With National Apprenticeship Week 2021 now upon us, it’s an ideal time for employers to take a closer look at how apprentices can add enormous value to their business. This year the theme is “Build the Future”, encouraging everyone to consider how apprenticeships can help individuals to develop the skills and knowledge required for a rewarding career, and employers to build a workforce with future ready skills.

In 2018, HLM Architects was one of 20 architecture practices who helped launch the Apprenticeship Trailblazer Group, developed with the support of the RIBA. We are proud that the scheme has, over the last few years, started to open up architecture to everyone, particularly important at a time when the construction sector is experiencing a decline in student numbers, which has been further exacerbated by the effects of Covid-19.

Training to be an architect is a long and expensive process, which can be a barrier to entering the profession. It can take seven years at university to qualify, leaving students with large debts and an average starting salary of £40K, according to the RIBA Jobs Salary Report 2021. Apprenticeships, however, allow individuals to ‘earn while they learn’, alleviating the financial burden in part or altogether.

There are other benefits too. By linking practice and academia, apprentices can learn the technical and design process at university while enhancing wider softer skills within a practice, such as communication, team working and business acumen. This benefits the apprentice, the business and ultimately the communities and users of architecture.

At HLM Architects, we have a thorough and inclusive recruitment strategy, developed at Board level but with full input from our Studio Directors. As part of this, we identify skills gaps within our teams and recognise the importance of including apprenticeships, year out and junior positions because we know the value they can add to each studio. We allocate a percentage of our annual spend to allow our staff time to support work experience students within each region and encourage staff to get involved with careers fairs and school events to inspire and encourage young people to enter our profession.

We support our apprentices through the HLM Academy, a personal and professional development programme, which gives them the opportunity and resources to reach their full potential. The academy provides bespoke support to young apprentices entering work for the first time to develop both their soft and technical skills.

Each apprentice is assigned a specific mentor and a buddy to work with them and their apprenticeship tutor at the university. We also hold regular review meetings to monitor progress and provide further support if needed. We assign tasks and responsibilities that are relevant to where the apprentice is within their course and try and match what they are learning in theory with practical experience.

At HLM, we are committed to providing equality of opportunity for all, and as a business we rely on the employment of new students each year. They bring a fresh perspective, enthusiasm, passion, and valued input. Apprenticeships are instrumental in helping to diversify not just our business but also the profession as a whole. They provide a more accessible route for people from a broader spectrum of backgrounds, in turn enabling employers to tap into a bigger talent pool helping to level up opportunity.

With the ongoing lockdowns having upended our normal ways of working, we are seeing the number of apprenticeships available in digital, data and technology roles increase. This is allowing us to build in new and innovative areas, as well as grow more resilient as a business as we look forward to the future.

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Lee Fuller, WordPress Development, UK