Last September marked the start of the third academic year where children’s education was interrupted due to the pandemic. Whilst teachers and parents have done an amazing job in this unprecedented time (I believe this effort is remarkable, with a 2.7% rise in students receiving grades A or 7 and above in the year of 2020*), one of the things students have missed out on due to restrictions is the opportunity to take part in a work experience placement or programme.
As a practice, GT3 Architects has always looked to nurture and support the next generation of designers. Pre pandemic we regularly had weeklong individual work experience sessions, where students of all ages would come into our studio for one-on-one mentoring. Whilst Work Experience wasn’t top of anyone’s list in the first wave of the pandemic, once we realised that working from home was going to be a longer-term situation, we started to think about how this ongoing situation would impact those still in education, and particularly the next wave of designers.
As 2020 started to wind down and we were still working from home, a group of parents and younger graduates in our Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) group met virtually to discuss how GT3 could better support these young people. Whilst we had a design project ready to go for physical work experience students, we needed to come up with an alternative to enable children to gain much needed design and workplace experience, all whilst being unable to leave their home.
Once we worked out how to do this, we realised the huge number of additional benefits a virtual work experience week could have – students were no longer limited by geography, transport, or budget. Suddenly we understood just how restrictive physical work experience could be, particularly when talking about introducing those from more disadvantaged or rural areas.
When we launched our virtual work experience in March 2021 (National Careers Week) we were inundated with requests from across the UK, Ireland and across globe, attracting applications from proactive students from as far away as Hong Kong. Within two weeks we had a full calendar for the year.
GT3’s virtual work experience design project covers three potential routes for a career in design: architecture, interior design, and graphics. Whilst Architectural practices are – naturally! – best known for recruiting architects, we wanted to show the other design opportunities available, offering a more rounded approach for the students and a glimpse into career routes they may not have considered before.
From April – September 2020 our team mentored a total of 43 students in weeklong placements. We worked with Speakers for Schools and RIBA to continually improve what we were offering, with students coming to us from LinkedIn, Word of Mouth and Google Searches.
After being sent their intro pack in the post, our students who guided through a week of online meetings, design reviews and one-on-ones, culminating in an opportunity to share their design project in front of a several GT3 members.
100% of our students reported being ‘satisfied’ or ‘highly satisfied’ with the experience, and our GT3 mentors also learnt valuable lessons, as they were introduced to different perspectives and ideas. 86% of students stated that the week had confirmed they wanted to pursue a career in design and construction – so we must have done something right!
Teenagers often get a bad rap in the press and on social media, but I personally found the opposite to be true. All the students were incredibly grateful for the opportunity, relished the design project and every student produced a strong piece of work by the end of the week. A lot of the students showed a natural aptitude for design, and the understanding and comprehension of complex theories was both surprising and welcome. Many of the students asked questions about sustainability or chose a sustainable theme for their design project, which I found so encouraging for the future of the built environment.
Overall, we found the experience to be invaluable for GT3; we enjoyed hearing fresh new ideas, our mentors were able to gain new skills and we were inspired by the student’s enthusiasm and energy. We plan to tweak the programme with some lessons learned from 2021 and we hope for a similarly fulfilling experience for both GT3 and the students in 2022.
To enquire about work experience availability for 2022, please send a covering note to firstname.lastname@example.org.