Architectural graduates lack the knowledge to build what they design says survey

January 2015

Architecture schools are not equipping students for the realities of life in practice according to a major new survey undertaken by RIBA Appointments.

The wide-ranging Skills Survey found that three-quarters of students and recent graduates and 80% of employers think architectural education puts theoretical knowledge above practical ability, whilst more than half of both say courses do not reflect architecture in the modern world.

An overwhelming majority of respondents from both groups (more than 80%) also believe that students and graduates lack the knowledge to build what they design.

Three quarters say they lack practical skills needed to practice architecture and there is a strong belief amongst all that more time should be spent in practice during training to ensure graduates are more ‘work ready’ when they enter practice.

More than half of employers and almost two-thirds of graduates think there should be alternative routes into architecture such as apprenticeships

The research compares the views of 150 employers and almost 600 students and recent graduates at Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 Level and covers a broad range of areas, including technical and non-technical skills, salary expectations and recruitment.

Whilst there was a reasonable degree of agreement between the employer and student respondents in many areas, there were sharply divergent views with regards to expectations of particular skills.

Whilst it is perhaps unsurprising that knowledge of 2D and 3D CAD was rated highly by both groups, only one-third of students rated hand drawing as a desirable skill against 70% of employers, leading one employer to comment “[We should] ban CAD for a term and make students draw / sketch. This skill is now almost gone.”

A similar result was recorded with regards to writing, suggesting that more traditional skills, whilst still being important to employers are under-rated by students and recent graduates - again something that schools of architecture may need to address.

Employers and students responding to the survey generally agreed that the five key knowledge areas are:

While the knowledge expectations of Part 1 and Part 2 students of these areas were generally in line, there was a greater divergence with Part 3 students, particularly with regards to knowledge of the RIBA Plan of Work and contracts and law. Students seemingly underestimate the importance employers place on knowledge in these areas (25% and 15% respectively for Part 3 students against 44% for both among employers).

By contrast, employers had far lower expectations of Part 3 graduates knowledge of the planning system and cost management than students.

The survey also looked at the importance of transferable or ‘soft’ skills. Both employers and students see the importance of team working, communication skills, and the ability to work on your own initiative.

Surprisingly, perceptions of the importance of design skills varied widely, with employers putting a much greater emphasis on these. Employers also place a higher emphasis on problem solving skills, whilst students do not consider this skill to be as important until they have completed their Part 3.

“The start of 2015 has been incredibly buoyant with a fantastic increase in architectural jobs compared to last year. Practices are however finding it difficult to find suitably qualified staff and especially those skilled in using BIM tools.

“The Skills Survey highlights some areas for concern, with a widespread feeling that many architectural students and graduates are simply not being provided with the skills they need to work in practice. At the same time it is recognised that architecture is not just a technical skill and students do need to understand the development and meaning of architecture, and its place in culture and values.

“With the RIBA already undertaking a review of architectural education, it will be interesting to see how routes into architecture change, and how this affects attitudes towards and among architectural schools and students’ skills in the future.”

Paul Chappell, Manager, RIBA Appointments

Download the RIBA Appointments Skills Survey Report now