As part of Apprenticeship Week, we wanted to introduce you to Virag, and share how as a practice we have evolved our own thinking and approach to architectural education. HGP first embraced the idea of the Architecture Degree Apprenticeship, working with the University of Portsmouth, in September 2021 when Sultan, a Part 1 student, joined us as our first Architecture Degree Apprentice. We have continued our path and relationship with UoP to support the varied routes to education and registration and now employ our second Degree Apprentice, Virag.
Although a similar path to Sultan’s, Virag is a Part 2 Degree Apprentice. Her masters course will not only complete her degree education but through gaining valuable work experience as she studies, she will also complete the professional practice side of her architectural education, traditionally completed sometime after Part 2, to finish as a registered architect. Virag joined us on her year out between Part 1 and 2 and made a positive impact from the start. We knew the decision to offer her the Degree Apprenticeship was the right one and would reap benefits not only for Virag but for the practice also. Having completed her Part 1 in a traditional full time architecture course, Virag shares with us what she is looking to gain from the apprenticeship.
When did or what made you decide to study architecture?
This was a decision I made quite early in life. I moved to England at 13 starting school here in year 9. By year 10 I needed to pick specific subjects to take GCSEs. This felt like a decision that would influence what doors are open to me in Sixth Form and later on in University. Architecture wasn’t a hard pick for me, it came kind of naturally. I found I am a creative person and also academic which I thought is the perfect mix for the profession. An older family friend was in architectural education and this was something I could picture myself doing.
You completed Part 1 at the University of Portsmouth as a traditional degree. What made you decide to switch and apply to do a degree apprenticeship in architecture?
The main difference between the courses is the amount of time the student is allocated tasks. During a full time course there is a lot of freedom which leaves a lot of time for “self directed study”. In contrast, the degree apprenticeship has structured time allocation, where predominantly, I know I have work between 9-5 four days a week. This day to day structure allows me to focus better on managing my available time particularly one study leave days and accessing university campus resources. To me, this structure provides me security, as I build on my time management. I now fondly recall a moment during the open day for the Degree Apprenticeship when I asked how freetime fits into everything, only to be met with good natured laughter of the tutors and subsequent conversations I later had with my employers made it clear that this was something that I needed to think hard about as it is not an easy route and somethings may need to be sacrificed, not all the time, but certainly at times to fit everything in. Despite this I felt more positive about this rigorous route and I feel it suits my abilities better than a “self directed study” route.
Has working at HGP during your year out had an influence on your decision?
My year out working entirely influenced this decision. As my first real job, adapting to working life made the idea of returning to full time university almost like a step backward. Learning the challenges that come with doing a Masters in the form of the Degree Apprenticeship led me to assess my ability to manage my time and feel productive in a real-life work environment versus ‘self-directed’ academic tasks. That is not to say that work doesn’t expect an element of self-direction but as a learning process. I find the office environment is a place where I learn something new every day with practical and immediate explanations. This practical experience-based learning better suits me. Team building activities helped me build strong working relationships to the advantage of my learning. It also left me thinking I don’t want to be missing out on this for two years while I leave and go back to full time study. The Degree Apprenticeship was the perfect opportunity to stay at work yet continue my studies at the same time. For me, time is also a real consideration. The length of the course versus the traditional route works in my favour. Whilst it is possible to complete the second half of a traditional degree and become registered in 4 years, this is rare. However, with the Degree Apprenticeship Masters, 4 years study includes ultimately ending up a registered Architect. This is a big bonus for me!
What are you hoping to gain from the experience?
By now I’m sure it’s obvious, that on a personal level it’s time management skills first and foremost. I like a challenge and this degree route brings many, which shows me I am capable of doing more than I previously could, or thought I could. Being at work during this course provides me with skills and knowledge that I wouldn’t have to such an extent as a fresh graduate. The integrated Part 3 course also bridges the year out which may have meant, for me, potentially falling out of the habit of studying. Professionally, I am expecting to advance quite quickly considering that I will be getting experience and support for my Part 3 at work during this second phase of my education. The strict time frame of the Degree Apprenticeship to Registration provides me with the “nudge”, I’m sure I would otherwise need, to reach the “end goal”.
Having had a year out, has your idea of what working in architecture is like changed at all?
Yes. In university, architecture can seem like it is exclusively bespoke and beautiful design, with little or arbitrary constraints, when in reality I have now realised there is a myriad of constraints that architects deal with including the client’s budget and vision which can place limits on a design. Architecture is a profession which fits within a box that is set out by regulations, the local authority and the client. I now realise it is rare for an architect to take absolute lead over a project. Depending on the size of the practice you work for the responsibilities which you bear, differ. Personally, my first day was scary because I expected to have to know everything already and jump straight into the first job. In reality my employer is aware that a fresh graduate is more like a skilled blank canvas, with lots to learn. That is the purpose of their work, to learn and upskill. My initial idea of working in architecture was much more scary than the reality of it.
Have you developed any skills while working at HGP that you feel will aid or improve the academic part of this next phase of your architectural education?
I definitely have and this is apparent in my “Professional Practice” subject. At this point in time it seems to be mainly a better understanding of the RIBA Plan of Work than was previously expected of me. My ability to get a task done to meet deadlines and company standards makes me more confident in my academic work. The software skills I have learned have bridged gaps I previously had, which will help me to complete my academic projects.
Do you have any advice you can impart to others considering this same route?
It is an option worth considering. I think it is a great opportunity for students as it provides an alternative route to registration. Many of my senior colleagues who are interested in what I’m doing at university admitted they wished this was available to them when they studied. If you think you found a practice who values you, it’s worth introducing them to the degree apprenticeship route, they may just take you up on it and support you through an otherwise difficult part of your education, like HGP is doing for me. There are also practices who advertise degree apprenticeships, which is another way of getting on the course. The degree apprenticeship was something I didn’t know existed when I first started my undergraduate degree and yet it has become the best decision and route for my education.