Institutions change or they die. And nowadays they seem to be dropping like flies: Newspapers. Unions. Shopping malls. Pessimists say architecture belongs on the list. While that’s a matter of opinion, it is a matter of fact that the profession is getting older and struggling to retain younger members.
The numbers don’t lie. According to the AIA’s 2012 annual report, “Members of the baby boom generation are currently peaking, resulting in an organization in which members in the 60–69 age bracket increased and the percentage of architects under 50 decreased steadily over the same period.”
It didn’t help that junior staffers were usually the first to lose their jobs during the Great Recession, and many of them never came back. But the problem isn’t just demographic and economic. It’s also structural. School, graduation, internship, exam, licensure—the current career-development path is torturous and increasingly disconnected from the realities of practice, the demands of the market, and the aspirations of the next generation.
Architecture schools’ curricula are often so removed from day-to-day office work that that first job after graduation causes serious culture shock. The Intern Development Program takes too long to complete (8.5 years on average); the term “intern” is just plain insulting; and I’ve yet to meet a fan of the Architect Registration Examination (ARE).
No wonder more than half of architecture school graduates end up leaving the profession. Many Millennials—not all, certainly, but too many to ignore—must see internship, the exam, and even licensure as irrelevant to their personal goals. They are voting with their feet.
Fortunately, the powers that be have begun to respond. Emerging professionals are a centerpiece of the Institute’s Repositioning the AIA initiative. A group of them met this January and crafted a 12-point plan for education, licensure, career development, and firm culture, alongside leaders of the AIA, Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture, American Institute of Architecture Students, National Architectural Accrediting Board, and National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). Stay tuned for more.
At NCARB—the historically unloved, seemingly inflexible body that regulates internship and licensure—fresh, reform-minded leadership has taken charge. A new version of the exam, ARE 5.0, is scheduled for release in 2016. And, joy of joys, last month NCARB announced its endorsement of what it calls “licensure upon graduation.” While the mechanics are yet to be determined, the basic idea, according to a statement from the organization, is to “integrate the rigorous internship and examination requirements that aspiring architects must fulfill into the years spent completing a professional degree in architecture.”
If that doesn’t seem like a big deal, read it again and remember, since time out of mind the term “young architect” has been an oxymoron. The legal profession, by comparison, has it right. You take the exam shortly after graduation, and if you pass you are admitted to the bar. Your boss and the marketplace dictate whether you have enough experience to tackle a particular assignment.
In law, as in architecture, young people have changes of heart and decide to pursue other fields. But in law, those who do (and who maintain their accreditation) can still rightly call themselves lawyers, and the title retains much of its value in other contexts. Interns who leave architecture have had comparatively little to show for their efforts, and the profession has lost a host of potential allies and ambassadors to other fields.
Next year, NCARB will invite schools to submit proposals for the venture. So while much work remains to be done to make licensure upon graduation into a reality, I pray the response is overwhelmingly positive. Because the architecture profession must grow.
Follow this link for the latest NCARB and licensure news.