Setting up emerging professionals for licensure and success

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At the Emerging Professionals Booth at A'17, young designers were confronted with the options and challenges facing the profession.

There is a clear divide on whether or not architectural associates are getting the support they need in their firms to pursue licensure

Is getting an architecture license worth it? Are emerging professionals even encouraged to pursue licensure? Chances are you’re going to get a very different opinion depending on whom you ask. According to AIA and NCARB’s 2017 joint survey, there are drastically different ways architectural associates and supervisors view their contributions to career advancement and licensure.

But where does the gap come from, and how can we overcome it? By bringing together various approaches of practitioners, including firm leaders and emerging professionals, we can move towards a more unified profession that can support itself for generations to come.

Perception versus reality

As detailed in the survey findings, only 27 percent of emerging professionals believe it is “very important” to their supervisors for them to obtain a license, while 88 percent of supervisors indicated that it was “very important” for the emerging professionals they supervised to get licensed. Essentially, those on the path towards licensure don’t feel like their supervisors care whether they get licensed or not, and that’s a problem.

This discrepancy seems to come down to a communication issue between firm leadership and emerging professionals. Jason Takeuchi, Assoc. AIA, of Ferraro Choi in Hawaii believes that the current generation of leaders has “viewed licensure as valued and necessary,” whereas the newer generation of emerging professionals doesn’t always see it as a critical step in their careers. Like many, Choi’s firm has encouraged licensure as a means to get to work on desirable projects, and as a tool to become exposed to the business of architecture.

Those on the path towards licensure don’t feel like their supervisors care whether they get licensed or not, and that’s a problem.

Peter Kuttner, FAIA, of Cambridge Seven Associates believes the discrepancy is a product of supervisors not understanding that it is also incumbent upon them to serve as a mentor. Previously, NCARB’s Architectural Experience Program, or AXP (formerly the Intern Development Program, or IDP) called for a “supervisor” and a “mentor,” with the mentor serving a more discretionary role to the emerging professional.

Now that architectural associates are required only to have a supervisor, the concept of mentoring may have gotten lost in the process. Supervisors may be able to mitigate potential problems with the perceived value of licensure by stepping back into that dual role. Kuttner, who supervises two young designers, goes beyond encouraging licensure.

“I have been able to get emerging professionals involved with local and regional AIA activities and positions,” he says. “I believe being a part of the bigger professional community early is an important factor in getting excited about licensure and the profession.”

Realizing the benefits of licensure

While there are many benefits to licensure, some of the most notable are those which directly affect the individual and the firm. Obvious benefits include increased salary and responsibilities, and respect within the industry. Janice Suchan, AIA, principal and managing leader at Stantec in their Berkley, Michigan office, stressed the benefit of a license not only for the firm but for the individual employee. “For the employee, it provides the validation necessary for them to take complete accountability and control of their work in the future,” Suchan says.

Licensure is often seen as a very personal endeavor. Studying for the ARE is left to the discretion of the individual practitioner. Some firms support this through providing resources, such as time off for exams—in addition to PTO and sick leave—and reimbursement for exams passed.

Tania Salgado, AIA, principal at Handprint Architecture, identifies incentives to get licensed as one of the reasons why there is a discrepancy between emerging professionals’ perspective and their supervisors. As a small firm owner, she provides paid time off for exams and a study day prior to the exam. Her firm also supports licensed professionals by paying for their licensing dues and their AIA memberships.

“For the employee, [a license] provides the validation necessary for them to take complete accountability and control of their work in the future.” - Janice Suchan, AIA

Annual and semi-annual reviews are one of the greatest tools to encourage and support employees on the path to licensure. Suchan describes the process at Stantec: Each employee has a semiannual formal review where future goals are discussed and detailed plans are established collaboratively, which are monitored and developed over time.

While automatic raises and promotion are not associated with licensure at Cambridge Seven, it is a factor in overall evaluation and there is still support throughout the licensure process. Exams which are successfully passed are paid for, as well as the increase in AIA membership dues when changing from an Associate to an Architect membership level.

In practice, reducing liability is at the forefront of running a successful business. Ken Anderson, AIA, managing principal of RNL Design in Arlington, Virginia, believes that when more employees are licensed, they are less of a liability to firms and to projects. Because architects are required to meet certain continuing education requirements per state licensing laws, they are staying informed of the best practices and newest technologies throughout their career. Inherently, this reduces the risk of mistakes on the job, decreasing liability.

As any firm owner, leader or architect knows, winning business is paramount to the success and livelihood of a firm. More and more, business development has become a key factor in encouraging licensure. Suchan identifies business development as a key benefit to licensure. RFPs and RFQs are requiring certain licensure requirements for key roles on projects. This can be prohibitive to a person’s professional development if they cannot be a project manager on a new project because of licensure requirements by the client.

Increasing success on the path towards licensure

Architectural professionals are always looking to enhance the perceived value of the architect in society. The value and importance of licensure should be stressed both in architecture school and in the professional environment, Suchan explains.

Supervisors can ensure a clear path and increase transparency, but individuals need to take licensure seriously by fulfilling AXP and establishing an ARE test schedule. Communicating the value that a firm places on a license will increase the value of the license to the individual and the community in which the architect is working.

“Within the firm, we can do a better job of integrating test schedules and AXP experience needs into our project management concerns,” Kuttner states. “It is too easy now to put off an exam or two to accommodate a project schedule or last minute charrette.” If test schedules and AXP are discussed regularly, emerging professionals will feel like they truly have a partner in their path to licensure.

Salgado notes that increasing the value of architecture starts early on in one’s career: “Professional advancement includes improving individual worth. In addition to integrity, this consists of developing determined skills sets, building strong client relationships, championing good design, and validating with licensure.”

Korey D. White, AIA is a registered architect and passionate advocate of the built environment. She currently serves as the AIA National Associates Committee Chair and is a project architect with RNL Design in Washington D.C.

This article reflects the perspective and opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent a policy or position of the AIA.

About the Emerging Professional and Supervisor Survey

The data referenced in this article is from a survey of emerging professionals and supervisors that gathered information on the current relationship between the two groups, including insights into how their respective opinions compared.

The survey was conducted by The Rickinson Group, an independent third-party market research company, on behalf of the AIA and NCARB in October 2016. The survey was in the field for 10 days, and received responses from 580 emerging professionals and 800 supervisors for a total of 1,380 usable survey responses.

For the purposes of this survey, supervisors were defined as those who currently, or in the past, have supervised an emerging professional on the path to licensure, while emerging professionals were defined as those actively on the path to licensure.

For more information about the survey and its methodology, or to provide any thoughts on your own experience, email us at emergingprofessionals@aia.org.    

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