Creative Education
2012. Vol.3, Special Issue, 1016-102 3
Published Online October 2012 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
“I Wish for More Than I Ever Get”: Employers’ Perspectives on
Employability Attributes of Architecture Graduates
Susan J. Shannon
School of Architecture, L a n ds c ap e Ar c h it e ct u re and Urban Design, The University of Adelaide,
Adelaide, Australia
Received August 30th, 2012; revised September 2 8th, 2012; accepted Octo ber 12th, 2012
This research considers graduate recruitment for architecture graduates. Employers in small, medium and
large Australian firms, from the private and public sector were surveyed about their graduate hiring prac-
tices. Through distilling the discipline specific Graduate Attributes for all Australian Architecture
Schools’ Architecture Programs and generic Graduate Attributes for their Universities, the researcher
compiled a questionnaire which was administered to prospective employers of architecture graduates. The
results reveal that the possession of technical knowledge is more highly rated as a Graduate Attribute in
recruitment than the possession of design knowledge/skills, and that the possession of Computer Aided
Design (CAD) representation skills is more important to graduate recruiters of all firm sizes than either
technical or design knowledge and skills. The research further revealed that the presentation of a portfolio
is a key recruitment tool for employers, and that the demonstration of team work is a highly valued ge-
neric attribute for employers.
Keywords: Architecture Graduates; Employability; Graduate Attributes; Portfolio; Team Work
This study of architecture graduate employers’ expectations
is nested within a broader exploration of the transition of Built
Environment and Design graduates from University to the
workplace from the perspective of graduates, employers and
academics (Savage, Davis, & Miller, 2009). This research study
narrows that broader study to a consideration of graduate re-
cruitment for Australian architecture graduates. In particular, it
seeks to understand architecture graduate (public and private
sector) employers’ behavior and criteria in hiring graduates. It
evaluates their beliefs in hiring graduates against a simplified
summary of the published Graduate Attributes elicited from the
seventeen 2010 Schools of Architecture in Australia, as well as
the list of employability characteristics developed by the Com-
monwealth of Australia Government (Australian Government,
As a result it explores whether a focus on current Graduate
Attributes is educating architecture graduates to productive
engagement with industry at the point of graduation, and whethe r
scarce resources are sufficiently devoted during architectural
education towards the attributes currently sought by employers.
In particular it focuses on the value employers place on posses-
sion of technology and technical skills in the graduate recruit-
ment process, both as a measure of future proofing, in the sense
of technical skills possibly enabling a more complete under-
standing of sustainability and familiarity with technology pro-
viding for more effective work practices (Australian Govern-
ment, 2010), and as a key discipline-specific graduate attribute
along with design skills and computer-aided design (CAD)
representation skills. The key terms “employability skills”, and
“graduate attributes” are defined within the broader, and then
Australian context to better understand these key curriculum
drivers in any architectural education.
Graduate Attributes
Many universities are addressing the importance of employ-
ability skills through their graduate attributes (Nair, Patil, &
Mertova, 2009: p. 132) which the Australian government had
said “provided a framework of generic attributes that ideally
every graduate should have” and that “analysis of graduate
attributes from a significant number of universities shows that
employability skills, as outlined in the Employability Skills
Framework may reasonably be seen as a subset of graduate
attributes” (Precision Consultancy, 2007: p. 2). The Australian
Technology Network (ATN) universities agreed that graduate
attributes are “the qualities, skills and understanding a univer-
sity community agrees its students should develop during their
time with the institution and consequently, shape the contribu-
tion they are able to make to their profession and as a citizen”
(Bowden, Hart, King, Trigwell, & Watts, 2002).
Why is employability so important to Universities? Hesketh
(2000: p. 46) relates that UK employers’ perceptions that gra-
duate education and training exists to prepare students for the
world of work and that government, industry and students sup-
port this proposition. Hesketh says that employers are dissatis-
fied with the attributes of the individuals they recruit from uni-
versities. In the Australian context “employability skills are the
skills required to not only to gain employment but also to pro-
gress within an enterprise so as to achieve one’s potential and
contribute successfully to enterprise strategic directions… Sys-
tems currently in place hold universities accountable for their
graduates’ success in gaining employment” (DEEWR, 2002 in
Franz, 2008: p. 2)
At the broadest Australian level, the Graduate Employability
Skills Report, presented the findings of a research consultancy
which investigated how Universities develop and integrate
employability skills into their programs of study; how Univer-
sities teach and assess employability skills, and how graduate
employability skills might be assessed and reported on (Preci-
sion Consultancy, 2007 prepared for the Business, Industry and
Higher Education Council).
Precision reflects that the Employability Skills Framework
“communication, team work, problem solving, self manage-
ment, planning and organizing, technology, lifelong learning,
and [creative] initiative and enterprise” are seen as highly rele-
vant to the needs of industry. “Broadly speaking industry rep-
resentatives are satisfied with the technical or discipline-spe-
cific skills of graduates, but for some there is a perception that
employability skills are underdeveloped. Some employers be-
lieve that universities are providing students with a strong
knowledge base but without the ability to intelligently apply
that knowledge in the work setting” (Precision, 2007: p. 2).
Some evidence exists about the extent to which Australian
Universities are meeting employers’ broad needs. The longi-
tudinal survey of Australian youth (LSAY) (ACER, 2005) com-
prises 1995 and 1998 Yr 9 (15 years old) school cohorts sur-
veyed in 2006 (when respectively 25 and 22 years old) about
their employability skills (eligibility for this part of the survey
hinged on whether they had completed a degree or honors de-
gree in the previous 12 months).
“The proportion of respondents saying that the university
course prepared them well or very well for employability skills
was lower than the proportion saying that these skills were
important/very important for all employability skills. The aver-
age gap was just under seven percentage points for the younger
cohort but over 11 percentage points for the older cohort. For
the 1995 cohort, the gap was largest for teamwork, communica-
tion and planning/organization. For the 1998 cohort, the dispar-
ity was greatest for communication, initiative and creativity and
technology skills” (Precision Consultancy, 2007: p. 35). The
data indicates that employability skills are seen by graduates as
highly relevant to their roles and that on the whole they believe
that universities provided them with the skills they needed al-
though slightly less so for the older cohort (Precision Consul-
tancy, 2007: p. 36). Precision conclude that Universities and
industry, working together, can improve graduates’ employ-
ability through a wide range of strategies, including improving
and increasing access to Work Integrated Learning (WIL); en-
hancing the teaching and assessment of employability skills;
and encouraging businesses to provide structured cadetships.
They conclude further that through “increasing opportunities
for business and higher education to work together to identify,
promote, teach, assess and report employability skills” better
outcomes would be experienced for all (Precision Consultancy,
2007: p. 5).
The Contribution of Graduate Attributes to Shaping
Graduates’ Employability
The most needed skills in the Australian labor market are the
abilities to communicate, analyze and solve problems, work as
a team member, tackle unfamiliar problems, and plan one’s
work (GCCA, 1999 in Levin & Tempone, 2002: p. 253). Kele-
her, Toft & Howard (2006: p. 1) reported that engineering stu-
dents returning from work placements favored an integrated
curriculum that developed hard skills and soft [generic or em-
ployability] skills concurrently, and that this reflected the real-
ity of what engineers actually do in the workplace. Nair and
Patil (2008) and Nair, Patil, & Mertova (2009) reported on a
survey of 109 employers who recruited at least one engineering
graduate in the previous 3 years. They found “a significant gap
in many attributes between the expectations of industry to what
graduates bring to the workforce…The three highest differ-
ences were observed for “oral communication skills”, “inter-
personal skills with colleagues and clients” and “written com-
munication skills”. On the other hand, “broad background gen-
eral knowledge” and “general business knowledge” showed the
smallest gap between importance and satisfaction” (Nair &
Patil, 2008: pp. 77-78).
Freudenberg, Brimble & Cameron (2008: p. 159) offered a
Professional Development Program (PDP) orientation to work-
integrated-learning (work placements) which was “integrated
into the degree program and is designed to systematically de-
velop students’ learning, employment and generic skills and
supplements the theoretical studies”. Crebert (2002) reported
that graduates who had experienced some form of work inte-
grated learning, were asked to rank the top five contributions
firstly the University, secondly their work placement and
thirdly their current world of work contributed to their acquisi-
tion of graduate attributes (where the graduate attributes for
their ranking were a pre-provided list).
1) University: written communication; oral communication;
teamwork; analysis; and critical evaluation.
2) Work placement: oral communication; knowledge; written
communication; practical and technical experience; and inter-
personal skills.
3) Employment: oral communication; written communication;
teamwork; assuming responsibility and making decisions; and
practical and technical experience/interpersonal skills (tied).
(Crebert, 2002: p. 139)
In summary, Universities ideally prepare graduates for em-
ployment in concert with business, as the complementary pre-
parations provide both discipline skills and employability as-
pects of the broad sweep of graduate attributes. Where work
integrated learning (WIL) or internships are not a feature of the
curriculum, Universities alone may not be in a position to pro-
vide the ideal preparation, possibly leaving graduates with a
shortfall of valuable employability attributes or “soft skills” to
take into the work force and to provide as evidence of capacity
to potential employers during recruitment, much as academic
results and a portfolio provide evidence for the graduate attrib-
utes or “hard skills” for architecture graduates.
Employability—Architecture Graduates
There is a modest literature concerning architecture gradu-
ates’ employability, with the benefits of work integrated learn-
ing (WIL) being uppermost in author’s minds. Franz (2008)
posits that WIL provides an opportunity to marry hard and soft
skills—graduate attributes and employability attributes. Savage
(2005) defends the role of WIL in developing graduate attrib-
utes, saying that the origins of institutionalized learning, as
opposed to learning-on-the-job derived from the “belief emerg-
ing in the 19th century that universities taught the knowledge
(the theory) that was later applied in practice… in the process
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 1017
denying, or at the very least, devaluing the role of practice as a
learning environment” (Savage, 2005 in Franz, 2008: p. 166).
Moreover Savage (2005: p. 4) contends that “practice knowl-
edge is situated” and advocates “critical engagement with prac-
tice… will add to the store of knowledge that a novice can ac-
quire prior to graduation”. Savage, Davis & Miller (2009: p. 3)
found that “graduates and employers generally agree on the
importance of a set of general skills” and that of these skills 16
of the 21 were directly attributed as University developed
characteristics. Of critical importance is the belief of respon-
dents that whilst “most of the capabilities should be developed
at University (76%) versus the Workplace (14%) and Self de-
veloped (10%)… University plays a crucial role in ensuring
graduates develop lifelong learning skills and attributes that can
carry them onto a long a fruitful career, however, professionals
and students [surveyed] feel universities are not doing enough
to ensure this development occurs” (Savage, Davis, & Miller
2009: pp. 13-14). Drake, Williams & Kingsland (2003) argue
that Cowdroy (1990) found in his commissioned research into
architecture graduates’ aptitude for practice, that “higher and
more consistent skills at entry are required in Architectural
Practice”, and that there was “no consensus between graduates,
practitioners or employers and the Schools of Architecture as to
the skills required of a recent graduate” (Drake, Williams, &
Kingsland, 2003: p. 1). In their view, nothing had changed in
the intervening 13 years, with schools unable to state what
skills their architecture graduates possess, and employers dis-
satisfied with the graduates they employ. Williamson (2008: p.
608) concurs that practitioners give preference to students and
graduates who already possess practical skills, but that aca-
demics continued to prepare students by developing graduate
capabilities and life-long learning skills to equip them to sur-
vive and adapt.
Johnson (1997: p. 11) posited the same thesis 10 years prior
to Williamson—that architectural education focuses on a very
singular view of what an architect is—“a design architect, pref-
erably working in her/his own architectural practice, designing
buildings with ‘poetics’”. Whitman, in Wallis, Whitman and
Savage (2005: p. 34) stated that “the cooperative education
model necessitates a closer relationship between the academy
and practice. The authors cited believe that this failure to bring
practice and the academy together contributes to the gap be-
tween the expectations of practice, and the reality of outcomes
from university architectural education”.
Government View of Graduate Attributes
An Australian Government perspective concerning the quali-
ties of architects is presented in the Australian Government’s
Job Outlook and Job Guides which are written for an audience
of Year 10 students (about to enter their final two years of high
schooling) (Australian Government, 2011a, 2011b). The “Per-
sonal Requirements” for the occupation “Architects” are those
who “enjoy design, [possess] creative flair, [are] able to analyze
problems logically, [possess] good communication skills”. The
Australian Government Skills Information website (Australian
Government, 2010) suggests personal attributes are also impor-
tant. They state that two facets to employability skills are val-
ued: ‘personal’ attributes (for example, loyalty, enthusiasm,
motivation and sense of humor) and “generic” skills of commu-
nication, teamwork, problem-solving, initiative/enterprise, plan-
ing and organization, self-management, learning, and technol-
This generic skills list is was developed by the Cutler Re-
view of Innovation created for the Department of Education,
Science and Technology in 2002, and it continued to be valid in
2007 (Precision Consulting, 2007: p. 2). However, recognition
of the valid teaching or learning of these employability skills is
not unproblematic in the field of architectural education, with
Forsyth (2007: p. 3) stating that “graduates have difficulty in
recognizing these life skills [analysis, communication, prob-
lem-solving, team work] in their fine arts and design tertiary
education”. Johnston (1997: p. 2) concurred, noting that in the
first 3 years of Course Evaluation Questionnaires [standardized
post-graduation surveys of all Australian graduates], architec-
ture graduates recorded the lowest satisfaction rating with their
course experience “of all graduates in all discipline areas…this
seems to be saying that all is not well in architectural education
and that there may be a fundamental mismatch between the
objectives of architecture schools and the objectives and aspira-
tions of architecture students”.
The development of the generic skills subset of employabil-
ity skills is an aspect of graduate attributes architecture educa-
tion providers are addressing throughout Australia, although
none have either expressed personal qualities as employability
skills on their University Graduate Attributes website listing,
nor professed to be able to develop, assess or warrant these
personal qualities in their graduates. Is that important for archi-
tecture graduates? It does seem that may be the case from em-
ployers’ perspectives. Cowdroy (1990: p. 23) reported that
personality problems are consistently referred to by graduates,
employers and personnel consultants as “the primary cause of
dissatisfaction with individual graduates. Graduates and stu-
dents often referred to personality problems as the primary
cause of dissatisfaction with the office”.
The Gap for This Research
The gap for this research study is thus identified as deter-
mining the contemporary recruitment behaviors of practices
which hire architecture graduates with respect to how they pri-
oritize the employability skills of graduates (“soft skills”) and
graduate attributes of the graduate (“discipline area” skills).
The research design involved four aspects- the first two of
which were conducting literature reviews pertaining to em-
ployability attributes and architecture graduate hiring practices.
Both are reported in the Introduction. The third was evaluating
the published Graduate Attributes for Schools of Architecture
in Australia to ascertain what they aspire to produce in a Master
of Architecture (M Arch, formerly Bachelor of Architecture)
graduate. This is reported in the Results section. The fourth was
conducting structured interviews with the Human Resources
(HR) manager, or partner/associate responsible for recruitment
at 21 large, medium-sized and small architectural practices in
Australian cities (Perth, Adelaide, Sydney, Darwin) and re-
gional centers in South Australia, and Tasmania. The public
service was included through the personnel department or pub-
lic servant responsible for selection of M Arch graduates during
graduate recruitment in the State public service in a mainland
state. The responses of all practices which responded to the
invitation for an interview, and who employed graduates, were
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
included in the results. The interviews were all conducted by
telephone, by the researcher. Human Research Ethics Commit-
tee approval was obtained for this research.
The employment or recruitment factors to be explored in the
structured questionnaire (which was administered during the
telephone interview) were determined by the results of the lit-
erature reviews. The questionnaire employed a 5 point Likert
scale to ascertain the importance of each of the factors to the
interviewee. The open ended results were transcribed, coded,
themed a nd reported thematically. Anonymity was ma intained.
Results for Graduate Attributes
All Australian Schools of Architecture (Australian Institute
of Architects, 2011) were contacted by telephone and email up
to three times with an invitation to answer two questions “Do
you have published Masters of Architecture Graduate Attrib-
utes?” and “Do you have overall University Graduate Attrib-
utes?” when Graduate Attributes for their University and Mas-
ter of Architecture Program were not evident on their Univer-
sity and School or Department websites. Data for non-respon-
dents was inferred from their University and Faculty/School
Evaluation of the Graduate Attribute data for Schools and
Universities revealed a consistency across both domains, and
permitted a consolidated list of key employability skills for
graduates to be inferred from University Graduate Attributes,
and Government employability skills lists, and a list of key
Graduate Attributes for M Arch graduates to be inferred from
their Program attribute (Table 1).
Results and Discussion
Interviews with Practice HR Managers and Public
Service HR personnel
Interviews were conducted with either the HR manager or
the partner/associate in charge of recruitment at 21 Australian
employers of M Arch graduates ranging from large (>50 em-
ployees) national and international firms headquartered in Aus-
tralia, through medium sized (20 - 50 employees) Australian
firms (who may also accept international commissions whilst
this is not a major focus of their work), to small firms (<20
employees) who nevertheless employ graduates, to the Gov-
ernment State and Federal Public Service. The firms had offices
situated in Australian capitals and Darwin, as well as Tasma-
nian, and South Australian regional areas. Interviews ceased
when the data repeated and repeated, and no new information
Table 1.
Rating of Factors prioritized in recruitment of architecture graduates.
Question Response on Likert 5 point scale
Priorities in recruitment Mean score
Portfolio 4.2
On the job experience 3.8
Academic achievement 3.6
Curriculum university 2.9
Which institution of study 2.8
was being established, as the themes emerge from the data in
this grounded theory approach (Strauss & Corbin, 1997).
Demographi c Da ta
Demographic data was collected from interviewees prior to
asking the key interview questions. “How many staff in your
firm?”; “Do you employ graduates” and “From which Univer-
Size of the Fi rms
In order to engage with a broad spectrum of graduate em-
ployers, practices interviewed in the private sector ranged in
size from 3 to 70 local (and 228 national) employees. Larger
practices employed Human Resource (HR) Managers or Per-
sonnel Managers. In the public sector, Departments were com-
bined with very large numbers—up to 1100—and employed
personnel staff with nominated graduate recruitment staff. In
small firms the principal was responsible for graduate recruit-
ment and selection. In larger firms, dedicated specialist HR
staff were employed.
Employement of Graduates
All architectural firms’ data reported herein either have in the
past, or currently employ graduates, as did public sector em-
ployment sections. Reasons given for not currently recruiting
graduates within the private sector were the general Global
Financial Crisis-led downturn, to, in the public sector, the
downsizing of the public sector and outsourcing. One large
national and international firm reported that they never see a
graduate for the first time, preferring to build a relationship
with senior students from whom they selected their graduate
intake, once they knew their potential, character and cultural fit.
Recruitment from Particular Universities
No clear sole theme emerged. The themes which emerged
from coding and analyzing all responses were that for some
employers local Universities were preferred and supported; that
the University of recruitment choice for some employers was
context dependent “It depends on why we’re recruiting—what
we’re looking for”; and that for some employers particular
University’s graduates were preferred due to the desirability of
a particular skill set: “I’ve always needed graduates who have
some research capability—capacity of graduates to have a phi-
losophical position—students developed research capacity dur-
ing Professor X’s time”; and for the same reason particular
Universitys graduates were not employed due to them lacking
required skills “Uni Y is not addressing what employers are
looking for”.
Priorities in Recruitment
In this section of the interview respondents were asked to
rate the factors they prioritized in recruitment on a 5 point
Likert scale where
1 = not important at all;
2 = unimportant;
3 = neither important nor unimportant;
4 = important and
5 = critically important.
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 1019
Results from the analysis of their data are shown in Table 1
below for Priorities in Recruitment Questions. Each factor was
rated independently of all others.
In summary the portfolio was considered most important as a
recruitment tool whilst the candidate’s on-the-job experience
and academic achievement were considered slightly important.
The curriculum of the institution and the institution of study
were less than important. The reasons given for these ratings
are explored thema tically.
Importance of the Graduate’s Portfolio
Four themes emerged from the portfolio’s highest ranking in
recruitment priorities. The portfolio shows skills as “a window
to their skills”, but there were wary employers wondering who
did the work. They believed the portfolio must be verified to
state the extent of a student’s participation. Graduates must be
able to present their work by making an adequate and relevant
presentation and they must possess the ability to talk about their
work. Employers wanted a range of skills revealed not just
CAD presentation renderings as they stated the content has to
be honest, their own work, not just CAD: “but the difficulty is
it’s all presentation, not the real world”.
Experience of the Graduate “On the Job”
Employers’ responses grouped into these themes: that
graduates [per se] were not employed—students develop a
relationship with firms prior to graduate recruitment “We do
not advertise for graduates. Students employed in our business
may become graduates employed in our business” through to
unconcern for on-the-job experience—we do not expect it
“We can train, coach and mentor them so this is not that impor-
tant to us”. Their previous employment history provides a win-
dow to their employability for our practice If it’s available it
would swing my decision towards employing them”/although
other employers felt that a substantial employment decision
needs to be linked with an internship rather than employment
history —“Interviews are OK as an initial indicator, but the
only way of really knowing them is through an internship—it’s
how I’ve recruited everyone in the past.”
Academic Achievement of Graduate
Several themes emerged when considering how important
academic achievement was in recruitment. Reputation/market
perceptions “we take Honors reasonably seriously. Conferral of
an Honors degree is seen as a good thing”; the relationship of
University academic transcript to future performance indica-
tion “because what we look for is evidence”; whilst other em-
ployers differed citing their belief was that there was a lack of
relationship between University grades and professional suc-
cess: “Quite often people who have scraped through succeed in
the profession”. Employers welcomed the insight into a candi-
date “to see their grades, what they’ve excelled at”. Regional
employers felt that they were already restricted in who I can
employ (regional) “Situation for recruitment is desperate” and
therefore disregarded academic achievement.
Curriculum of the Institution
Coding and analysis revealed four overarching themes:
Looking for evidence of Work- Integrated-Learning [WIL]: “Yes,
it is industry exposure. Knowing they’ve done a good stint in a
comparable practice” was valued in curricula which had WIL.
Important but hard to discover: “Not always easy to discover.
It’s important.” I dont know how Id know: “Unknown—I have
no idea about these things”. Employers recognize that there is a
gap between University curriculum and what we do in/need for
practice: “To be honest, Universities are a lot more theoretical,
we accept that”.
Institution of Study
Three overarching themes were revealed. Recruit from
all/unimportant: “doesn’t matter”. Recruitment for particular
slant of curriculum: “[their graduates are] practically oriented”
and recruitment locally but would recruit more widely: “we’ve
had graduates from both [local] Universities, that’s who applies,
if we had grads from other Universities apply we’d consider
Employability Skills
In this section of the interview respondents were asked to
rate each capacity on the Commonwealth of Australia’s agreed
list of “employability skills” (Australian Government, 2011b).
These lists are also universally found in this form, or another
similar form, amongst all Universities’ graduate attributes.
All of these employability skills, (or attributes or capacities)
were rated as more important than neutral (Likert 3) and five of
them more than important (Likert 4). There is strong evidence
here of the Commonwealth’s oft repeated message that these
generic skills are very important in recruitment, indeed as im-
portant as discipline area skills (Table 2).
Team Work
Rated mean 4.4, between important and critically important,
this was the highest rating given to any of the employability
skills, and was generally rated 5, or 4 by respondents. Coding
and analysis of all responses revealed two overarching themes:
architecture is a team based production process “it’s collabora-
tive”/“Architecture is a team based process”; and that personal-
ity traits such as team work were hard to evaluate at an inter-
Table 2.
Rating of employability skills prioritised in recruitment of M Arch
Question Response on Likert 5 point scale
Employability Skills Mean Score
Employability Skills 4.4
Self Management 4.2
Communication Skills 4.15
Creative Inititative and Enterprise4.13
Planning and Organisation 4.08
Problem Solv ing 4
Technology 3.9
Lifelong learning 3.8
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
view “need referee’s reports”/“Hard thing to know from inter-
view—got to take a chance—but important”/“Important but
never really know what you’re getting”.
This attitude or personality trait was also rated highly by re-
spondents at mean 4.2 (more than important) although the ca-
veat for employers was “I know it’s important but how to as-
sess it in an interview—the referee’s report is important” and
from another that “You learn it in practice”. Coding and analy-
sis of all responses revealed that business-like time management
is highly valued but whilst employers know that it is important,
it is hard to evaluate in an interview and from other employers
that they are not expecting it to be taught at University “you
learn it in practice”.
Communication Skills
Communication skills were highly valued at 4.15 on the 5
point Likert scale, and employers did feel that through the in-
terview process oral communication skills were more easily
gauged, although in larger offices, it was not absolutely critical,
as “there’s a role for everyone”. The four overarching themes
which arose were that it was unusual to find good communica-
tion skills in a graduate; that all communication skills are im-
portant (oral, written and graphic); and that it is context de-
pendent on their role whether good [oral] communication skills
are important at graduation and finally that communication is a
two-way process with the office also needing to be a good
communicator back to the graduate, or assist graduates from
alternative language backgrounds.
Creative Initiative and Enterprise
Unsurprisingly in such a creative field as architecture, this
attribute was highly valued in graduates—more than important
at 4.13: “we target creative design and innovation” said one
large employer, although another medium-sized employer said
they rated it a 4, but recognized it was “important but impossi-
ble to pick”, and by government hirer “3 - 4”—“how to judge it
in the early stages?”
The five themes which emerged are targeting creativity; key
skill for professional advancement; cannot pick it (especially in
an interview); that at graduation it is early in creative career to
display creativity and “we rely on teamwork”—so not everyone
needs it “in employing a graduate it’s not critically important—
good organizational skills may be just as important in a team
work context”.
Planning and Organizi ng
Problem Solving
This aptitude was rated 4, almost as highly as creative initia-
tive and enterprise and planning and organizing with which it
has something in common. Theming revealed that problem
solving was hard to evaluate in an interview; that it is a skill of
the profession—“problem solving is critical as they have to
solve their own problems in projects they manage; [One of my]
principal complaints is that they come with a problem, not a
solution—go away [I say]” and by some that it is not initially
important and can be developed within the office.
This aspect of a graduate’s portfolio of skills was rated
slightly less than important at 3.9, once interviewees under-
stood it was not a question about representation and CAD skills
as much as a question about “attitude to technology” or the
“propensity to keep up with technology” which was how the
researcher explained it to interviewees—keeping abreast of new
technologies and being able to exploit appropriate technologies
in the service of their employers. Whether employers are in a
position to develop graduates’ technology skills through inter-
nal or external training affects how highly employers rated it as
a skill in their hiring. Three themes emerged : Attitude to tech-
nologythe propensity to keep up with technology; graphics
technology—highly valued, fast changing, the University needs
to do the training as it is hard to access external training; and
in-house training to synthesize knowledge of technology.
Life-Long Learning
Of the eight official Commonwealth Graduate Attributes, this
ranks the lowest, but is nevertheless slightly important at Likert
3.8: “all architects have got lifelong learning”. The reason for
this lowest ranking is that respondents universally stated that it
was almost impossible to evaluate—so therefore it cannot be
critical as a skill in ranking graduates for hiring. Emerging
themes were that its an attitude; the indicator for which is
graduates’ interest in the profession; that it is essential for our
profession “all architects have got LLL”; which then presents a
cost to the employer and that evaluation was difficult “How do
you check this out in a grad?”
Graduate Attributes—Discipline Area Skills
From the aggregated means, respondents believed that tech-
nical skills were marginally more important than design skills,
whereas the perceived wisdom in some Schools’ curriculum,
through literature (e.g. Johnson, 1997) and the amount of
coursework time devoted to them, is that Design and Represen-
tation skills are t he skills cr itical t o graduates a nd the profession.
This research found that employers, from a wide range of prac-
tices, and practice sizes, highly prioritise the demonstration of
sound technical skills in graduate recruitment, at least equally
with design skills (Table 3).
Rated more than im portant mean 4.08 in graduate recruitment,
planning and organising was seen by employers as a graduate’s
own business. Employers interviewed thought it was important,
but hard to gauge in an interview. Five themes emerged: from
some, that it was neither important nor unimportant due to
delegation “we delegate to gradua tes”; from o thers autonomy “If
they can’t organise themselves…”; and that planning and or-
ganising is an important d esign skill to allow enou gh time for the
scheme to be refined and finally that this attribute cannot be
evaluated in an interview which leads to probation “Never sure
until we see it. Often give probation”.
Respondents rated CAD Skills as at least equal to, or more
important than, technical or design skills in graduate employ-
ment. All firms rated CAD Skills as 4 or 5 saying they were
“vital”; “essential” or “you need CAD to get a start”. “It’s im-
portant for graduates to come into the office conversant in CAD
skills—not just creating working drawings—but 3-D—doing
shadow diagrams and streetscapes” (smaller employer). The
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 1021
Table 3.
Rating of discipline area skills prioritised in recruitment of M Arch
Question Response on Likert 5 point sca le
Discipline Area Skills Mean Score
CAD Computer Aided Design 4.4
Technical Skill s 4.0
Technical Skill s 3.9
most typical view w as expressed by a small firm “CAD skills is a
5. That’s the only way they’ll get in the door. When we gradu-
ated, we could draw. That’s the only way we were employed.
Now their CAD skills are the only way they’ll be employed”.
Another small employer said “Revit is compulsory”. Generally
Revit and Building Information Management (BIM) was not a
skill employers were looking for at this stage—although be-
lieving that BIM would eventually supplant CAD. Two of 21
employers already used Revit in lieu of AutoCAD.
Interviewees from the medium sized firms (20 - 50 staff) held
slightly different perspectives, with one employer equally
valuing CAD Skills along with Design and Technical skills,
whereas another was looking to develop technical skills within
the firm.
Smaller employers (less than 20 staff) n eed to recruit ca refully,
to suit their pr act ices ’ exa ct n eeds now and for the future as th e y
are often unable to share the work between a team of several
employees who have different strengths in design, technical or
representation skills: “they [employees] need to be good at a
whole lot of things”. Summarising the employer perspective of
small practices was the view that graduates needed to be
job-ready with the understanding of how to convert theoretical
design knowledge to technical outcomes.
Employers agreed about the importance of technical skills but
differed in whether they thought they should be acquired at
University or not: [graduates must be able to] “demonstrate how
buildings go together—[they] tend only to pick that up in the
first 5 years [in their education] or “[my expectation is] basic,
but I wouldn’t be expecting anything beyond what they’ve been
taught at University”. Another employer said that s/he rated
technical skills as a 4, as her/his expectation, and that is what
s/he wants, and is not getting, stating that in terms of technical
skills “I wish for more than I ever get”. A senior member of the
profession said in regards to technical skills, that “these days
[it’s] critical—the potential to be developed—as opposed to just
possessed by a graduate”. This then also links to propensity for
lifelong learning.
This implies is that as well as understanding how to design
and put a building together technically, graduates employed in
smaller practices must also be able to represent that building
themselves, whereas in larger practices possibly more special-
ized representation staff are employed.
The analysis of CAD skills coding revealed that possession
of sound CAD skills is considered a key graduating skill for
employment; that a familiarity with a variety of platforms is
necessary; and that a very few exceptional employers may look
beyond CAD skills in employing grads—but most prefer an all
Over all practice sizes the five themes resulting from analysis
of technical skills were that as an essential understanding of
how buildings go together and that graduates need to be proac-
tive in learning technical skills; as a developing skill as opposed
to one already possessed, equal with design skills.
Analyzing design themes saw that design is a core profes-
sional skill: “Really important—ideas and an ability to commu-
nicate—it is what we do [as a profession]”; it is an in-demand
skill; that whilst important it is rare “it’s important but abso-
lutely rare—wouldn’t expect to find it in more than 1 in 3 or 1
in 4 graduates” and, although not everyone will be a design
architect “not everyone’s going to be a design architect but
need to have a sensitivity & interest” it is an integral part of
practice. Design skills need to be balanced with more pragmatic
skills: just draw it up/detail it “the principal architect produces
all the designs” and that design needs to be balanced with other
skills “because generally a graduate in our very small office is
an all rounder”.
In some ways possession of strong technical skills underpins
graduate employment opportunities as CAD skills are now the
industry standard and not all employers are looking for/ or in-
terested in employing designers—preferring graduates with
solid range of other skills, and a sensitivity to design. However,
having said that, some employers recruit foremost for gradu-
ates’ design skills, declaring that they can develop technical
skills, but rely on graduate’s possession of design skills.
Should Universities and Schools of Architecture be more re-
sponsive to national (Government) goals and industry focus
through developing curriculum to support the current desires of
employers? Or is it sufficient to understand employers’ current
priorities in recruitment but not necessarily proactively or reac-
tively respond to them? The solution may lie somewhere be-
tween. Without aspirational Graduate Attributes, Universities
and M Arch Programs cannot declare their role in developing
graduates responsive to future employers’ needs. But with the
statement of aspirational Graduate Attributes derives an obliga-
tion to pay more than lip service to them—to rationally and
explicitly show the ways, and the places in the curriculum
where those Attributes are developed, rehearsed and assessed
(Shannon & Swift, 2010) if the University intends to warrant
that its graduates possess those Attributes.
These interviews have revealed that employers consider
some of the so-called employability skills to be aptitudes or
personality characteristics, which no employer declared they
could instill or pre-judge in a graduate—just as no University
suggested it could teach them—or perhaps more accurately
warrant students have learned them in the sense of learning as
transformational. Indeed, employers spoke in conclusion about
those indefinable learning (in life) attitudes which are their key
recruitment factors—character, broader interests and attitude.
One stated:
“We do no not advertise for graduates; we have a planned
and orderly rate of 1 graduate per annum in our graduate re-
cruitment process. Students are employed in our business—and
they become the graduates who are employed in our business.
Our top three requirements are
1) character and cultural fit;
2) demonstration of employment history;
3) adequate and relevant portfolio (nationally profiled large
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 1023
Another employer of a different scale, with 12 employees,
said that “in looking at the raw recruit, I am critical of some of
the people who come out of University. They are not rounded,
or well educated—in all the sorts of areas to be interesting peo-
ple—people with a broader interest. University is there to teach
them the fundamentals, in practice we finish them off”. A larger
employer with 22 staff said that “[I] can’t teach attitudes—but I
am looking for openness, willing to learn, ready to learn. If
someone has the right attitude…We’ve got some great gradu-
ates—not from privileged backgrounds”.
An employer with 3 staff commented that “we find a lot of
people have additional tertiary qualifications—lifelong learning
and skills. They must have a personality fit with a small group
of people and not just the office—with our clients and in public
This was also the sentiment expressed by another small prac-
tice: “I appreciate a graduate who has had a well rounded edu-
cation—has an intellectual capacity. So often there is interest in
‘earning a living’ but what I am looking for is an interest in
architecture—philosophically or internationally—even if they
pursued other intellectual capacities, for example music. It is
exciting to find this intellectual pursuit in a young person.”
Practice agrees it has a role in the development of graduates:
“As an employer, we do have some responsibility in training
(we have two architecture graduates who should be registered
[licensed]) but we do value people who know how to put things
together as employees.”
As a final conclusion, this research has revealed that techni-
cal skills are highly valued by Australian employers of archi-
tecture graduates of all practice sizes. Current sound CAD rep-
resentation skills are the most highly valued discipline skills by
employers, as graduates invariably have much demand upon
these skills in their early graduate years. Employers look to
graduates’ portfolios in particular as a key presentation asset at
time of hiring. Any demonstration of evidence of team work is
also highly valued.
Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) (2005). LSAY
cohort reports. URL (last checked 29 August 201 2).
Australian Government (2010). Employability skills. URL (last checked
29 August 2012).
Australian Government (2011a). Job outlook 2011 architects and land-
scape architects. URL (last checked 29 August 2012).
Australian Government (2011b). Job guide. (last checked 29 August
Australian Institute of Architects (2011). 2011 architecture schools of
Australasia. Canberra : AIA. URL ( last checked 29 August 2012). mbs
Bowden, J., Hart G., King B., Trigwell K., & Watts, O. (2002). Generic
capabilities of ATN graduates. URL (last checked 29 August 2012).
Cowdroy, R. (1990). Fitness for practice: Report commissioned by the
NSW Board of Architectural Education (BAE) and the Association of
Consulting Architects (ACA) of Australia. Sydney: NSW Board of
Architectural Education (BAE) and the Association of Consulting
Architects (ACA).
Crebert, G. (2002). Institutional research i nto generic skills and graduate
attributes: Constraints and dilemm as. Building Learning Communities
through Education 2nd International Lifelong Learning Conference.
Yeppoon, QLD: Central Queensl a n d University.
Drake, J., Williams, A., & Kingsland , A. (2003). Preparing graduates for
future practice. Proceedings of the 2nd International Conference of
the Association of Architecture Schools of Australasia. Melbourne:
Association of Architecture Sc h o ol s o f Au s t ralasia.
Forsyth, G. (2007). Mapping attributes in the fine art and design cur-
riculum. CONNECTED 2007 International Conference on Design
Education. Sydney: Univers it y of Ne w So u t h Wales.
Franz, J. M. (2008). A pedagogical model of higher education/industry
engagement for enhancing em ployability and professional practice. In
e-Proceedings of the WACE/ACEN Asia Pacific conference (pp. 164-
169). Sydney: Manly. URL (last checked 29 August 2012) .
Freudenberg, B., Brimble, M., & Cameron, C. (2008). It’s all about “I”:
Implementing “integration” into a WIL program. In e-Proceedings of
the WACE/ACEN Asia Pacific conference (pp. 159-168). Sydney : Man-
ly. URL (last checked 29 August 2012) .
Graduate Careers Council of Australia (GCCA) (1999). Graduate Ca-
reers Council of Australia Course Experience Questionnaire. Park-
ville, VIC: Graduate Careers Council of Australia, Ltd. URL (last
checked 29 August 20 12).
Hesketh, A. J. (2000). Recruiting an elite? Employers’ perceptions of
graduate education and training. Journal of Education and Work, 13,
245-271. doi:10.1080/713676992
Johnson, L. (1997). Getting out of the sheep pen: New directions in
architecture education. The International Academy of Architecture
Conference. Sofia: InterArch.
Keleher, P., Toft, Y., & Howard, P. (2006). The hard sell on soft skills.
In World Association of Cooperative Education (WACE) Asia Pacific
conference on work integrated learning (pp. 1-9). Shanghai: WACE.
Levin, E., & Tempone, I. (2002). Providing guidelines for first-year
assessment tasks as a means of developing core graduate attributes:
Nurturing or spoon feeding? 2nd International Lifelong Learning
Conference. Yeppoon, QLD: Cen tral Queensland University.
Nair, C. S., & Patil A. (2008). Industry vs universities: Re-engineering
graduate skills—A case study. In Proceedings of AUQF 2008: Qual-
ity and standards in higher education: Making a difference (pp. 75-
80). Melbourne, VIC: Australian Universities Quality Agency.
Nair C. S., Patil A., & Mertova, P. (2009). Re-engineering graduate
skills—A case study. Europ ean Journal of Engineering Education, 34,
131-139. doi:10.1080/03043790902829281
Precision Consultancy (2007). Graduate employability skills commis-
sioned report prepared for the business, industry and higher educa-
tion collaboration council. URL (last checked 29 August 20 12).…/SOURC
Savage, S. M. (2005). Urban Design Education: Learning for life in
practice. Urban Design International, 10, 3-10.
Savage, S., Davis, R., & Miller, E. (2009). Exploring graduate transiti on
from university to the workplace: Employer, academic and graduate
perspectives. Proceedings of 34th AUBEA Annual Conference: Man-
aging Change—Challenges in Education and Construction for the
21st Century. Barossa Valley: University of South Australia. URL
(last checked 29 August 2012).
Shannon, S. J., & Swift, J. P. (2010). Employing graduate attribute
mapping to bridge the divide from education to industry. Proceed-
ings of 44th Annual Conference of the Architectural Science Asso-
ciation, ANZASCA. Auckland, NZ: United Institute of Technolog y.
Strauss, A., & Corbin, J. (Eds.) (1997). Grounded theory in practice.
Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Wallis, L., Whitman, P., & Savage, S. M. (2005). Creating architectural
knowledge in contemporary practice. Manuka, ACT: Royal Austra-
lian Institute of Architects (RAIA).
Williamson, B. J. (2008). Assessment of architectural work experience
by employers and students. In e-Proceedings of the WACE/ACEN Asia
Pacific Conference (pp. 607-613). S ydney: Manly. URL (last checked
29 August 2012).