Should architects be recruiting for new skills or a learning mindset?

By Helen Castle

An acceleration in workload and the adoption of digital technologies have triggered a competitive recruitment market in which practices are seeking to source specific software skills to plug holes on projects. However, is this the best approach to investing in talent? Three senior practice leaders Rob Jackson, Helen Logan and Laggi Diamandi, and architect and author Randy Deutsch, counter this with a more nuanced, long-term view.

In-house training taking place at Foster + Partners. Photo: Aaron Hargreaves.

‘How can we grow if we can’t find the skills we need?’ This is a question that is currently taxing Rob Jackson of Bond Bryan. It’s also a conundrum that many other practices are attempting to respond to in order to meet a post-pandemic surge in workload, while keeping a close eye on business efficiencies with increasing pressures on fees and project costs.

The intense pace in which digital technologies have been adopted during the pandemic – with a particular onus on data-driven processes and AI –  have set off a skills deficit across all professions and business. Reskilling appears to be the answer. According to a November 2020 report from McKinsey 75% of the British workforce would benefit from reskilling. Nowhere is this more apparent than in architecture, which is dominated by small practices, micro-practices and sole practitioners without dedicated in-house technology or learning and development resources. As highlighted by Randy Deutsch: ‘80% of UK and US firms are 10 people or fewer.’

Here leaders in practice and education describe the shifting recruitment, skills and learning landscape: Rob Jackson, Associate Director at Bond Bryan Digital in Sheffield; Randy Deutsch, US-based AI researcher, educator and author of Adapt as an Architect: a mid-career companion; Helen Logan, Partner at Allies and Morrison in London; and Laggi Diamandi, Head of Learning and Development at Foster + Partners in London,

What are the must-have digital skills that practices are seeking to recruit for?

Rob Jackson, Associate Director at Bond Bryan Digital. Photo: Phil Grayston, Bond Bryan.

For Rob Jackson, who leads Bond Bryan Digital, a specialist consultancy service, embedded in an architectural practice, offering information management services to clients, contractors and consultants (including architects), a dearth of information management skills in the profession presents a particular challenge. 2020 was a record year for the business and 2021 is set to beat it. This is driven by recovery in the architecture sector and also by government initiatives. Data management is at the core of the Construction Playbook, the government’s guidance document issued in December 2020 that sets out its policy for sourcing and contracting public works, seeking to drive improvement and innovation across the industry. It’s also central to government work on BIM for housing associations, which seeks to address fire risk in the residential sector through the better creation, handover and retention of vital building and fire safety information.

If architects are unable to nurture these data management skills in practice and provide services with better data for clients, Rob warns that ‘design managers roles, working for contractors, will present a particular challenge to architects’ businesses as they create an environment that people want to join’. At the same time, ‘contractors are building one-stop shops for modular design’, threatening the need for architects’ bespoke design skills. He points out that ‘though construction start-up Katerra may have collapsed due to its financing, it is only a matter of time before other disruptors come along’.