Monday, December 12, 2011

The case for (not) getting licensed

A recent issue of Architect Magazine included an article on how many members of our profession aren't getting licensed.  It was a rather intriguing trip into the world of those who manage to thrive professionally without ever being able to truly call themselves "architect".  The architect in me is a little saddened that so many people work so hard for the profession but don't bother with the final little push to take the ARE.  I also get, dare I say it, a little perturbed that I did bother to get licensed but that it seemingly might not matter in terms of professional success.  I know of unlicensed designers who do get paid more than I do because of how they've arranged their careers--changing firms a few times can bump up your pay, and finding the right clients for which to design allows for some good opportunities to further a design career.  Working as an unlicensed designer  is not without its pitfalls--one of my friends who is a fantastic designer (and is also brilliant at construction detailing) was cheated out of the credit for an amazing residence when he and his temperamental client had a falling out.  The credit for my friend's amazing design went to the guy who actually stamped the drawings, and my friend lost getting his name in three different architectural and design publications and also probably lost future commissions.  During the recent recession, he found it hard to gain employment at the age of 40 without his license.  Talk about a double whammy.

I work with some 40-year-old and 50-year-old interns.  I work with some folks who practiced for 15 years and finally got licensed in their 40s.  I work with some interns who blew through their tests and got licensed before they turned 30.  The firm at which I work encourages and supports licensure because the partners value it, but there is still a place in the ranks for those who don't make passing the ARE a priority.  And while I hope the profession takes a moment for self-reflection and assesses just how important a license is (and makes the changes necessary to reflect that importance), I think the bottom line for now is that there is a place for everyone in the profession.  What we need most is conscientious talent: people who can think and design and listen and explain and help their clients and understand the myriad of codes and standards and do flashing details and dream of more interesting and uplifting interiors and exteriors and believe in the positive role of architecture and design in a society.  Licensed or not, we need professionals--at some point, the rest is just labels.

1 comment:

  1. I can see the argument for not getting licensed ... its super expensive between NCARB, Prometric, and study guides you're looking at a lot of money, which as an intern I can speak from experience ... we don't really have a surplus of. Pair all of that with typically living within or near a metropolis with a high cost of living, add in the student loan repayments and general cost of actually having a life outside of your desk and apartment. There isn't much money left to actually pursue the license exams.

    NCARB/Prometic made it even more difficult by raising the prices of the tests from $170 to $210.

    As interns we aren't paid what I'd consider a lot. Many times we could switch to working as a waiter/waitress and earn more money and (potentially) work less hours. So as interns we really need the financial assistance from the firm we work for, at larger firms this is much easier to get ... but at smaller firms this is sometimes just not offered. Its awesome if a company provides study materials as well, since these are pretty expensive and most libraries don't bother carrying such a niche product.

    Couple all of this with the volatility in the industry right now - interns are still getting let go left and right - that article mentions that 27% are unemployed or we're laid off in the past couple of years. How is an intern that now has no steady income - supposed to pay rent, pay student loans and pay $210, 7 times for every test (assuming they pass each one on the first try?

    And lets say this hypothetical intern has managed to avoid the lay off hammer - is working 50-60 hours weeks because their company let go 75% of the other interns they used to share work with - they're probably getting paid next to nothing for this 50-60 hours worth of work. Somehow he/she manages to find time to study + steals/borrows/barters/gets a second job to pay for the NCARB fees and Prometric fess and study guides. Passes all 7 tests - gets his/her license - just to find out that the company is not offering any raises because the economy is so crappy right now? Maybe this won't happen to everyone - but I've already seen it happen twice in my little circle already.

    A point not mentioned was NCARB only counts certain types of "experience". So say for instance you were laid off but found work in the construction side of the industry - while you may actually be learning more about how a building is put together - technically NCARB/IDP doesn't recognize this, putting you further behind getting the credits to tests. (Correct me if I'm wrong and this has changed)

    What all this does is breed resentment towards NCARB - you have interns that can't see the point in living in poverty just to pass a test that may not further their career at all.

    Now saying all of this - I will admit that I do plan to get licensed and have passed 4 of 7 tests to do so - but I've been lucky that my current firm pays the cost of the tests and has provided study materials to me. At my previous firm I was in the position of having had my hours cut and my low pay at the time - I simply couldn't afford to take the tests, so I had to take an unplanned hiatus from finishing them.