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Coalition for Change

by Carmel Simmonds, Architecture Apprentice.

As I started to draft this article, I thought about all the topics that I could discuss. For example: ‘how I got an Architectural Apprenticeship straight out of school’, or ‘what it is like working in an international corporate office while attending university to acquire my degree’. I could discuss how this has given me the opportunity to help inspire and equip the younger generation in outreach schemes, or how working with diversity foundations has enabled me to travel, collaborate with other creatives, and attend private networking events. Whilst reviewing all these incredible opportunities, I noticed that there is one thing which makes these experiences invaluable: the people I have met along the way and their resolution for change.

For most immigrant families, they pursue either a better life for themselves or for the generations after them. Hence, while growing up, my family taught me how to work hard to attain your dreams no matter who tries to discourage you, and that ‘no one can take away your education.’ Yet, university is not always a viable option; especially with the rise in tuition fees or the need for some to contribute further income for the family. The apprenticeship route does not only solve these issues, but gives students training, experience, and a diverse network, resulting in a professional demeanour and intimate understanding of the industry.

As an Architectural Apprentice you will attend university either one day a week or in short intensive courses throughout the year - depending on your chosen university. Alongside this, you will work full-time, employed with a practice that will support you and teach you the skills needed in the profession. This is an incredibly interesting combination of training, particularly within architecture. The academic education taught at university is vastly different from how the industry works in practice. Simply put, you learn how to construct a building rather than just design it. You learn how the business is run, the stages a construction project goes through, and how to work with all parties that are involved in a project’s completion.

It can be difficult to find an apprenticeship in architecture, and due to the few that run the programme it is incredibly competitive. Through experience, it has become evident that awareness of these schemes needs to be advertised on a wider scale to gain talent from all backgrounds. Living on a South London council estate, from a working-class background, I know that it can be difficult to find connections with those either in architecture or other creative fields.

Having the opportunity to support young people in schools through outreach schemes, has been one of the greatest fulfilling opportunities I have had the privilege of being a part of. The volunteers, particularly from those of a non-traditional background, are needed in this area, in order to relate to students when promoting these new routes of further study.

The younger generation are more aware of how the world works than we anticipate and have on occasion expressed their concerns towards the profession’s accessibility, regarding its elitist and privileged disposition. To assure them as someone from the same background, that working towards your dreams is possible with the aid of these new non-traditional routes, is a cycle of encouragement. The scene is changing; and it is time for the global majority, rather than privileged minority, to take their turn.

The mentors assigned to me in my work office have always pushed me to reach my potential and grasp opportunities, to which I am exceedingly grateful for. Because of this, my introduction to the newly founded initiative, Home Grown Plus, triggered my excitement for a new generation of Architects to come. Its purpose is to promote and champion young Architects/Creatives from non-traditional and traditional backgrounds. Therefore, architectural firms of all sizes can come to source the best talent available from across the community, mitigating any issues that may arise from working across an acknowledged cultural divide. Working with the foundation has not only dramatically widened my creative network, enabled me to experience private events, and travel internationally, but most importantly it has made me part of something truly inspirational.

I know I am not the only one either studying or working in architecture who has felt alone, misunderstood, or at times experience micro-attacks. From leaving school and entering the workplace straight after, this was something I underwent exceedingly early in my career. Through my discussions with many parties in construction/ creative sectors, it has become apparent that the reason architecture is struggling to tackle diversity is due to multiple factors. To list a few:

1 - The recruitment procedure through prestigious universities, where diversity is also lacking.

2 - The shortfall of awareness and support within the working class and ethnic communities towards such industries.

3 - Employers can struggle with cultural education, tending to employ those they understand from the same background. This tends to make EDI choices (ethnic diversity and inclusion) a ‘tick box’ exercise.

This is what platforms such as Home Grown Plus and Girls Under Construction aim to combat, whilst nurturing each cohort to gain a network which can aid their aspirations.

Along this journey, through the apprenticeship, outreach schemes, and by working with foundations promoting the need for change, I have had the honour of meeting many talented, resilient, and passionate people. Their efforts to promote recognition that ethnic minority (or global majority) groups were silenced for hundreds of years, and the need to take accountability by supporting diversity, is electrifying. We need to start designing for everyone rather than just the westernised society we are taught to accommodate within the current education system. We need to celebrate our cultural heritage and encourage cultural education within design. We need diversity from all races, class, education routes, and backgrounds to design a world that truly represents all. The scene of this world is starting to change, the question is to what is next? That depends on all of us. That depends on you.

You can find Carmel below: Linkedin:

Find out more about Home Grown Plus here:

Check out our website below to find out What construction is, the stages of Construction, the various roles involved and routes to get there!

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