How much is a partly trained architect worth? The consensus in this country seems to be about £18,000, although a few practices estimate it to be zero.
Of course, if you happen to have a partly trained Norman Foster then they're probably worth their weight in Rolex watches.
Today in Building we're opening a debate about how they're treated, not least because of the growing unease among the young architects themselves. It's a thorny issue, partly because it is embedded in the profession's culture. Graduates finishing their Part I - or even Part II - have always been expected to work round the clock for a pittance just to get the name of a great architect on their CV; this is as much part of the architectural landscape as design competitions and 66 Portland Place. Students who complain about this risk ending their career before they've begun - hence the anonymity necessary in our article (pages 22-25). And there is a steady supply of wealthy students, many from abroad, who are perfectly happy to work for a superstar for the price of a cappuccino. For the rest, the level of debt with which they begin their working lives is almost unbearable: it's not uncommon for a young architect to come out of their Part II as much as £50,000 in the red.
The good news is that the Jack Pringle, the president of the RIBA, feels passionate about the problem; he believes that the profession has no choice but to tackle it. His aim is to stamp out the exploitation of young architects as cheap labour. One of his ideas is to encourage more interaction between the schools and the practices so that students and neophytes are of more practical use. He also wants to reduce the burden of debt by finding ways of marrying work and training.
Both of those ideas will help in the longer term. For a quicker fix, we might do well to look to clients, and their increasing concern for corporate social responsibility. A company that would not use illegally obtained hardwood doors, or a firm that employed cheap Kosovar carpenters to fit them, may also balk at a design produced in an architectural sweatshop.
The final point we want to raise is that low pay reinforces the view that architecture is a rich kids' game. And what does that say about the profession and its pledge to promote and reflect diversity?
Play them right
This week Brian Adams, director of gas fitters registration body Corgi, takes over as the first chief executive of industry skills card scheme CSCS. Regular readers of this magazine will be aware of the years of extraordinarily undignified struggle over the ownership of the cards, not to mention the odd suitcase full of counterfeits that turns up from time to time. And, as had been noted in past issues, CSCS could be a dry run for the government's introduction of identity cards for the general population. The challenge for Adams will be to make ownership of a card a prerequisite for gaining entry to every building site in Britain, then preventing fraud by adding biometric data linked to a central database. This way the scheme can be at the heart of government policy rather than reacting to it.