The oft-repeated mantra that the healthcare, education, and government sectors will stay strong may prove too optimistic for this recession. "[Firms] doing institutional projects have been more insulated from the downturn, but even that sector has seen a decline in billings recently," according to the AIA's Frank. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington, D.C., reported in January that at least 45 states are facing "severe fiscal problems" that will likely lead to further cuts in K—12 and higher education. Healthcare isn't rock-solid, either: Hospitals are feeling the squeeze as patients lose insurance coverage or defer elective procedures like knee replacements. With credit hard to come by, some hospitals are putting expansion plans on hold.
Like Fredlund, Allison Suriano, an Arizona architect, found herself out of work due to a freeze on state funding for school construction. Suriano had worked for a construction company as its director of preconstruction services. Whereas the company used to be among two or three vying for a $2 million project, she says, after the economy slowed down, her company would be up against 12 or 15 others. "We did 50 proposals, [got onto] 10 short lists, and didn't get a single job," she told ARCHITECT between lessons she was teaching at a ski resort.
Michelle Krochmal is a registered, LEED-accredited architect whose résumé boasts a Cooper Union B.Arch. and five years' experience at healthcare firm Anshen + Allen?in other words, not someone who would have been casting around for work a year ago. In fact, Krochmal wasn't laid off from her last position, in Boston—she moved with her husband to New York in June, and had her second baby in August. Then, in mid-November, she began to look for a new job. "It's been very slow," she says. "This is the first time I've experienced difficulties finding a job." She has been contacted by recruiters and was even offered one position, but she turned it down because it wasn't a good fit, she says.
Name : Michelle Krochmal, AIA, LEED AP
Background: Received a B.Arch. from the Cooper Union in 1998. Has worked in Southern California, northern California, and Boston. Moved back to New York in June 2008.
Plans: Wants to wait for the right job to come along, one that will help her climb the career ladder. Has decided not to look very hard until the spring because of the sluggish market. "Compared to when I moved to Boston a few years ago ... it's completely done a 180," she says.
Credit: Joe Pugliese
Greg Richter, director of business operations for recruitment firm Aerotek, says that supply far outweighs demand in today's architecture job market. He estimated in early January that the number of available candidates on his books was up 100 percent from a year earlier. Now, not only are very few firms hiring, Richter adds, but those that are often won't bring on permanent staff. "Last year, at this time, two in 10 requests from clients would be temporary," he says. "Today, most likely eight out of 10 are for temp over permanent."
At least Krochmal is fortunate in that her husband's salary can cover their rent and expenses. Phil Meadows, a Chicago-area architect who was laid off in early October, can't rely on his wife's salary to pay the bills. His former employer did mainly hospitality and office projects in Latin America until the downturn nixed investment. With no money coming in, Meadows' boss had to let his entire staff go. But described the layoff as temporary and retains office space as he tries to drum up new work. Even now, Meadows helps maintain the firm's IT system and comes into the office to use the computers for side jobs he's picked up. The day he talked with ARCHITECT, there were about five people at the office—none of them paid to be there. "The only other option is to sit at home and watch TV," Meadows says.
Meadows has been through this before. He was laid off by the same firm in the recession that followed September 11 and was rehired a year later. Back then, he took on side work and held his breath, but not this time: "I'm married now, I have a mortgage, a car payment." A specialist in 3-D computer modeling and animation as well as a registered architect, Meadows at first focused his job search on architecture and interior design firms but then broadened it to include any type of company that might need someone with his skills. Asked if he might start looking outside the Chicago area, Meadows explains that he and his wife have discussed it, but there's one major complication: "Try selling your house right now." In mid-January, Meadows did spend a week looking for work in Charlotte, N.C., where he has family.