Emerging Professionals

in: AIACC / 3 Comments
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Inconvenient Truths

Empowering emerging professionals for practice and prosperity is one of the cornerstones of the AIA’s Repositioning Initiative (video proof of this: AIA posted a summary). While it is a common refrain within many component long-range and strategic plans, the concept is much easier said than successfully implemented.


Paul W. Welch, Jr., Hon. AIA

Most conversations regarding emerging professionals quickly focus on the declining numbers of interns taking the Architects Registration Examination (ARE), and the discouraging number of interns completing the journey to licensure. We have long been alarmed by the symptoms, but we have been slow to identify and respond to the foundational reasons for the problem—Is it because the licensing of architects has become obsolete as a consequence of an overly burdensome path to licensure? A consequence of the retreating culture of mentoring once so common within the profession? Have the architects of tomorrow embraced the broader definition of architecture and service to society, rather than the more “traditional” and narrow view of licensure, and public health, safety, and welfare?

Unfortunately, it is the widespread opinion of many young people that an architectural license is a destination not worthy of the journey unless you own a firm and/or sign instruments of service. Why we have allowed this unfortunate and patently incorrect misconception to permeate our culture is a disservice to young people. Instead, licensure is a portal on the other side of which unfolds a multitude of career opportunities, including that of “architecture.” The license validates one’s professional skills and competencies, and the capacity to execute professional judgment in designing the fragile interface between mankind and the natural environment. It is a valued credential representing the public’s health, safety, and welfare. A credential that is sought by many, achieved by few, and greatly respected by society.

How can we inspire young people to envision the future, and what can we do to help prepare them for the challenges of an ever-changing marketplace, and a profession in transition? Historically, we think that involving young people in leadership and governance opportunities will accelerate progress towards these goals. Consequently, most AIA components have dedicated leadership positions for emerging professionals, and a few, including the AIACC, provide resource conferences, symposiums and continuing education opportunities for emerging professionals. I don’t think leadership positions by themselves will get us where we need to be. Instead, we need to meaningfully include young professionals and their perspectives in all of our committees, taskforces, conferences and conventions. More importantly, we should recognize and leverage the changing skills and competencies that young people bring to the workforce, especially their knowledge and experience with technology, and how technology can be used in design and construction.

AIA Pasadena Leadership Training

AIA Pasadena Leadership Training

Over the last couple of weeks I have been visiting California chapters conducting “Leadership Training.” Attendees have included volunteers serving on chapter boards and committees, and many are members of the Young Architects Forum (YAF), having been licensed less than 10 years. While they may be “newcomers to leadership,” I am overwhelmed by their enthusiasm and optimism for the future. They have read media stories concerning low compensation, unemployment, and the challenges of a depressed economy. However, they share a voracious appetite for leadership, and a desire to serve and make a difference for their profession and their communities. As we struggle to successfully find ways to empower the architects of tomorrow, I am increasingly convinced that they have already arrived, and they live and work among us.

What began as a journey to enhance volunteer leadership, resulted in a more personal adventure, an adventure that renewed my spirit, and strengthened my resolve for advancing the value of design, and the role of the architect.

In the words of Antony Jay, from Management and Machiavelli: An Inquiry into The Politics of Corporate Life:

“Men grow to the stature to which they are stretched when they are young.”

What are your thoughts regarding empowering emerging professionals? What does this mean to you, and how do we make this happen within AIA’s culture?

Or, perhaps generational change cannot be that seamless. Instead, maybe it is simply a normal and expected consequence of time. What do you think?


Paul W. Welch Jr., Hon. AIA

Paul W. Welch Jr., Hon. AIA and Executive Vice President of the AIA California Council (AIACC), is the former interim Executive Vice President and CEO of the American Institute of Architects in Washington, D.C.

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  1. avatar
    Michael F. Malinowski AIA

    Good comment Ian!
    Recognizing and celebrating good business models is a great idea, since business models that are sustainable are a key ingredient to creating the culture of succession, attribution, respect, sharing, and mentoring that we all aspire to.

  2. avatar
    Michael Strogoff

    Louis Kahn remarked that no architect should be allowed to have a design built until he or she was 40 years old – simply too much to learn and not enough time to gain the experience and wisdom before one reaches 40.
    How times have changed. Emerging professionals today, many younger than 40, have the life experience, knowledge, passion and tools to design sophisticated buildings way earlier in their careers. Perhaps the term “Emerging Professionals” needs to be rethought.

  3. avatar
    Ian Merker

    The success of an architecture firm should be measured by the clarity of their transition plan. Clients should be wary of interviewing gray haired principals who make no mention of the talented team members that will execute their project or hide those individuals in obscurity. It’s time for architects to put their fears aside and recognize the future! We’re seeing this in the AIA’s recognition of diversity in gender, culture and career stage. I hope that practice will follow suit by recognizing it as a good business model.

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