Having a graduate on board

It’s graduate week on Bdaily and we are looking at the state of play for graduates and SMEs. Iain Murphy, head of Newcastle-based Alston Murphy Associates, tells bdaily why his practice continues to invest in graduates.

Hiring the right people is a big headache for SMEs, even in the buyer’s market created by the economic downturn.

In the architecture profession there are thousands of graduates every year trying to get a career foothold, and anecdotal evidence suggests that around 50% of them can’t find the placements thatare essential for those wanting to complete their seven-year degree course.

I’m genuinely saddened by the number of applications we get from people desperate to get a place and willing to work for nothing. None of us would have qualified without someone giving us a start, and in our 20 years of business it’s been our policy to have at least one salaried graduate on board as our way of giving something back.

Bringing in young blood is good for business. At Alston Murphy Associates we work for both the public and private sector, and while we specialise in the healthcare and disability market our work includes everything from nurseries, private homes and offices through to sports centres, churches and heritage buildings.

A diverse client base demands a strong, multi-disciplinary team, and adding the dash of passion and enthusiasm that new graduates bring to the decades of experience of our existing workforce helpsto keep the practice dynamics fresh and energetic.

The investment we make in coaching and mentoring pays off in loyal, motivated employees who consistently justify our faith in them. I believe a stronger connection between academia and employers could make graduates attractive to many more SMEs. A lot of them arrive with a disappointingly poor knowledge of the basics, and an over-reliance on computer-generated imagery and presentation. Yes, those are elements of the modern architect’s role but universities could do more to make sure graduates are practice-ready, to encourage SMEs to see their value.

In our practice we recruit by the individual, not by the CV, and rather than being overly influenced by the quality of a degree we look for people with the right attitude plus an ability to learn and to fit with our ethos.

So what can SME’s offer graduates? In a smaller practice people are recognised for their individual strengths, and encouraged to voicetheir ideas and develop their skills. They can get involved in a wider range of projects and follow them through from start to finish too.

They get the chance to experience all aspects of the profession, be given more responsibility thanthey would with a big firm and start to make a name for themselves. For instance our own graduate Ollie Currie was recently shortlisted in the Forgotten Spaces awards,for his imaginative proposal to improve and celebrate the North East’s forgotten areas.

While SMEs can’t compete on numbers with the graduate recruitment schemes of large organisations, the one or two each year that we take on are handpicked and some will go on to become our practice partners of the future.

My advice to graduates is not to see big firms as the only route open to you. Research smaller practices whose work interests you and tell them where you can make a difference. And when you land a placement, do the best possible job, and seize all the opportunities that present themselves to make your mark in a small practice.

If you want to see more articles from Graduate Week, take a look at these links: Clegg makes a visit to a Teesside graduate business;Bringing graduates into a small business; Don’t play job market odds, change the game; Graduate X: The truth behind the graduate scheme; and Mike Hill talks graduate careers.

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