Sarah Lebner explores the unconventional, alternate jobs that may provide experience, connections and industry knowledge until the economy recovers and architecture jobs return.

When COVID-19 hit, the market for student and graduate of architecture jobs in Australia shrivelled up almost overnight. While some lucky job hunters are still managing to land the few jobs that remain or are being generated by grant schemes, the reality for most is that the market is much tougher. While you should never stop trying to aim for the type of job you want, there are plenty of unconventional and alternate jobs that you might consider trying in the meantime. The following jobs all offer experience, connections and industry knowledge that will benefit you when you are able to enter a more mainstream architecture career.

Trade and supply stores

Increase your knowledge of certain construction materials and products by working in one of the following stores:

  • Hardware stores and trade supply stores
  • Tile suppliers
  • Appliance and fixtures stores
  • Flooring shops
  • Lighting stores
  • Paint shops
  • Product companies, such as cladding brands, brick companies or window manufacturers
Site experience

Trade and construction experience can be incredibly valuable, increasing your construction knowledge and appreciation of buildability. A handful of my peers sought out this experience after graduation, and their construction and knowledge clearly benefited. Even working in sales or administration for these companies will help you develop useful knowledge and skills.

  • Labour on a construction site
  • Work for a joiner/cabinet maker
Consultant experience

Working for one of the many consultants that architects regularly collaborate with can be viewed as valuable experience when going for a job in a traditional firm. My own workplace has staff who have ‘done time’ in allied fields and the additional knowledge that this brings to our practice is highly respected.

  • Interior design firms
  • Engineering (structural, mechanical, electrical, hydraulic, civil etc.)
  • Town-planning, councils or certifiers/building surveyors
  • Landscape designers
  • Energy assessors

It’s really important that you understand the extent of your capabilities if you decide to freelance, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t great low-risk opportunities around. Just remember that if you are freelancing you need an ABN and will have to pay tax on your business income, and that you are liable for the work you produce and any expertise that you present.

If you’re operating in any kind of design/advice/instructional capacity, you will need professional indemnity insurance, or be clear on whether you’re covered under the insurance of a firm you might be working for.

The bonus of freelancing is that you can potentially do lots of little jobs for a range of businesses or clients, rather than a firm having to commit to your ongoing employment. It can be a great way to get a foot in the door and build your network. You can either approach firms and offer your services (be sure to show them a demonstration), use your personal networks and market your skills online, or use recruitment companies and platforms.

  • Rendering and photoshopping for design firms
  • Model making for design firms
  • Drafting for design firms
  • Graphic design for design firms or the general public
  • Organising material library or short-engagement admin services for design firms
  • Tutoring other students in software that you’re good at
  • Architectural photography
  • Video production as promotional or educational material for design firms (many firms are struggling with this at the moment)
  • Product design and manufacture (your design and model making skills may be put to an entrepreneurial use?)

There are a few other remaining options that may not be as available or lucrative but it would be remiss of me to leave them out:

  • Teaching in an architecture or building design program
  • Working in architecture media (magazines, blogs, podcasts) or starting your own

There’s no reason to feel helpless or delayed in your career if you can’t get the type of job you want right now. We’ve been relatively spoilt the last few years (since things picked up after the GFC) and you may need to sidestep for a while before landing your dream job. Make your plan B job something that offers the kind of learning, development and insight that interests you or that you think you need. Don’t fear that a detour will look unfavourable on your resume – in the current climate, firms will understand. In my opinion, there’s almost no experience that is irrelevant when working as an architect.

Sarah Lebner is the Principal Architect at Light House Architecture and Science in Canberra. She is the founder of My First Architecture Job, an online resource for students and graduates bridging study and practice, and recently published her book 101 Things I Didn’t Learn in Architecture School; And wish I had known before my first job. Sarah was awarded the ACT Emerging Architect 2020 prize by the Australian Institute of Architects.

Photo: Caleb Jones, Unsplash