Integrating Competencies to Move Graduates into CareersJames Lutz | Co-Director of the M.S. in Sustainable Design, University of Minnesota
The path to becoming a professional can be a long and twisting one. Like other professions, regulations governing the practice of architecture are established by each state and may vary somewhat from one another. The benchmarks that determine who may be licensed as an architect are tied to education, experience and an examination.
For many, navigating these requirements has led to an extended educational path in pursuit of a career. According to figures released by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) in 2012, the average time between graduation and licensure for all architecture interns, including those holding a wide range of degrees, is approximately 8.2 years.
All interns participating in NCARB’s Intern Development Program (IDP) must complete a minimum of 5,600 hours of experience in various settings. Figures provided by NCARB indicate that the average time needed to complete an IDP (as of 2009) is about six years between the first day of an intern’s initial experience and when their record is marked complete. The actual time to complete the IDP, however, varies significantly depending on the degree held by the intern.
This type of wait between earning a relevant degree and gaining licensure to practice in a given field is not restricted to architecture. We see intern-style programs in medicine and law. There are also gaps for graduates looking to start careers in accounting, business management and other industries.
One way to streamline the path from the academy to the profession is by incorporating elements of the interning experience into the degree program itself, so that time spent earning the degree can also count towards professional experience. The School of Architecture at the University of Minnesota recently developed a new advanced degree program, the Master of Science in Architecture – Research Practices concentration (MS-RP), which has the potential to reduce the length of time it has previously taken students to gain licensure by incorporating recent changes to the IDP.
NCARB changed its policy to allow students to begin accruing IDP hours as soon as they enter a recognized pre-professional undergraduate program at an institution with an accredited professional degree program. Also, interns may now gain 930 hours of IDP credit upon award of an NCARB-approved advanced post-professional degree.
While the MS-RP is primarily geared towards students who already have a professional degree in architecture — typically, an M.Arch — it may also be of interest to adult students considering a career change. For individuals entering the University of Minnesota without a pre-architecture undergraduate degree, they would first complete a seven-semester graduate M.Arch program before entering the two-semester MS-RP.
For these students, the structure of the MS-RP provides a clear framework for a guided internship linking the academy and professional practice, providing the opportunity to complete as much as half of the required IDP hours in two semesters. Furthermore, MS-RP students are matched to local firms based on shared research interests, which benefits the intern, the school and the profession. Faculty members also work with interns to ensure they are acquiring hours in each of the mandated IDP categories.
The MS-RP also addresses the examination requirement for licensure. The program requires all participants to sit for the NCARB Architect Registration Examination (ARE). Students will prepare for and take the ARE as part of a cohort, thereby avoiding the possibility that candidates will put off taking the seven-part test. While each jurisdiction establishes its own criteria regarding the experience/examination sequence, Minnesota allows interns who have a professional degree from an accredited institution to begin taking the ARE prior to completing their internship requirements, providing another opportunity to reduce the length of time necessary to achieve licensure.
What are the employment opportunities for graduates? Certainly, the economic downturn that began in 2008 had a significant impact on the profession and the long, slow recovery hasn’t yet fully made up for the lost ground. Nevertheless, a McGraw-Hill study completed in 2012 predicts there will be a shortage of architects in the near future since the baby boom generation is retiring, and the recession drove many design professionals to seek opportunities in other industries.
As the economy recovers, the demand for professionals will grow, not just in architectural studies but across the labor market. However, a major bump in the road to transitioning all of these highly-educated individuals into well-paid professionals is the time required by various professional associations for graduates to “intern” in their chosen profession. It’s up to the institutions to ensure our programs can help fast-track graduates into their careers, and integrating competency-based elements into our programming is a great way to accomplish this.
Author Perspective: Educator