New London Architecture

Five Minutes With... Peter Barker

Tuesday 19 September 2023

David Taylor

Editor, NLQ and New London Weekly

David Taylor talks to Ryder partner Peter Barker on the launch of PlanBEE London and the skills gap this paid, higher apprenticeship programme hopes to plug across the built environment industries.

David Taylor  
Hi, Peter. How are you?
 
Peter Barker  
I'm very well; very nice, sunny morning here in the Northeast of England.
 
David Taylor  
Excellent. It's a bit gloomier down south, so I'm jealous. I wanted to talk to you about PlanBEE London, which is the launch of the programme that's been going for a while, hasn't it, in the north. But you're expanding it. Could you just give us an outline of what it actually is, and what it hopes to achieve?
 
Peter Barker  
Yes. PlanBEE is a programme which we launched in 2016 in Newcastle upon Tyne. It's called PlanBEE because it stands for our Plan for Built Environment Education. And it grew out of a sort of frustration with ourselves and other industry sponsor companies, at the – I suppose – failings of some of the educational pathways in the built environment, in terms of the very narrow, single discipline only focus, in a lot of educational pathways. We felt: could we develop a multidisciplinary, essentially Foundation programme to allow young people to understand, in a practical way, the career opportunities at professional level in the built environment, by having an industry-led apprenticeship which was unique in that its rotational and a shared apprenticeship rather than an apprentice working with a single employer, and make it sufficiently robust and substantial that it gives them a very solid grounding over two years. And at the same time, they don't end up being mired in debt at the end of it. Because obviously, architecture particularly is seen as quite an exclusive, expensive and lengthy career pathway. And in our view, it’s potentially unnecessarily lengthy.

So we, alongside other founding sponsors, such as Arup’s, Sir Robert McAlpine and others felt that the time was right to create something that provided a much more holistic approach to professional careers for young people in the built environment. So, the programme developed off the back of that initial idea, and we thought: ultimately, someone embarking on a career in the built environment really needs to make a decision on a specialist area, i.e., architecture, engineering, construction management. And maybe the time to do that is at sort of level six degree or master's level. But in the run into that, level four or five, could we create a programme that gives them that two-year foundation? So that's really what PlanBEE has been. We launched it in September 2016, in Newcastle, and it grew from a smallish cohort of say 10 apprentices to now around 15 per intake; we even have 20 in Manchester. Each year, we recruit a new round of apprentices and we've had 74 graduates from the programme since September 2016. I think 97% of them have gone on to careers in the built environment, either in engineering, architecture, construction management, project management, quantity surveying. And they themselves, I think, are a great testament to the success of the programme. In September 2021, we were approached by Manchester City Council, who'd heard about PlanBEE to ask if they could apply it to a number of projects in the city – particularly the Manchester Town Hall refurbishment project. They've been a hugely supportive ally in the rollout of PlanBEE, and it's been running in Manchester now for over two years.

And now, in partnership with Neil Shasore and the team at the LSA, we are about to launch the programme in London. The LSA or School of Architecture and Neil have their Part 0 initiative, which is really about inclusivity and opening opportunities for underrepresented groups in the built environment. The Part 0 concept aligns very closely with PlanBEE, so we felt this sort of natural affinity with their aims, and with support from some of the North East London boroughs such as Hackney and Islington, who again, have been very supportive, we've got our first cohort of apprentices starting in the next three weeks. So, we'll have three cohorts running in parallel, which we're delighted about.
David Taylor  
And, bluntly, what's in it for Ryder? I mean, clearly you want the professions to be improved, and you want the general standard of architecture to be improved. But do you get some of these excellent graduates coming to you first? Can you pick and choose the best graduates? I'm not suggesting you're being selfish here! (laughs)
 
Peter Barker  
No, no!
 
David Taylor  
I'm just wondering, I mean, it's a fantastic programme. It sounds great!
 
Peter Barker  
Well, I think we've recruited 10 apprentices from the program over the last seven years. We are just like any other sponsor – there's no (laughs) first dibs in terms of choosing the best apprentices. We pay our apprentices salaries the same way as any other sponsor does. We've recruited some excellent young people from the programme and they've gone on to do architecture or Architectural Technology. But I think 10 out of 74 is not a huge number. But we have done it, I mean, genuinely done it, for altruistic reasons, in terms of trying to raise the level of talent in the industry. Because ultimately, you know, the talent pool needs to be improved collectively; there's no point in just doing it for architects or engineers. We all coexist and rely on each other. So we're doing it for the benefit of the quality of capability and talent in the industry. And it's interesting that when the two years come to an end, the sponsors are invited to offer permanent job positions to the apprentices, and we essentially compete to see who we can secure (laughs). And sometimes sponsors don't end up with the candidate that they maybe wish for, but ultimately, you know, they will get some benefit in terms of recruitment from the programme. But it is partly to do with trying to improve the gene pool of the built environment in terms of the quality and encouraging young people to have a career in an industry which is actually very exciting.

It is an industry-led program, so we've consciously made it suitable for what industry needs. So we review the curriculum and the knowledge skills and behaviours every 12 months, and in between. So: we're looking at an emphasis on digital and emphasis on net zero, retrofit, green skills, as well to ensure it's relevant to the industry. So really, coming back to your question, what does Ryder get out of it, I think it's partly recruitment. It's partly I suppose to do with profile, but it's also trying to genuinely improve the quality of education. And we'd love to be able to roll this out elsewhere. We have an office in Vancouver, and I was over there for a couple of months at the end of 2021, and we met the head of the construction environment school at BCIT – British Columbia Institute of Technology. And they were very interested in the programme; they've created an adapted version of PlanBEE for the Vancouver industry as well. So: we spread the word and created variants of it elsewhere. We'd love to do more of it in the UK. But it all depends on the interest and demand from industry – from sponsor businesses, because they ultimately pay the salary of the apprentice. 
 
David Taylor  
And the apprentices I'm reading have a starting salary of around 22,991, which seems a very specific number per year.
 
Peter Barker  
That's London. London living wage in London, national living wage in Manchester and Newcastle. So that's the current yeah, that's, I think that figure you quoted was the London...
 
David Taylor  
…The London version, and they'll study that the candidates will study a day a week at the LSA, the London School of Architecture, and then spend four days a week with one of the sponsor employers, right?
 
Peter Barker  
Yes. And so they'll be working to a set of knowledge, skills and behaviours which they need to address during their work placements, but they will be working as part of project teams in those practices – practices or businesses. So you know, they're not there just to observe and absorb – well they are there to absorb (laughs) but they're there to work as a significant part of the team. And part of our role as a leading founding sponsor is to, I suppose, advise the other sponsors joining the programme but how to mentor those apprentices. A lot of it is down to the quality of the candidates, and the sponsors play a role in recruitment in the interviews as well. So we handpick the candidates, but we encourage applications – there's obviously minimum academic qualifications, but we are trying to reach those who originally probably wouldn't consider a professional career in the built environment.
 
David Taylor  
So lastly, what have you noticed from the people coming through this programme over the 10 years or so that it's been going? Are they more inverted commas rounded as property/construction/design professionals? And if so, does that indicate a sort of a problem with traditional courses, do you think?
 
Peter Barker  
I think the overall word that springs to mind is maturity, in that you know, I wouldn't say they are thrown into the deep end but when they start the programme they are straight into a working environment. And obviously they'll be studying alongside that, so it is pretty intensive, and they have to work hard both in the workplace and on their academic studies. But I think the other aspect is that each placement is four months, and that may sound a short period. But it's very much enough to have an understanding of that aspect of the industry. So within the first two or three placements, they will have got insights from different disciplines which just make them much more insightful, and I suppose relevant to what the industry needs, rather than having a maybe naive or one dimensional view of one aspect of the built environment.
 
David Taylor  
Well congratulations on it all. It sounds really great. Lastly, what are your hopes for PlanBEE London, in a nutshell?
 
Peter Barker  
We had a huge interest in the period leading up to the start of the programme. We've got a small group of sponsors to start with; 12 sponsors to start with, but we've had interest from 40 or 50 other businesses, who are keen to join the programme in September 2024, as well, so we're hoping to really grow the programme in London, possibly expand it in the Greater London area, but also look at other regions of the UK. So we want to really promote it. We've got huge benefit out of it as a founder and a sponsor. And we know the other sponsors have as well. And the young people themselves are testament to the success – so we really want to sustainably grow the programme and celebrate it, really!
 
David Taylor  
And make it a Plan A, rather than a Plan B, in many ways. (laughs)
 
Peter Barker  
Yeah, potentially! (laughs)
 
David Taylor  
Great. Thank you very much for your time and congratulations – it looks a great programme. 
 
Peter Barker  
Okay, cheers! Bye!


David Taylor

Editor, NLQ and New London Weekly



Recent

Five Minutes With...Lloyd Lee

News

Five Minutes With...Lloyd Lee

David Taylor meets with Lloyd Lee, co-founder, managing partner and chair of the investment committee at Yoo Capital, to...

Ealing’s plan-led approach to tall buildings.

News

Ealing’s plan-led approach to tall buildings.

Mandar Puranik, head of Ealing Borough's Regeneration Team, discusses the borough's significant growth and development,...

NLA Charrette: Focus on Health

News

NLA Charrette: Focus on Health

Natasha Reid, founder at MATTER SPACE SOUL, shares her reflections and analysis of insights gathered at the New London A...

Stay in touch

Upgrade your plan

Choose the right membership for your business

Billing type:
All prices exclude VAT
View options for Personal membership