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The Socialist recently spoke to a young architect (Bella) about what it’s like getting a job after finishing university.
The Socialist: You’re a recently graduated architect, how long did you study for and what drew you to the profession?
Bella: Well, it’s the most cliché of reasons. I was interested in the arts, sciences and a sustainable future, and the profession was revered.
I was aware that it was going to be many years of hard study. In order to be considered a qualified architect you need a three-year bachelor’s degree, plus another two years for masters.
What I didn’t realise however was that by “qualified architect” they actually mean “graduate architect”. You are not legally allowed to be called an architect until you’ve sat for registration tests after two to three years of post-study practice.
The Socialist: What type of jobs are available for graduates and have you been able to find one?
Bella: Similar to other professions, it is difficult to get employed without having experience.
I was lucky and found a job at a firm that paid their graduates Award wages, but many of the people I studied with actually work unpaid as interns.
Lots of graduates struggle to pay rent. If you work for free you usually need another casual job so you can pay bills. This can mean working up to 80 hours a week!
Many people have debts from their time studying as well. It can cost up to $1500 per semester by the time you pay for printing on large scale paper and model making. This doesn’t even account for the computer and the specialist software you need.
Depending on the size of the firm, graduates are sometimes assigned large tasks despite the fact that they are inexperienced. It’s cheaper for the firm to pay graduates, so they are often told to do work that is beyond their pay grade.
Some graduates get stuck in production line type work. For example, you’ll be allocated jobs doing the toilet details, another person does the doors and windows, another the construction of the roof and so on.
The Socialist: What is a typical graduate’s salary and what sort of working conditions do you have?
Bella: The pay and conditions are appalling. An entry level graduate is usually paid Award wages, but often you don’t get paid for overtime. I know people who take home about $850 a week but this isn’t much if you’re working 60 hours.
A culture is perpetuated, even starting during university, that you should expect to pull all-nighters in order to meet deadlines. Usually bosses give graduates an unrealistic amount of work and expect them to complete it no matter what. Otherwise, it’s considered that you lack passion.
A common drollery exchanged amongst architects is about how we are usually the lowest paid people on site. While we struggle to make rent, we often meet young builders and tradespeople who tell us about the beach house they have bought on the coast!
The Socialist: That doesn’t sound as glamorous as most people would think. Why do you think the wages are so low?
Bella: There are a few reasons. Most other countries require architects to sign off before anything gets built so there’s an issue about deregulation in the industry.
Also, the problems we face are similar to other “professionals” like lawyers and accountants. Despite the long hours, and supposedly prestigious titles, many young professionals don’t get paid as much as people think.
If you are a partner or an associate, you’d probably get paid almost 20 times more than a regular staff member, but that’s just a tiny handful of people in the firm!
It’s clear that many professions that were once considered ‘middle class’ are now being proletarianised. As capitalism searches for more ways to make profits lots of white collar workers are being exploited at a higher rate.
Casualisation, short term contracts, and even gig economy type work is creeping into many white collar and professional industries.
The Socialist: What do you think the solution is? How can architects and other professionals win better pay and conditions?
Bella: I think unionisation would be a start. That’s how construction workers won decent pay and conditions. Many of them are better off than we are because they have gotten organised in trade unions and fought collectively for a better deal.
At the moment game developers are moving towards unionisation, I don’t see why architects can’t do the same.