The 2020 TRADA University Challenge was held at Cardiff University, in the buzzing city centre. Appropriately for 2020, the year the world’s leaders seem to have woken up to the global climate crisis, the brief for the event was to design a scheme for a new, low carbon, low energy, social housing estate which was to be situated in rural South Wales. Ironically, and unfortunately, the arrival of storm Dennis meant that due to foul weather several judges and participating students could not travel to the event!

The event took place over 3 days with 10 teams of 6 students taking part in the challenge. Each team comprised 2 Engineers, 2 Architects, 1 Landscape Architect and 1 Quantity Surveyor. The focus of the event was to allow students to work within these multidisciplinary teams, a challenge which was new to almost all the participants involved!

Day one began in the evening with dinner in the university and introductions to teammates. Following this were a series of presentations given by the judges, who dropped a few hints and gave talks on the themes of low energy, low cost housing and timber design. Each judge’s presentation was from their perspective as an industry professional in their given discipline, be it Architect, Engineer, etc. The organiser of the event made it very clear from the outset that the judges were present not only to provide guidance and support as we put together our designs, but also as excellent networking opportunities, and following the introductory formalities, we were treated to a drinks reception by one of the major sponsors. By the end of the event at least two students had been offered jobs by various judges!

Day 2 and the morning of day 3 were spent working on our designs, helped by the judges and the Cardiff University staff, who were great. Working on the designs was challenging as there was a huge amount to do in a short window of time but the judges and sponsors were always around to help and reassure us, which turned what could have been a stressful experience into an enjoyable one.

The event concluded on the afternoon of Day 3 with each team giving a ten-minute presentation to pitch their designs followed by a 5-minute grilling by the judges! But don’t let that put you off, think less Apprentice and Dragons Den and more having a casual chat with a mate over a cuppa. Throughout the event there was never any sense of pressure being put on us by the judges!

Although my team didn’t win, we were complimented afterwards by one of the judges on our presentation skills, saying they were some of the best of the day. Although I have already worked in industry for over 4 years I think that the event has taught me a hell of lot, primarily about working within multi-disciplinary teams and also about not wasting time and effort on fine details in the early stages of a project, it’s likely that the brief or constraints will change anyway! The latter is something I am guilty of and the event has helped me to realise it! 

I would recommend the TRADA University Challenge (or any similar) event to all full and part-time students. If you are enthusiastic about your subject area and take part with an open mind and a good work ethic, I promise you will come away a more knowledgeable and rounded person. Taking part in events like these teaches the sorts of skills that employers want to see, things that university can’t teach, and you never know, you might end up landing a job there and then!

Joe Allison, BSc (Hons) Civil Engineering (Degree Apprenticeship)

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