Changing skills for architecture students employability: Analysis of job market versus architecture education in Egypt

Laila Mohamed Khodeir; Ashraf Ali Nessim, Ain Shams University,

Architectural Education methods are facing challenges named “21st Century Competencies” which affect the employability of fresh graduates. Accordingly, several higher educational institutions are changing their teaching methods to equip students with skills that support them with lifelong learning capabilities. This research aims at assessing the current skills that are transferred through AE versus the Architecture Engineering and Construction industry job market in Egypt and to propose an approach to fill the gap between both. A literature review was performed. Afterward, a questionnaire targeting a sample of 100 fresh-graduates’ and senior students was carried out and aimed at identifying the current challenges facing the integration of the required skills. A 360 degrees’ evaluation was performed to assess the students’ views. In addition, fifteen one-to-one interviews were done with professionals and academics to identify the AEC market needs. An approach was suggested to bridge the gap between teaching and work skills.


The twenty-first century is characterized by its quick technological advancements. This is reflected in the fast global changes in information and communication technology (ICT) which affected the availability of information and made technology prevalent. The infusion of technology in society has forced changes in education, employment and employability skills. In addition, continuous changes require incessant adapting to new situations and acquiring new skills to be successful [1]. The new skills needed for education and employability in the current century have been labelled “21st century Competencies”.

A number of international frameworks have been outlined to structure and define the 21st century competencies and its required skills [2]. It can be briefed as the skills, knowledge and expertise students should be equipped with to succeed in work and life. It is a blend of content, knowledge, specific skills, expertise and literacies [3]. Accordingly, 21st century skills have been implanted in the national curriculum of a large number of countries which necessitates the evaluation of the skills that students should attain. However, research has identified that the assessment of 21st century skills is lagging behind [2] and most academics agree that current assessment tools do not successfully measure 21st century competencies. Researchers have specifically pointed out a lack of measurement process to evaluate the students’ skills regarding problem solving, creativity, analytic thinking, collaboration, communication, ethics, and accountability. According to Chu et al. [4], employability skills can be categorized in three themes as follows:

  • Fundamental Skills such as communication, managing information, using numbers, thinking and problem solving;
  • Personal Management Skills such as demonstrating positive attitudes and behaviours, being responsible and adaptable, learning continuously, and working safely; and
  • Teamwork Skills such as working with others and participating in projects and tasks.

In addition, innovation skills outlined in the following areas [4]:

  • Creativity, problem-solving, and continuous improvement skills;
  • Risk-assessment and risk-taking skills;
  • Relationship-building and communication skills; and
  • Implementation skills

Furthermore, the skills can be classified in terms of the cognitive, interpersonal, and intrapersonal fields, as seen in Fig. 1, and by recognizing that various competencies may be associated with more than one domain, we can develop a better understanding of the interplay of competencies that is required to support deep learning practices

As a step towards improving the quality of higher education, there has been several national and regional initiatives to define learning outcomes and using it as a basis for the development of assessment methods in Egypt, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The first improvements in this area took place in Egypt as part of the Quality Assurance and Accreditation Project (QAAP). QAAP was established to contribute to training and familiarizing scientific personnel with learning outcomes assessment [5]. In Kuwait, there had been endeavors for accreditation from the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). In 2010 in the UAE, the National Qualification Authority was founded and was able to make further progress after the development of the Qualifications Framework Emirates (QFE).

Research problem and aim

There is a scarcity in the researches that discuss the integration of the abovementioned skills in Architectural Education (AE). Therefore, this paper is mainly concerned with examining the current status of involvement of 21st century skills in AE, which is considered one of the root causes of the gap between Architectural Education and the changes in the job market. Various missing skills, which can be referred to as “Employability skills”, include, but not limited to: problem solving, creativity, communication, ethics, and accountability. The authors of this paper adopted a double fold approach to tackle this crucial problem; first to assess the current skills that are gained and transferred through AE versus the Architecture Engineering and Construction (AEC) industry job market in Egypt and second to propose an approach to fill the gap between the higher education outcomes, which are “Fresh Graduates”, and the market by equipping undergraduate students with work-oriented skills or “Employability skills”.


A comprehensive literature review of recent papers discussing the problem has been performed to understand the challenges facing the integration of the 21st century skills into AE. Afterwards, the researchers applied a survey questionnaire, which aimed at identifying the fresh-graduates’ and seniors’ evaluation of their employability skills acquired during their AE. The sample size was 100 intended participants, whereas the rate of response was 61%. The selection of the participants was based on purposeful sampling, where the targeted group were all architects with varying years of experience, graduated from both public and private universities in Egypt. A 360 degrees’ evaluation was then performed to assess their views, where 11 interviews were done with professionals to identify the AEC industry job market in various disciplines related to architecture. The interviewees included professional architects, CEOs, founders of architectural firms, and academics working in the field of AEC with 15–30 years of experience. Finally, the perspectives of all were involved in a comprehensive manner in the proposed approach. Fig. 2 summarizes the research methods and the aim of each.

Literature review

The authors reviewed different literature sources that discussed the research problem, and the attempts of filling the skills gap between job market and AE. In addition, researches that dealt with the 21st century skills have also been discussed.

The nature of traditional architecture education

Asfour (2007) highlighted the separation between the academic field and professional practice in many Arab countries. The researcher claimed that academics are promoting traditional ways of teaching and on the other hand professional architects are seeking to fulfil the society needs through modern approaches [6].

Moreover, traditional AE depends on two and three dimensional drawings and models. With the current advancements, digital technologies are used as additional tools in visualization of design [7]. According to Farahat [8], AE generally suffers from the contrasting nature between artistic and social paradigms. Teaching architecture in middle eastern schools is mostly concerned with the artistic aspects of architecture. The consequences of such approach have generally led to failure of educational programmes to face realities of professional practice.

Attributes of graduate architects

A research carried out by Salleh et al. [9] aimed at disclosing the significant attributes of graduate architects from the Malaysian industry’s point of view. The research highlighted that the quality of graduates can be evaluated through two aspects, namely, technical and non-technical skills. Accordingly, universities play an important role by constantly providing graduates with the necessary skills and attributes. As per Salleh et al. [9], employers have often given negative criticism regarding the attributes that graduates have at the early stage of their careers and that graduates lack of employability skills is the major reason for employers’ discontent. A statically analysis was made to evaluate the level of importance of the graduate attributes. The outcomes of the analysis indicated that responsibility, positive attitude and teamwork skills were rated as the top three attributes.

Changing employability skills for architects

Architectural profession can be seen as a developing and multidisciplinary career. It is one of the major professions that affect the development of a country [10]. AE is somehow special. Unlike other disciplines, architectural courses are usually hands-on in which students are confronted with projects and assignments which simulates real projects [3]. In addition, architecture is one of the most influential professions in our society as it involves all aspects that affects the way in which our built environment is designed, constructed and used thus affecting the user him/herself [9]. It has however often been assumed that the universities don’t produce graduates with the appropriate employability skills [3]. According to Suhaili et al. [10], architectural firms are dissatisfied with the quality of the graduates and still note that they have to re-train fresh graduates to make them fit for their jobs before starting their practice. In addition, employers usually seek other skills apart from the technical skills gained during the undergraduate studies [10].

Correspondingly, there is a high demand for architects with the skills and attributes needed to successfully manage different projects. Those skills attributes are not limited to planning and designing but extended to include a diverse set of employability skills including, but not limited to: critical thinking, teamwork, leadership, and negotiation. According to Salleh et al. [9], the recruitment process in architectural firms currently shifted towards evaluating the applicants possessed soft skills, especially interpersonal skills, and communication skills.

Literature approaches to fill the gap between job market and education

A research was carried out by Siddiq et al. [11] targeted to fill some of the gaps regarding the limited access to more advanced assessment instruments for measuring students’ ICT literacy. The research outlined the adaption, further development, and validation of the Learning in Digital Networks-ICT literacy (LDN-ICT) test. The LDNICT test involves an online performance-based evaluation in which real-time student-student collaboration is enabled through two different platforms (i.e., Google Docs and chat). The test measures students’ ability in managing digital information, to communicate and cooperate during problem solving. The results supported the hypothesized structure of LDN-ICT as comprising four dimensions. In addition, positive relations to self-efficacy, academic objectives, and socio-economic background was found. The research concluded that the test is reliable and valid.

Another research by Shum et al. [12], focused on Learning Analytics (LA) approaches for tracking learner behaviour, managing educational data, visualizing patterns, and providing rapid feedback to both educators and learners. The research highlighted that learning analytics is an evolving area driven by the paradigm shifts of the information age. It concluded that learning analytics are at an early stage of maturity. In addition, there is a lack of predictive modelling of “student success”. However, there are strong presence of school-age projects to promote the 21st century skills.

Another research by Elshater (2018) investigated the use of digital media as a pedagogical approach in urban design programmes to promote students learning through enhancing their visual skills. The research deduced six key factors that could promote the integrity of the site photography modules and urban design including: bottom-up teaching approach, maximizing the role of the student, utilizing the reflections and implications of the visual documentation, bridging the gaps to an open end by employing affective domains, integration of knowledge skills and attitudes across disciplines and combining their qualities, and finally combining the psychomotor and affective domains with knowledge [13].

Another research by Salama et al. (2017) accentuated the growing trend that encourages learning outside the classrooms. The “universities without walls” approach can provide improved and stimulating learning opportunities. The research introduced Appreciative Inquiry (AI) as a method that combines numerous forms of inquiry into learning. The research included a “Walking Tour” to explore the six factors that define key design characteristics including: massing, context, wayfinding, interface, comfort and socio-spatial. Research findings disclosed that this approach can focus on analysis of critical problems, thus promoting critical thinking, that go beyond those identified in traditional teaching practices [14].

Introducing the 21st century skills

Employability skills became common around the world since 1980. Initially, they were defined interchangeably as generic skills, soft skills and basic skills [9]. Academically, employability skills refer to the essential skills needed for getting, keeping and performing well on a job. Eventually, the term employability skills turned into a broader term, 21st century skills, which reflects the challenges of the new century.

Definition of the 21st century skills

There had been a number of initiatives over the last years to define and outline 21st century skills frameworks which reflect the importance of 21st century skills for individuals and for society. Creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, motivation, and metacognition were defined as essential skills. According to Koenig [15] the 21st century skills can be categorised into: cognitive skills (critical thinking and non-routine problem solving), interpersonal skills (starting by active listening and ranging from presentation skills to conflict resolution), and intrapersonal skills (adaptability and self-management/self-development). Troitschanskaia et al. [5] defined competencies as the “combinations of those cognitive, motivational, moral, and social skills available to or potentially learnable by a person which underlie the successful mastery through appropriate understanding and actions of a range of demands, tasks, problems, and goals”.

Identification of the core 21st century skills

Despite the fact that there are several explanations of the 21st century skills in literature, there is a general understanding of its outlines which are: gaining job/life skills, getting a job, progression in job/life, and successful contribution in life/work [9].

Table 1 compares the terms and elements of soft skills used by the Malaysian Ministry of Education (MOE), Australian Government, Department of Education, Science and Training (DEST) [16] and P21 the Partnership for 21st Century Learning which is a coalition bringing together the business community, education leaders, and policymakers in USA.

Evaluation of the adoption of the 21st century skills

The objective of the study by Ongardwanich et al. [1] was to develop and assess the qualities of 21st century skills scales as perceived by students in Thailand. The 21st century skill scales comprised of three factors as follow; (1) Learning and Innovation Skills, (2) Information, Media and Technology Skills, and (3) Life and Career Skills. The data was collected and analyzed for the construct validity by the confirmatory factor analysis. The analysis indicated a good fit of the model which is useful for students who are interested to conduct the assessment of 21st century skills of the students for planning and improving the teaching for the development of students to be capable of dealing with any changes of the world.

International frameworks for the 21st century skills

Voogt et al. [2] analyzed eight 21st century skills frameworks and found out that the skills of communication, digital literacy, collaboration, citizenship, critical thinking, problem solving, productivity and creativity are referred to in most of the frameworks.

According to Chu et al. [4], the 21st century skills framework is divided into three skill sets and twelve components laid out.

  • Skill Set 1: Learning and Innovation with the following components: Critical thinking and problem solving, communication and collaboration, and creativity and innovation.
  • Skill Set 2: Digital Literacies with the following components: information literacy, media literacy, and information and communication literacy. 
  • Skill Set 3: Life and Career Skills with the following components: flexibility and adaptability, initiative and self-direction, social and cross-cultural interaction, productivity and accountability, and leadership and responsibility.

According to Troitschanskaia et al. [5], the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) established a research program in 2011 for Modeling and Measuring Competencies in Higher Education (KoKoHs). From 2011 to 2015, the KoKoHs research teams developed Competency models including detailed descriptions of intended learning outcomes (ILOs) in terms of knowledge, abilities, and skills in specific areas which were resultant from the teaching methodology and learning psychology. In addition, the team developed corresponding test instruments for objective, consistent, and effective assessment of students for generic and specific competencies. The competency assessments developed were evaluated several times together with experts from higher education institutions, companies, and schools. The analyses provided important evidence of the quality and suitability of the newly developed competency models and instruments.

Application of survey questionnaire and one-to-one interview

Based on the literature review it became clear that there is an existing gap between AE and AEC job market. It was obvious that the 21st century skills play an important role towards filling this detected gap. However, this section of the paper shall check through actual application of survey and interviews the extent of this gap within Egyptian Graduates.

Design of the survey questionnaire

The applied questionnaire aimed at identifying the gap areas in AE towards fulfilling the real market employability needs. Through allowing different participants to share in answering the survey, this could help in narrowing the gap areas and thus produce highly qualified candidates who are able to work with high performance and productivity. Table 2 shows the structure of the applied questionnaire and its objectives. For the purpose of this paper, architecture courses were packed into categories based on their common objectives, nature of course content and their employability. Thus six main categories were identified as following:

Design of the one-to-one interview

In order to have a full view of the problem and the suggestions for solutions, a one-to-one interview was conducted with 15 expert interviewees. Table 3 shows the structure and objectives of the one-to-one interview that was conducted with professional architectural engineers working currently in the AEC market in Egypt. The interview was generally structured in order to collect the data required for the research. However, it allowed the interviewees to discuss some personal related experiences that justify their choices and points of view. The target group was highly expert architects with 10–20 years of experience, each interview took 15–20 min.

Analysis of survey responses

The survey was sent to 100 purposefully selected architects; the response rate was 61%. Fig. 3 shows the profile of respondents, where almost 70% represented graduates from Public Universities. This was intended as the total number of public universities exceeds private ones in Egypt. Fig. 4 shows the overall years of experience of the respondents, where most of them were juniors with 1–5 years of experience. The experts were the least to share, which called for the need to undergo a detailed interview with them.

Analysis of the skills acquired through undergraduate architecture courses

The analysis offered in Table 4 makes it clear that the respondents identified the key skills that they were able to acquire throughout the different categories of courses they had. According to the respondents, the key skills acquired in architecture design courses were in order creativity, innovation, decision making, presentation and problem solving. In building construction and working (technical drawings) courses the key skills acquired were responsibility, continuous learning, decision making, problem solving, time management, work ethics, research skills and conflict resolution. In project management courses, the key skills acquired were leadership, time management, decision making, problem solving and communication. In software and 3D modelling, the key skills acquired by the respondents were continuous learning, innovation, presentation and creativity. In history and theories courses, the key skills acquired were in order, active listening, research skills, appreciation of diversity, and critical thinking. Whilst in environmental design and sustainability courses the key acquired skills were in order research skills, innovation, continuous learning, creativity, team work and problem solving.

Analysis of the key skills required in the working environment

After identifying the actual skills acquired through studying architecture from the previous analysis, this result should be compared to the key skills required in the actual working environment in order to analyze the gap between teaching and working environments. Fig. 5 shows the respondents replies towards identifying the key required skills in the actual working space. According to respondents, the key skills were in order problem solving, critical thinking, decision making, communication, time management and teamwork. The skills that had the maximum standard deviation, which implies a high degree of disagreement among respondents, were work ethics, appreciation of diversity, creativity and responsibility. This could be explained in light of the nature of the sample of the questionnaire, were respondents with relatively high experience classified work ethics and responsibility as a key skill required, whereas respondents with lower experience classified creativity as a key skill.

Analysis of interview responses

The researchers followed the method of cohort analysis when dealing with the interviewees, where they were classified into 3 different types either Academic, Practitioners or Academic/Professional, Fig. 6. The choice for dealing with responses on cohort basis, is that it makes clear how each cohort thinks about the research problem and what suggestions they have in mind to solve it. The first cohort, which was the Academics, represent the group that is mainly concerned with the undergraduate teaching process, whereas the Practitioners are non-academics who are concerned with the evaluation of the employability of graduates. The third cohort represent practitioners with academic background, these are concerned with both teaching and employability. In general, the selected academics were involved in teaching all undergraduate courses discussed in this research, whereas the practitioners interviewed represented CEOs, Founders and Senior Architects in medium size, small size Architecture firms. Table 5, Table 6, Table 7) summarize the findings of the interviews in terms of each cohort.

Suggestions for bridging the identified gap

The respondents were asked to add their suggestions regarding bridging the identified gap between skills acquired through undergraduate courses and the actual key skills required for the architecture working environment. These suggested actions were analyzed and classified.

Internal suggested actions

The internal suggestions are mainly concerned with the internal factors affecting the teaching environment, namely the teaching process, strategy, applied methods and acquired skills. The researchers suggest, based on previous analysis to follow the following guidelines:

  • Changing in courses contents: by adding more practical implications, real life projects in different courses, either theoretical or practical ones.
  • Changing in acquired skills: by embedding 21st century skills that were not totally considered in all courses, e.g. negotiation, empathy, self-trust.
  • Applying effective teaching strategies such as Student Centred Learning (SCL), Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL), Blended learning, Flipped Learning, Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), Interactive Learning, Game-based learning and Collaborative learning.
  • Changing the nature of Coursework to be designed as interactive and embracing students. 

External suggested actions

The external suggestions are mainly concerned with the external factors affecting the teaching environment. These guidelines require collaboration between academic staff and external partners in practice. These include outdoor activities, site visits, summer internships The researchers suggest, based on previous analysis to follow the subsequent guidelines:

  • Increasing the number of the site visits.
  • Carrying out interdisciplinary researches and projects.
  • Organizing academic activities and events (guest lectures/career orientation).
  • Identifying the job market by carrying out periodical AEC market surveys.
  • Increasing internship duration to be one semester instead of few weeks.
  • Organizing workshops in different categories of courses.
  • Collaborating with the industry by activating the industrial liaison committee.
  • Training the trainers and providing Continuous Professional Development (CPD).
  • Exposing students to different cultures by encouraging academic exchange.
  • Fostering conferences participation.


The aim of this research was double fold; first to assess the current skills that are transferred through AE versus the AEC industry job market. In this regard, it was obvious from the analysis of the questionnaire that some skills were acquired through most courses offered through undergraduate architectural studies. Based on the participants’ perspective, these include problem solving (3.61), decision making (3.75), innovation (4.48), and creativity (4.18). Where the aforementioned numbers represent the arithmetic average respectively. In the meantime, other skills were rarely acquired, these include active listening, communication, leadership, conflict resolution, appreciation of diversity and work ethics Furthermore, some skills were not acquired at all through the undergraduate courses, these skills, in turn require most attention, these include interpretation, empathy, self-trust, negotiation, adaptability, and career orientation. The Second objective of this paper was to propose an approach to fill the gap between the higher education outcomes, and the AEC market. Upon comparing the key skills acquired from undergraduate learning and those needed for the working environment, some skills were found to be existing in courses and of high priority to working environment, these include problem solving and decision making. On the other side, and based on the participants’ perspective, some key skills  insufficiently covered through undergraduate courses, these include active listening (4.3), communication (4.11) and time management (4.45). Accordingly, it is suggested to include those key skills in undergraduate courses and consider them as a high priority. The suggested approach in this paper could help whittling the character of architecture students in order to cope with current changing job market. Table 8 represents the authors’ proposed approach for suggested actions to bridge the identified gap in this research.


  1. Namthip Ongardwanich, Sirichai Kanjanawasee, Chanatip Tuipae Development of 21st century skill scales as perceived by students Procedia – Social Behav Sci, 191 (2015), pp. 737-741
  2. Joke Voogt and Natalie Pareja Roblin A comparative analysis of international frameworks for 21st century competences: implications for national curriculum policies J Curr Studies, 44 (3) (2012), pp. 299-321
  3. A. Oluwatayo, A. Opoko, I. Ezema, O. Irohma How do students perceive their employability readiness: the case of architecture students 3rd International Conference on African Development Issues (CU-ICADI), Covenant University Press (2016), pp. 193-195 
  4. S.K.W. Chu, et al. 21st century skills development through inquiry-based learning: from theory to practice Springer Science+Business Media, Singapore (2017)
  5. O. Troitschanskaia, H. Pant, C. Lautenbach, D. Molerov, M. Toepper, S. Brückner Modeling and measuring competencies in higher education: approaches to challenges in higher education policy and practice Springer VS (2017)
  6. K. Asfour Polemics in Arab architecture: theory versus practice Int J Architect Res (Archnet-IJAR), 1 (1) (2007), pp. 53-69 
  7. Tayfun Yildirima, Arzu Ozen Yavuz Comparison of traditional and digital visualization technologies in architectural design education Procedia – Social Behav Sci, 51 (2012), pp. 69-73
  8. B.I. Farahat Architectural education future experience in designing a new curriculum for undergraduate university education in architecture Proceedings of EDULEARN11 Conference, Spain, 4–6 July 2011 (2011)
  9. R. Salleh, M. Md Yousof, A. Memon Attributes of graduate architects: an industry perspective Social Sci, 11 (5) (2016), pp. 551-556
  10. P. Suhaili, E. Ahmad, M. Ainah Soft skills construct for architecture graduate in accordance with industries requirement 2nd International Conference on “Global Trends in Academic Research “(GTARP), Global Illuminators Publishing (2015), pp. 122-130
  11. Fazilat Siddiq, Perman Gochyyev, Mark Wilson Learning in Digital Networks – ICT literacy: a novel assessment of students’ 21st century skills Comput Educ, 109 (2017), pp. 11-37
  12. Simon Buckingham Shum and Ruth Deakin Crick Learning analytics for 21st century competencies J Learn Anal, 3 (2) (2016), pp. 6-21
  13. A. Elshater The power of photography in urban design discipline: a module catalogue Int J Architect Res (Archnet-IJAR), 12 (2) (2018), pp. 182-208
  14. A. Salama, L. Maclean Integrating appreciative inquiry (AI) into architectural pedagogy: an assessment experiment of three retrofitted buildings in the city of Glasgow Front Architect Res, 6 (2) (2017), pp. 169-182
  15. Judith Anderson Koenig J. (2011). Assessing 21st Century Skills: Summary of a Workshop. National Research Council of the Academics, The National Academies Press. Online document,, last accessed 15.04.2019.
  16. Australian Government, Department of Education, Science and Training (DEST). Employability skills from framework to practice: an introductory guide for trainers and assessors. Online document, last accessed 15.04.2019.
  17. P21 The Partnership for 21st Century Learning, Online document, last accessed 15.04.2019.
  18. Architecture related jobs were based on the previously mentioned categories of courses and their employability. These jobs include working as an architecture designer, site engineer, project manager, 3D visualizer, sustainability specialist or BIM specialist.

This article is governed by: