Difficult to retain younger architects who leave for higher pay or better hours, firms say


Firms CNA spoke to also said that pickings for talent are slim, noting that fewer architecture students move on to do their master’s degree, which is typically needed to practice architecture in Singapore. 

“They also realise that they’ve got so many years of studying, and then when they come out, they feel that in terms of job satisfaction, pay and hours, it’s just not worth the effort,” said Mr Kok. 

“I think a lot of them are making early exit decisions, so it’s quite worrying and quite sad.”

In a survey last August by the Singapore Institute of Architects, only 7 per cent of young graduates said they were likely to stay in the profession in the long run.

Student intake for the Architecture and Sustainable Design programme at the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) has “remained stable”, said the university’s spokesperson. 

“We have not experienced a significant decline in numbers. Our ASD (Architecture and Sustainable Design) undergraduates and Master of Architecture graduates still choose the architecture profession predominantly,” the spokesperson said. 

“A small number has ventured into affiliated design industries such as experience design, exhibition design and digital solutions providers in the built environment sector.” 

The programme has a “stringent selection process” and “close-knit study environment”, and students are coached and mentored to “keep on course” for graduation, the SUTD spokesperson said. 

Intake for architecture students at the National University of Singapore (NUS) has similarly “remained fairly stable over the years”, said a spokesperson for its College of Design and Engineering. 

The curriculum trains students in skills that are relevant to a “broad variety” of careers. Students in NUS’ most recent batch of architecture students had an employment rate of 97.7 per cent, with “competitive” median starting salaries at S$4,000, the spokesperson said. 

“Whilst not all of our graduates go on to work as architects, our curriculum’s focus on design excellence ensures that those who do choose to explore other fields find success in related careers,” said the NUS spokesperson. 

Architecture graduate Chua Sheng Chuan told CNA that of the 150 students in his batch, only about 20 of them are architects now, five years after graduation.

Mr Chua, who set up his own timber construction firm Calvary Carpentry, said he decided not to take his master’s degree despite interning at several architecture firms.

“If you ask me – do I want to reach the stage where I become an architect? Yeah, I think every one of us still has that little dream within them. But it’s just that the process to get there is so hard,” the 31-year-old said. 

“I think every single architecture student … wants to see their ideas become a reality without all the trouble in between.” 

Architecture firms should be part of a larger group pushing for “more positive changes” in the professional sector, said Mr Seah. 

“There’s still a lot we can do to make it a lot more attractive in terms of prospects, opportunities. Remuneration for architects, not just young but especially for our talents,” he added. 

“The subject of talent retention is very critical, because the draining part is not obvious when it starts. And it’ll be very evident (after that) but by then it’s already too late. 

“It’s timely not just from a firm’s perspective but from an entire profession and sector, we look at this issue deeply … and really induce some positive change.” 

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