It’s behind him now, but Daryl Bray recalls how he struggled to learn the ropes of the architecture profession as an unlicensed intern. Twelve years ago, when Bray arrived at Tulsa, Okla.’s Scott & Goble Architects, there was little guidance to keep recent grads moving toward completing their Intern Development Program (IDP) requirements. “I felt kind of lost,” Bray says.
Like many of his peers, Bray followed a bumpy road to reach the goal of licensure. Once he did, he resolved to make things easier for the next generation. He spearheaded a program at Scott & Goble Architects that provides comprehensive training to interns—a best-practice model for how firms can propel their young charges to professional status.
At Scott & Goble today, the nurturing of interns hinges on a “single project manager” philosophy. While interns do not formally manage a project—that remains the role of a licensed architect—they are assigned to follow one job from concept to completion. This exposes them to everything from site analysis to project close-out.
The approach’s success rests heavily on a proactive mentoring system. Each intern is paired with a senior architect, and together they sign a pledge committing to a schedule for completing the IDP and Architect Registration Examination (ARE). Who makes a good mentor? “Somebody who is seasoned, and somebody who is interested in the intern’s goals,” says Bray.
“More and more, we encourage firms to participate in this process [of IDP mentorship],” says Harry Falconer, director of IDP at the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). “We absolutely see a correlation between the intern’s rate of success and the level of the firm’s involvement.”
Educating young employees is a high priority at Payette Associates. Nine years ago, the Boston firm created its Young Designers Core (YDC) for the mutual benefit of interns and the firm. Structured around IDP training categories and core competencies, each YDC event is geared for intern-level employees and has a specific learning purpose.
Interns Tom Sherman and Nicole Lecuivre currently co-chair Payette’s YDC. The pair meets monthly to plan the schedule of weekly events. “We try to hit on IDP hours that are hard for young designers to achieve,” says Lecuivre. But they mix it up, too. Site visits to major Boston projects are frequent, and the group also tours workshops and factories.
At the Richmond, Va., firm Baskervill, newly licensed coordinators with fresh memories of the IDP oversee the development program. Close supervision is key. Each intern is assigned a coordinator, who acts as an adviser; the coordinators meet regularly with the interns’ supervisors to track their charges’ progress, says Jay Woodburn, one of two firmwide IDP coordinators at Baskervill. “We keep a matrix of what experience they are getting. If somebody falls behind, we address it.”
At San Diego’s Carrier Johnson + Culture, expectations are set when new hires arrive: Participation in the IDP is not optional. “We try to be very active in advocating a path to licensure,” says Corinne Lloyd Moody, who serves on the firm’s IDP Task Force. The target timeline for completing the IDP is two and a half to three years, with two additional years allotted to pass the ARE.
The firm provides ample support to make it happen. Staff members post events on an “Intern Opportunities Calendar”—maintained on the firm’s intranet—that highlights in-house lectures, meetings with construction managers, site visits, and more. Like many firms, Carrier Johnson also provides critical financial support to help cash-strapped interns attain licensure, including reimbursement for items such as conference registrations and professional-accreditation test fees.
Of course, not all interns are so fortunate. Many firms pay little attention to their needs, and the recession has left thousands on the IDP path without work or with a checkered employment history. For these people, NCARB’s Falconer points to the Emerging Professional’s Companion, an online initiative created by NCARB and the AIA. Rebooted last year with overhauled content, the site, Falconer says, is “a supplementary [IDP] education tool.” He also explicitly encourages firms to continue mentoring when they have to let somebody go, and he tells interns to ask their former bosses for help. “It’s hard not to lash out,” Falconer admits, “[but] try to keep those ties.”
Payette’s president, James Collins, says that it requires a leap of faith that the cumulative effect of pushing young people to be smarter, more skilled, and socially more connected will be improved project work. It makes them better professionals, he adds, “and our justification has to be on that merit.”