Monday, April 20, 2009

IDP, NCARB, and (mostly) necessary evils, Part 1 of 2

Through the past few years of mentoring the interns in my office, I've been asked a lot about IDP and NCARB. The questions are generally some form of "What’s the big deal, anyway?  What's the point of IDP and NCARB and all that junk?"  Good question--I sometimes wonder what the point of them is myself.  First though, let's consider the original purpose of their existence. 

IDP is the Intern Development Program, and it's a well-defined process for accounting for your professional experience.  IDP delineates for any architectural intern how much experience s/he needs in a variety of fields (schematic design, bidding and negotiation, construction administration, etc.).  IDP was created because there was no clear standard for what interns should learn in the years before they take their exams.  For example, the advent of CADD meant that many new interns out of college would end up being CAD jockeys for three or four years and suddenly take the exam with little practical experience.  This process hardly produces good professionals and eventually kills a profession.  Enter IDP: suddenly, the nation has a standard for what interns should be learning during their early professional careers, and some (but not all) states made following and being a part of IDP a required part of gaining licensure.  NCARB, the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards, is the entity that created IDP and it manages the IDP process.  They also manage and control the content of the ARE (Architect Registration Exam).  

While an architect-to-be has to spend a certain number of hours/years working before s/he can take the ARE and get licensed, each state has its own rules in addition to NCARB’s rules (states are the entities that issue the actual license). Some states, like Colorado and Arizona, don't require that an intern follow IDP but do have their own standards that closely resemble IDP and will accept the fulfillment of either process as a means of qualifying to take the ARE.  Some states require that an intern follow IDP and have a record with NCARB, and no other path is acceptable.  So if you live in a state that doesn't require IDP, then what's the point?  Why even join NCARB and go through the hassle?

The short answer is that IDP and NCARB provide accountability and portability of your experience and your eventual license.  If you open an IDP account and keep track of your hours with them, and then for some reason you have to move to a different state (job market is better, have to move back home to care for an ailing relative, have to move for a spouse or partner's job), IDP allows you to take all your experiences with you to your new state in a uniform manner; you have the hours you have once your former employer signed off on them and you're not starting from zero.  Participating in IDP also makes it easier to start in one state and get licensed in another; if either of the states requires IDP to sit for the exam, then you're covered.  

Bear in mind that when you participate in IDP, you're participating in NCARB.  Once an intern earns their license, being a member of NCARB (that is, maintaining your record with them) makes it easier to transfer your qualifications and receive a license in another state.  This process is known as reciprocity; you may have heard architects mention it when going after work in other states.  NCARB can transfer your "okay" to other states and confirm that you have met the minimum national requirements for being an architect.  Some states, most notably California, have extra tests an architect must pass in order to receive a reciprocal license, but at least the big part is done when NCARB sends the word. This is helpful even if you don't ever move out of your state.  If you ever run your own firm and get a job in another state, then getting another license is much easier.

So, joining NCARB and enrolling in IDP are generally good ideas in terms of the portability of your qualifications.  However, there is a dark financial side to being a member of this process, which we'll discuss in Wednesday's post.

1 comment:

  1. great post, I am starting an IDP program in our firm. I like you, absolutely love the profession and my job.