My turn to be stunned. Everything he’s said is reasonable, accurate and honest. I really wish he was wrong, but he’s not. Time’s up, so we shake hands and wish him the best of luck getting made redundant. I ponder my own ethical position on the train home.
It’s exam time again on the Part 3 course and, given the state of things, I’m surprised at how blasé the tutors seem. By contrast, the students – sorry, ‘candidates’ – have endured yet another gruelling nine months of post-Brexit downturn, fluctuating immigration statuses and now the cancellation of HS2. There are longer hours, shorter contracts, pay freezes and straight‑up ‘restructuring’ which notably protects the Revit-illiterate seniors while sending tremors through early career foundations.
Ah, did they know you had your Part 3 exam today? ‘Oh yeah, they said it’d be a good talking point for the interview.’
We’re briefed by the watery-eyed head of course that we should be kind – but not too kind! It is an exam, and they need to understand the gravity of the situation. And we should be rigorous in our questions – but don’t make it weird! Stressed people don’t give good answers. Make sure to ask them about the Building Safety Act, but don’t get too specific, in case they ask the question back to us and, crikey, we have no idea, am I right! Mirthless chuckling. Oh, and make sure you ask them about their personal ethical stance, which they must have, and live by. Even though we can see they’re swimming in the same toxic swamp as the rest of us and it is, technically, just a job.
I’m getting a bit bleary-eyed with the onslaught of ennui, when Candidate 6 sits down. He’s calm, his answers are concise but specific and he elaborates when asked. We’re done; he’s cleared the RIBA/ARB hurdles … what to do with the remaining 15 minutes? I go for a broad-spectrum question – what are your reflections on working in architecture now that you’ve completed your Part 3? What are your takeaways? He pauses and sighs.
Our first candidate is a shoo-in. Solid work, solid answers to clarification questions, lovely. NEXT! Oh my, you are sweaty, sir. No, no, have a seat, no rush, deep breath, it’s just a conversation. Haha, sort of. So, how are you …? Oh I’m sorry to hear your practice is making redundancies, that’s always a stressful process. Are you … part of that? Yes, you are, OK. What’s your, um, ethical position on that? No, go ahead, you can swear if you want to.
Nice. Ok, so what are your immediate thoughts then, given the ‘surprise’? ‘Well you know, I’m kind of fine with it? I took this job because they offered to pay for the Part 3, and if they make me redundant, it gets me out of the pay-back clause. There’s no projects anyway, and framework bids are soul-destroying.
‘Honestly, the vibes are just off, you know?’ he says, eyeballing my silver haired co-examiner, as if daring her to question the colloquialism. Yes, she replies, yes, I am aware that the vibe has been off for some time. There is a pause. So how is your practice handling the economic uncertainty around your case study project? [Hint: it’s one of the HS2 casualties]. ‘Well they announced this morning that they’d be making redundancies.’
The next three candidates are similar, although perspiring less. Turns out for every B-Corp practice with dubious working hours and below-benchmark pay (it’s a local authority client, what are we supposed to doooooo?!) there’s an equally cynical Employee ‘Owned’ Trust trying to back-fill a resource gap by kicking the can down the road and hiding it all in an over-elaborate InDesign template. Either way, they’re cutting staff, there’s no budget for a pay rise (soz!) and, no, you can’t have time off in lieu. Be grateful for the golden handcuffs. Smile, you’ll be wearing them for two years.
‘I could go be a design manager, especially as the ARB are talking about abolishing the Part 3 system anyway. So really, I’m kind of hoping they cut me. A severance pack and gardening leave sounds pretty good right now.’