Norwich’s Priyanka celebrates architect apprenticeship and pledges to drive sustainability

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‘I want to change how people think about sustainability’ – Priyanka’s pledge after architecture degree apprenticeship success at Ingleton Wood’s Norwich office

A Norwich architect who has completed a four-year degree apprenticeship is urging more young people to consider the practical route over traditional university because of the “real-life” skills and experiences gained in the workplace and improved chances of employment.

Priyanka Shah, 29, is celebrating after achieving a Level 7 Architecture Apprenticeship, equivalent to a master’s degree and an accredited chartership from the Architects Registration Board (ARB), at property and construction consultancy Ingleton Wood and London South Bank University.

Priyanka, a project architect at Ingleton Wood’s Norwich office where she worked as an architectural assistant throughout the qualification, has also spoken of her desire to help challenge misconceptions over sustainability and drive innovation in the built environment.

“It’s been a long journey but I feel a profound sense of achievement,” she said.

“The great thing is that I don’t have to worry about finding employment or think about ‘what’s next’ after university because I’m already here at Ingleton Wood as a fully-fledged architect with the benefits of a natural, gradual transition.”

Priyanka experienced the “best of both worlds” by working at the practice four days a week with a paid salary and attending university once a week for theoretical study and exams.

“The biggest difference between degree apprenticeships and full-time university study is the by-product of respect and experience you get with the practical roles you play within the industry during an apprenticeship,” she said.

“I have friends and colleagues who have spent a solid five to seven years in traditional university education who have come out with the same degree at the same age, but they don’t have anywhere near the same level of practical knowledge, real-life experiences or carefully built-up professional relationships across the industry and in close-knit disciplines as I have after spending the past seven years within the practice environment.

“It is very theory-driven at university, understandably, and while you need this grounding, it is focused on concepts and designs without the boundaries of the real world. To truly get to grips with both theory and real life, you need to be thrown into the deep end and work out realistic solutions yourself, while receiving dedicated support like I have at Ingleton Wood.

“For instance, how will providing a sustainable design concept impact a building’s structural or mechanical design? How can you demonstrate that a ground- or air-source heat pump will not only be significantly cost-effective over its lifespan, but can be incorporated easily into the fabric of the building?

“In addition, things are constantly changing in the built environment: legislation, targets, planning processes. Being in the workplace, you’re the first to know and adapt. But university teaching can get outdated quite quickly. Some briefs need to be adapted, for example, new sustainability strategies.”

Priyanka achieved a distinction in her final assessment and her cohort was only the third in the UK to study towards the new qualification – which she believes could impact the industry in a positive way.

“I think the apprenticeship route under the guidance of experienced architects will accelerate career progression,” she said.

“I have been fortunate to have been surrounded by great support from colleagues as well as my family. My Ingleton Wood team is a fountain of knowledge and have been very supportive and approachable. You know exactly who has the specialist knowledge and they are always willing to share and teach. Everything has always been considered a learning curve, creating a safe and trusted environment to grow and develop.”

Priyanka’s dissertation on zoo enclosures was shortlisted for an international award at the Royal Institute of British Architects’ (RIBA) President’s Medals.

“Ultimately, the imprint I want to leave as an architect is changing how people think about sustainability. There are a lot of myths and preconceptions that need to be addressed with clear reasoning and demonstrable results that prove that you don’t need to sacrifice cost, functionality, security or aesthetics with sustainability. I want to change minds,” she said.

“Most of the time, sustainable embodiments within a project are seen as an ‘add-on’ element to meet a statutory requirement and often the bare minimum is done to allow a project to ‘get over the line’, but actually we can demonstrate how this will have economical and efficiency benefits to the end client with the hope of enlightening clients that the integration of sustainable design is not a restriction but an enhancement.”

As a project architect, Priyanka is leading large-scale, high-priority projects in the secure infrastructure sector, along with commercial and residential project support.

She said: “I’m leading multi-disciplinary teams including engineers and architectural assistants, and when you see your name all over project documents and see that you’re accountable, you get a real sense of pride and achievement because you know how much work and thought and co-ordination has gone into it, and that I was entrusted with the responsibility to manage it.”

Priyanka also had a message for any young person concerned about specialising as a student in disciplines such as architecture: “The built environment is so diverse so you won’t be tied down. You’ll have transferrable skills to go into graphics, engineering, science, or interior design. It’s a flexible degree that allows you to specialise further down the line, to meet your individual strengths and ambitions.”

Ingleton Wood, which sponsored Priyanka’s qualification, is an Apprenticeship Levy payer and committed to supporting professional development and addressing industry skills gaps.

David Cresswell, managing partner at Ingleton Wood, said: “We are incredibly proud of Priyanka who showed so much passion to achieve her Level 7 Architecture Apprenticeship. She is right on track to becoming an inspirational role model for younger generations.

“We believe in expanding our workforce with local homegrown talent from a diverse range of backgrounds to ensure we have a thriving workforce who can solve global challenges one building at a time.”

Ingleton Wood is one of the largest property and construction consultancies covering East Anglia, Northern England, the Midlands, Central England, London and the South East, with offices in Norwich, Colchester, Billericay, Cambridge, Nottingham, Oxford and London. The Practice’s services include architecture, sustainability, building surveying, building services engineering, planning, interior design, civil and structural engineering, quantity surveying, project management, and health and safety.