Our Spotlight focus this week is on Beth Willis, Architect at our Sheffield studio. Beth’s journey with HLM started with her first work experience aged 15, and she was the first collaborative practice student at HLM several years later. Here, she tells us about her passion for mentoring and encouraging the next generation.

“Given my variety of experience while with HLM, I consider it part of my role to help optimise others’ experiences when they come to us, whether for a week of work experience, or as an architectural student.”

Last year, I was pleased to achieve my part 3 qualification in Architecture, allowing me to register as a qualified architect. This milestone in my career is one of many that I have experienced while working with HLM, over the course of 12 years. My initial experience at HLM, aged 15, was instrumental in paving the way for my career, with this one week instilling a passion in me for architecture, and making me realise what I wanted to do. This is why I’m such a strong advocate for work experience – I know first-hand how valuable it can be.

Throughout work experience week, students are given a mini project to undertake, which is then made into a booklet for them to take away. I believe it’s important for young people to have something tangible to keep, giving them not only a sense of accomplishment but also a piece of work that they can use in the future, demonstrating what they learnt throughout their time with us.

It’s a common perception that students who undertake work experience only do so because it’s a prescribed module of their learning – and there will always be some students who don’t have valuable takeaways from the experience. However, there is a lot of research to prove that interventions at this age can have a positive effect on students’ development in the future. I therefore feel a responsibility to replicate my experience, and provide students with positive guidance that will help shape their future, even if not directly linked to architecture as a profession.

I subsequently undertook my Part 1 degree, followed by the Collaborative Practice Masters at Sheffield University. This alternative to the standard Masters course consists of four days working within a practice, and one day per week studying. It therefore equips students with the practical experience of working in the studio environment over a substantial period, and the benefit of learning from other, more experienced staff. Ever since I undertook the Collaborative Practice course, we have had students at HLM each year doing the same course – the value that it brings to the practice as well as the individuals is something that we want to harness and encourage.

Given my variety of experience while with HLM, I consider it part of my role to help optimise others’ experiences when they come to us, whether for a week of work experience, or as an architectural student. In the recent years, I have been part of the design team for the Faculty of Social Sciences for Sheffield University, a landmark project for our city and our business. I want to show the younger generation that they can have an impact on the future of their cities and towns.

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