Mark Nagle, Operations director for Urban, a leading recruitment company speaks to Sarah Osei about recruitment, the BeMore Inclusive initiative and the level seven apprenticeship route!

Hello Mark! Tell us about Urban and what you do.

Hi, my name is Mark and I’m Operations Director for urban. Urban are an architectural and Interior Design Specialist recruitment company and I’ve been working in architectural recruitment since 2005. It’s now known as urban since 2013 and I started up the brand.

It’s part of a larger group called the STR group. I started up the architecture team when I came into the business and at the moment, we recruit in the UK, and we’ve got a team of recruits for the US. We’re looking to go international. It’s the plan, really for 2021. We were looking to open an office in New York [but] unfortunately there was a little pandemic which put that on hold but that’s the long term plan. We’re very ambitious to try to globalize and look at the US market in particular and then longer-term, Australia, and if that all goes to plan. 

What is your view on the current architectural professional climate?

…we risk losing a whole generation of people who did graduate in 2019 and 2020

I think in terms of its diversity, there’s certainly a problem. I think it’s vitally important that the profession is able to get more people of colour into positions of influence within the profession. I think that’s going to be important for role models and points of inspiration. I know a lot of firms will work towards that. We’re really working hard to make that happen, which is really important. The profession hasn’t got enough people of different backgrounds in senior positions of influence and we risk losing a whole generation of people who did graduate in 2019 and 2020, who just think ‘well, I’m not going to get a position here’. There was actually an example of that. Someone I was talking to last year graduated in 2020, really engaging young women but struggling to get a position and she’s now working in different fields related to architects but not in architecture. I think that’s one of the kinds of key struggles and concerns I’d have certainly at this point in time.

I’d also say our new normal is definitely harder than usual, employment is very low at the moment and many graduates are moving towards alternative pathways, what do you think about this?

I really hope that the level seven apprenticeship route can help make that a bit more attainable, and prevent people from dropping out from part one to part three.

I think it’s very expensive to become an architect, first of all, isn’t it? It’s a very long-winded process. I think that’s something which is a challenge for lots of people. When you go back to do your master’s degree and additional funding beyond that, it can be really difficult. I’m really passionate about the level seven apprenticeship route though, and that needs to be embraced more by the profession in terms of a more equitable and viable pathway for more people to be able to get into the profession, regardless of their background. That’s about social mobility and genuine equality. I attended the Architecture HR network race forum meeting in January and that was one of their points of reference. I always use this example actually when I’m interviewing for my own team. Architecture is a profession where people go into it not for the money but for the love. When I talk to architects, I love doing so because the passion comes through about what they’re doing and what they want to do. It takes the same length of time to qualify to be an architect as it does to become a doctor. I think that’s the challenge and so I really hope that the level seven apprenticeship route can help make that a bit more attainable, and prevent people from dropping out from part one to part three. 

How did the BeMore inclusive initiative come about?

I’ve worked in architectural recruitment now for a long period of time and I think one thing that’s been quite clear really is that the profile of an architect is very white. That’s been the case for too long and it’s not as inclusive as it could be. I know that obviously, the industry as a whole is really trying to make a difference and trying to change that. In terms of the reason we set up the initiative is that for the last few years, we’ve had a really good relationship with what was called the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust now Blueprint for all and about four or five years ago we were figuring out how we could try to give something back to the industry. The work of the trust was something I was familiar with but didn’t know massive amounts about at the time, but we went along to their headquarters in southeast London, met with them, and just looked about how we could start fundraising for them. 

One thing we knew in terms of the work that the trust does and does so fantastically well is working very closely with young people. That work is typically up to the point where someone’s graduated. We recognized that we could add value from that stage onwards because of what we do. We know often within the profession, it can be about who you know and what we wanted to do is take that to the next level and help people get their first position in architecture, working very closely with firms that are passionate about inclusion and diversity and recognize the value of this. 

The way that the initiative works is that we provide our services for graduates who come from black and minority ethnic backgrounds and help them get their first position in the profession. We provide that service to the endpoint client completely free of charge. We don’t charge for that but what we do ask them to do, is make a donation to blueprint for all. So that they can put that money back into helping more young people, which keeps that cycle going. I think working together and trying to raise the profile of this and publicize it can hopefully make just even a small difference but we’re really keen to make a real change in terms of the actual level of inclusion in the industry and make that central. That’s why we set up to BeMore inclusive initiative and the buy-in’s been brilliant. We’ve had so many really good firms sign up and really want to get involved with it and it’s something we’re really keen to continue. 

Could you tell us about some success stories?

..we managed to get her a position at Fosters and Partners doing the level seven apprenticeship

I think one example was a lady who we’re talking to fairly early on when we launched this [initiative] in the summertime, graduated in 2019. She was an alumnus of the trust and had real difficulty getting her first job in the profession. Obviously, we know 2020 was an incredibly difficult year but we worked with her and we managed to get her position at Fosters and Partners doing the level seven apprenticeship. So that’s one success story and there’s been a fair few certainly in 2020 and 2021. To be able to make a difference, helping people get that first kind of role throughout this period, in particular, has been really rewarding.

What advice would you give to students, especially those completing their postgraduate and undergraduate studies this year?

I think that one important thing I’d say is that it’s very difficult when you’re looking for a role to see light at the end of the tunnel. I think it’s just keeping quite upbeat. It’s really important to continue looking at how you can kind of develop yourself. I suggest that people should be really looking to try and network as much as they possibly can. Developing a website portfolio is a good thing to do. We helped someone get a role with Haworth Tompkins and she did something which I thought was brilliant. She designed her Instagram page around her architectural drawings and it was just absolutely outstanding. I think in terms of just looking at how you can use technology to support and get your vision out there. Spending some real time on your CV and digital portfolio and just making sure they look really attractive and tell a really good narrative. Because all of these things just mean when you get that opportunity to get in front of an architect and have an interview there, you’d be in the best possible position to get it.

After Urban completes their initial goals, what will be the next steps?

The objective really was to raise a minimum of twenty thousand pounds for the charity in the first year of launch. So far we’re well on course to actually do it. What we want to do is try and build on this year on year. In terms of the next steps, we’re looking at how we can launch something similar in the US as well. So we’re involved with that. Another thing, which we’re doing as well, is we’re actually going to be partnering with a leading architecture firm, where we’ll be paying for a level seven apprenticeship course [in full] for someone, details of that to follow very soon.

If you’re not part of the #BeMoreInclusive initiative already please head over to the website for more details. Additionally, feel free to contact Mark Nagle via LinkedIn or email the team too at for information on the programme and advanced level job opportunities!