Graduates' views on the benefits to them and their employer
Does the IDBE course help to retain good staff, and is it a potential source for recruitment of new employees?
The answer is yes to both questions.
The retention of staff is reported by our alumni themselves, who also often see the course providing a step change in their career within a company, and an alternative to leaving for their next career move.
During the course the IDBE, students form close relationships and understanding of each other, and gain a unique inside knowledge not just of other professions but also of other employers in their own sector. Therefore, company promotion or support of attending the IDBE can signal to potential job applicants that the company is a forward thinking and good place to work.
The potential to be sent on a Master's’course at Cambridge is also a strong differentiator in the current tough recruitment market, and acts as a strong incentive for the brightest young professionals.
How can companies contribute to course fees?
Many large consultancies contribute 100 per cent of the course fees, sometimes in exchange for commitments to stay with the company for a certain time period. Others contribute a proportion of the fee.
How can companies support the time needed to attend the six weeks over two years?
Again many large consultancies give study leave, some others offer half of the weeks and require the students to take the other half as annual leave.
How does networking work between students?
Students spend six residential weeks in Cambridge, working closely together, particularly in small teams of mixed disciplines on studio projects. Two of these weeks are with just their own cohort, and, four of the weeks are with the cohort either above or below theirs. Peer networking is a major part of the learning experience, and we have many examples of alumni developing work relationships after meeting on the course.
Can companies define the topic of investigation for the dissertation?
Yes, and this is often the agreement between student and employer, particularly if the employer is helping to fund the course. One use of the course for employers is as an opportunity to improve the firm's knowledge about a topic, as part of their service to their clients. There needs to be an understanding that the topic will have to work as a research thesis – often initial ideas are far too wide to develop to the depth required for Master's-level research – but the IDBE team is very keen to ensure that the majority of our research is directly applicable to industry.
How do students transfer the knowledge gained to their employers?
This happens in a variety of ways. Some use the thesis to develop useful skills which are directly helpful to their employer, or to specific projects. Other have run training workshops within their firms based on a cut-down version of some of the course sessions. Some have used the work of their thesis to launch a new business stream in the firm, for example on embodied carbon comparisons as a new service to clients. Others present their work at conferences, extending the knowledge transfer outside their own company, and in doing so promoting their employer too.
Does the employer win more high profile work or higher margin projects by having IDBE graduates?
This is hard to prove for bigger companies; however it is part of a successful profile and can be a strong differentiator for good potential employees. The personal skills and competencies gained through the course include presentation skills, writing skills, time management and self confidence; as well as a broader understanding of the industry in which the employees work. All of these are very useful in winning work and managing projects.
Individuals who are moving into middle management roles often accelerate their careers rapidly after the IDBE, and clearly that means that employers have found them to be more valuable than they were before.
SMEs and self-employed students have a more direct and clear benefit: often the IDBE network leads directly to more and bigger projects, or to setting up new business ventures.
Who should go on the course, and how do companies decide who to send?
We take people at different stages in their careers. The minimum experience we expect is three years in professional practice. The average student has 5–15 years’ experience, but we have also had students with over 30 years’ experience. Some companies run internal competitions, while others rely on students applying to a general training fund. Other cases are very much led by the applicant, who puts together a good proposal for why they should be supported on this course.
We do have standard requirements, however every year we accept non-standard applicants – for example those who may have substantial work experience in the built environment but who may not have been formally trained in a built environment subject.
What makes the course 'interdisciplinary' and what is the breakdown of professions in attendance?
The mix of professions varies year on year, but we try hard to retain a good mix, without being too discriminatory in our admissions, as it makes the course work better for all concerned. In general our cohorts end up at roughly a third architects, a third structural and civil engineers, and a third ‘other’. This group has included quantity surveyors, highways engineers, environmentalists, conservationists, clients, estate managers, developers, contractors, building surveyors, planners and construction lawyers. We have also had students who were specialist engineers, such as fire or acoustics engineers.
What proportion of students are UK based?
Again this varies year on year, and is partly dependent on economies, but generally around 50–70 per cent are from the UK with others mainly coming from the States, Europe, the Middle and Far East, and more occasionally Africa and even Australia.
Is the course of most benefit to certain professions?
No. A lot of the learning comes from self-reflection and discussions within the groups, so what a student gains depends on their attitude and receptiveness as much as anything. To perform effectively in interdisciplinary teams, all of the professions must learn how to better engage and communicate with each other.