Finding a company
There are numerous ways to find a placement, part-time job or volunteer opportunity. Each can give you an insight about what a working day could look like. I found mine through university connections. My course had invited guest speakers from the industry to talk to us about their speciality and help us take our ideas to the next level. My favourite speaker, Isabel Swift, left us with her business card and the offer of working with her on her next project. Of course, I had to contact her and was over the moon when she invited me to an interview.
My role and tasks
During my placement, I typically spent a day a week working, which was a nice balance alongside uni work. It is a small firm, which allowed me to explore a range of tasks. Some days, I was distributing flyers, other days I got to draft maps and help to plan consultation events. My favourite aspect had to be the community meetings which were held out on the street or were sometimes more structured in our office. We wanted the neighbours to have a say what goes on in their town, hear if they wanted a playground for their children, a safer street crossing at a particular point or to have an area look more loved. By listening to what people want, we could be sure that the final project would be used and taken care of. We also wanted to find other people from the area, who could help make the project happen. This element of community meetings was something that we didn’t experience in class but was so important to me. I really wanted to learn how to ask the right questions and listen without influencing the answer. I was positively surprised how many people (and how diverse the demographic) engaged with us and were passionate about their neighbourhood. They all had something valuable to add from their own professional knowledge or because they had lived in the same house for the last 50 years. It’s knowledge which we could never have found on our own (or which would've taken us forever to find).
I love my degree, and I am grateful for all the things I get to learn. As part of my course, I got to sketch, model, master various computer software, create plans, drawings, diagrams, charts and more. We used real locations to respond to, sometimes even real clients and yet it was always theoretical. The purpose of the projects hadn't been to solve a problem for a community and enable contractors to physically build our ideas, but to teach us about a new aspect of landscape architecture. This is extremely useful but there was never the time to consult with the end users of the space, to gather enough information on soil health, the local ecosystem, planning legislations and more.
This is where the placement really helped gain a more detailed understanding. I was able to apply this knowledge from class to the project at work. In the office, we spent months gathering community input. We wanted them to tell us what they want to see in their landscape. It meant various surveys, hundreds of people, data analysis and a much longer timeline. While at university we finished a project in three months, in real life that could take a few years from conception, to consultation, planning, fundraising and finally construction. Even then, it would take some time for the vegetation to grow before the design looks complete. I knew all that, and yet working through a project at this pace makes you really understand what that means.
Improving my employability
Not only has this experience helped me to decide what I would like to do in my future job, it has also given me the valuable tools to make that happen. The maps, the graphics and the planning files from my placement have become part of my portfolio (essential when applying for a job in design) and a feature in my CV. During the consultations, I also had the opportunity to chat to the other key stakeholders or, by chance, a visitor, who happens to work within the construction industry which gave me more valuable insights. Most importantly though, it has allowed me to develop my communication and organisation skills, which complement the graphic skills that I worked on in class, making me a well-rounded candidate for the job market.