How do built environment graduates' skills relate to industry needs and expectations? How might academic settings promote these more effectively?
Opportunities to connect with industry and to develop professional skills are fundamental to built environments education as well as to employability. Exposing students to real-world challenges and scenarios ensures they can contribute meaningfully to their chosen profession. Likewise, engaging with practitioners is critical in allowing students to challenge preconceptions of industry and envision possible futures.
What does BEL+T investigate in this area?
BEL+T investigates connections to industry through built environments education, such as:
- The role of teamwork and collaboration in developing essential graduate attributes and professional identities.
- Academic perspectives on employability skills in architecture and the potential impact of COVID-19 on employer values and teaching practices.
- The process of "becoming a design professional" and the role of collaboration in shaping individual identities and lifelong learning.
- Addressing the "hidden curriculum" in architectural education to foster diversity, equity, and inclusion.
How are these contributing to high-quality and relevant learning experiences?
Through our research, BEL+T has delivered the following outcomes:
- Insights into student perceptions of teamwork and its effects on learning, socialisation, and professional development.
- Greater understanding of the role of collaborative design projects in shaping students' identities and preparing them for professional life.
- Highlighting the reliance on tacit enculturation for employability skill development in architectural education, thereby raising critical questions about quality assurance and assessment practices within the architectural community
- Discussion of critical questions about quality assurance and assessment practices in architectural education, including skill development through tacit enculturation and related issues of diversity, equity and inclusion.
What is next on the horizon?
BEL+T aims to explore the following innovative directions in employability and connection to industry:
- Investigating new methods to effectively assess and develop employability skills, particularly those related to critical thinking, problem-solving, and communication.
- Examining how to support inclusion and belonging in work-integrated learning contexts.
- Expanding beyond architecture to consider links between pedagogy and employability in other built environments disciplines.
Across disciplines, skills associated with collaboration are now ubiquitously considered requisite graduate attributes. Despite decades of studies on the various dimensions of academic teamwork, challenges for both students and staff remain. For this year-long study at a UK school of architecture, we considered teamwork as a thread woven through the first-year curriculum, traversing course modules and project types. The primary aim of the study was to evaluate the collective impact of teamwork activities on the incoming cohort of 200+ undergraduate students and how the structuring and coordination of such activities might improve the holistic student experience.
Across two rounds of online questionnaires and focus group sessions, student participants articulated the benefits of collaboration for learning, socialisation and professional development. However, resentment towards teamwork increased throughout the year, as frustration with disengaged cohort mates grew, and student sought greater structure and oversight from tutors. On the other hand, when given the chance to reflect on the multidimensional nature of teamwork in focus group discussions, many students adopted a productively nuanced perspective toward the topic. This implies that, whether students like or dislike certain aspect of collaborative projects, opportunities for critical conversation can promote or prompt an appreciation for the educational value of including teamwork projects in curricula. The results of this study should be relevant to educators seeking to improve the implementation and effectiveness of team-based learning, particularly those in design-based fields and those in higher and professional education contexts.
Thompson, J., Braglia, R., & Teba, T. (2021) Qualified Satisfaction: First-year architecture student perceptions of teamwork. International Journal of Art and Design Education.
Academic Perspectives on Employability Skills in Architecture
This article presents findings from a recent study of academic perspectives towards employability in architecture. The aim of the study was to gauge the perceived impact of COVID-19 on employer values, and the degree to which these perceived changes were impacting teaching practices. Thematic analysis of data from semi-structured interviews with eight members of a postgraduate architecture community in Australia—including educators, practitioners, and students—revealed strong consensus. The relative value of skills such as teamwork and autonomy were deemed increasingly important following the widespread uptake of remote work. On the other hand, the value of competencies associated with the design process itself, as reflected in professional accreditation criteria, were perceived as stable. Most enlightening were participants’ views on how they believe employability skills are encouraged, observed and judged in academic contexts. By reinforcing how employability skill development tends to rely on the discipline’s tacit enculturation practices, this study raises critical questions about quality assurance and assessment practices within the architectural community. Embedded in these questions is the understanding that the challenge of employability skills assessment is entangled within the discipline’s failure to address its ongoing challenges around diversity, equity and inclusion.
Thompson, J. & Soccio, P. (2022) ‘This is what gets people hired!’: Academic perspectives on employability skills in architecture and the potential impact of COVID-19. The Journal of Teaching and Learning for Graduate Employability 13(1), pp. 127-140.
- Cotronei-Baird, V. S. (2020). Academic hindrances in the integration of employability skills development in teaching and assessment practice. Higher Education, 79, 203-223.
- Dawson, S., & Osborne, A. (2020). Re-shaping built environment higher education: The impact of degree apprenticeships in England. International Journal of Construction Education and Research, 16(2), 102-116.
- Tomlinson, M., & Nghia, T. L. H. (2020). An overview of the current policy and conceptual landscape of graduate employability. In T. L. H. Nghia, T. Pham, M. Tomlinson, K. Medica, & C. Thompson (Eds.) Developing and utilizing employability capitals: Graduates’ strategies across labour markets, (pp. 1-15). Routledge.
- Thompson, J. (2016) Identity Transformation through Collaboration: Narratives of ‘Becoming an Architect.’ In Tucker, R. (Ed.), Collaboration and Student Engagement in Design Education (pp. 330-51) Hershey, PA: IGI Global.
- dela Harpe, B., & Radloff, A. (2006). Lessons learned from three projects to design learning environments that support ‘generic’ skill development. Journal of Learning Design, 1(2), 21-34.