to the university setting. However, this is not much of a sacrifice as I have already had this experience from my Part I degree at the University of Plymouth and feel as though the benefits of the apprenticeship outweigh the reduction in social opportunities.

Studying part time at university allows me to research and design using innovative and exciting advancements, whilst working in practice increases my knowledge on current technologies and regulations. Developing my knowledge and attitude towards learning will help me prepare for my future in Architecture.’

After experiencing our first year of the apprenticeship, we often ask ourselves if this is something we would do again and whether we made the right choice. If there were no variables to consider, and it was between full-time education and the apprenticeship, full-time would be preferred as the educational pathway allows you time and space to fully delve and explore the creative briefs. However, taking into consideration all of the above benefits including a full-time salary, being close to home and family, no student loan and the amount of valuable work experience, the apprenticeship is definitely a great choice as it offers a well-rounded and practical approach to learning and qualification, preparing us for a fulfilling career in architecture.

Routes to Qualification