Robert Atkins from Cannon Clarke Architects explains how he ended up on a degree level apprenticeship in the job of his dreams
I remember being in the uncertain position that thousands of students find themselves in every year – trying to decide their career path with various opportunities but often lacking a clear direction. At school, I was always passionate about design and how form, materiality and scale influence the way people interact with a product or space. This developed into an enthusiasm for Architecture, becoming increasingly intrigued with the forms, purposes and influences of buildings on the environment and on our lives. Throughout my latter years at school and Sixth Form I applied for work experience at various Architecture practices to try obtain a feel for the industry I wanted to progress into.
After progressing into Sixth Form, I found the University education route was being heavily promoted. As a result of this, together with the fact that to become an accredited Architect required a full-time 7-year University education (with 2 years’ work placement included), I felt pressured to apply. Deep down, I did not want to progress to University, although realised to reach my full potential this was the only way. My biggest concern was financial – whether it is worth investing large amounts of time and money into full-time education with no guarantee of a job at the end. I was also worried about fitting in and enjoying the University environment. To give myself more time to consider my options, I opted to take a gap year in which I worked as a manual labourer for Hawkins Builders, which facilitated a basic understanding of the construction process and techniques used.
After some persistent contact with a Norwich based Architects practice, Cannon Clarke Architects, they were so impressed with my enthusiasm I was offered an Apprenticeship.
An Apprenticeship within the Architecture community is incredibly new, with myself being one of only a handful of people in the UK on such a unique course. This University backed Architecture Degree Level Apprenticeship, was the perfect solution for me, taking me all the way from undergraduate to the completion of Part 3 (accreditation). Essentially, I work full-time with Cannon Clarke Architects in Norwich, with a day release every week to attend University. I am not only gaining practical experience while being nurtured by the professionals at Cannon Clarke Architects, but being educated on a course with the required accreditation. I believe this combination is a brilliant platform for me to grow within my current role and progress in the future.
In contrast to other students, I can earn during my education whilst also gaining invaluable experience in a practice setting. This is by no means easy; the combination of work and University pushes my time management to the limits and it is incredibly demanding but equally very rewarding.
Starting my apprenticeship with Cannon Clarke Architects was like starting artwork on a fresh canvas. I did not have extensive knowledge or skills in the sector, but plenty of enthusiasm and an eagerness to learn.
Cannon Clarke Architects are promoting cutting edge 3D Building Information Modelling, which allows us to visualize ideas and solve more complex problems throughout the design process. Within my time at CCA, I have gone from being a complete novice on the software to being almost fluent and now being able to present clients with anything from complete Building Regulations sets to high-end Architectural visual renders. I now have a comprehensive understanding of the software such that I am now able to help my peers if they have any difficulties.
Cannon Clarke Architects have been great in supporting my development. I have been exposed to many scenarios on a wide range of projects, being pushed and challenged to improve my new and existing skills in and out of the office. The team have all been incredibly kind, patient and attentive. I think it is important that all employers respect, value and help develop young people; at Cannon Clarke Architects this is one of the core principles. At no point have I been restricted, I regularly participate in design and development and am always allowed to express myself.
Architecture is an incredibly rewarding profession, witnessing your design ideas being built, and how they transform the lives of those who interact with them. Problem-solving is the heart of Architecture, with every project having its own set of challenges, with us as aspiring architects trying to unlock the full potential of the clients brief while considering the potential environmental and technological impacts.
Cannon Clarke Architects have given me this incredible platform from which I can grow, personally and professionally whilst continuing to help progress the business. Long term, my goal is to become a fully accredited Architect while continuing to help Cannon Clarke grow and hopefully nurturing the next generation of aspiring Architects.
I hope this has helped anyone who is still unsure or lost in pursuit of their ideal career path. I would urge everyone to do what you enjoy, as money cannot replace the happiness and sense of achievement when you participate in something you are truly passionate about. There are millions of opportunities out there but do not let anyone try and make the decision for you. As the cliché goes ‘choose a job you love, and you will never work a day in your life’.
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