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Learn new skills in the recession

Published on: 20 Feb 2009

Mark Lomas is a mature final-year student on a Bsc (Hons) course in Architectural Technology at the University of Westminster. With 25-plus years of experience in construction, he says the recession isn't the end of the world.

"It's clear that construction is historically a boom-and-bust industry. But look at the sub-themes. Be in no doubt that recession opens up as many opportunities as a period of boom – there is no enterprise without change.

When the upturn comes, there will still be a skills shortage in the building professions. There will still be a shortage of houses that are fit for purpose, and pensioners living in fuel poverty.

There will still be a dire lack of practical people to rebuild this mess. The industry fat cats will still be dragging their heels over sustainable building.

As new graduates, our knowledge is bang up-to-date, unlike many in the industry who still "do it like that because that's how we've always done it". We have a real competitive edge.

Build on your skills

In the meantime, what can you do if you're not fortunate enough to go straight into a job or graduate placement?

Go and push a barrow around a building site for a summer – there will always be somebody building an extension or loft conversion. Learn some trade skills. Go skip-diving and build a shed. Actual building experience at any level will make you a better architect, engineer, QS or construction manager.

Offer your skills to a housing charity or community group. Check out VSO or Article 25 for volunteering opportunities in the developing world. If you have somewhere to sleep tonight, and food on the table, you're richer than 80% of people in the world.

Plan to take over the world

I was at a recent lecture by Will Alsop, who advised architecture students in this situation to get round a table with a few drinks and create architecture anyway. So draw up a manifesto.

My own suggestion is to include in your mission statement that any bank HQs that you might build in the future will have opening windows on the higher floors – purely for passive ventilation, obviously.

Stay busy and carry on learning – whether that involves another course of study or simply borrowing books from the local library.

Memorise the Building Regs, or transcribe them into iambic pentameter.

If you're a designer, then design buildings. If you're a QS, practise adding up numbers. Interviewers will ask what you did during the recession. Did you show initiative, street-smartness and a desire to know more, or did you sit around playing Pro Evo?

One of my young classmates made an interesting observation: “At least now we might be able to buy a house one day.” His glass is half-full. In construction, recession is simply a constant, like bad weather and overdue tax returns.

We learn to live with it, because it sure beats being an accountant."

Read the full article and learn more about coping with redundancy Knowledge is a winner.