On Wednesday I participated again in a Career Fair at my high school alma mater. Yes it was only April since I was there previously. I guess they like me, I’m a sucker when I get to talk about architecture. So for two twenty-minute sessions I spoke passionately about the profession of architecture, showing flashy images and explaining how they could get there in years to come. I generally speak more about the profession than myself. It’s far more interesting. However it got me thinking about architecture as a career, especially in light of the past few years. Is it fair? Is it fair to encourage young students to pursue being an architect?
I also teach part-time; currently I am teaching first year design studio to architecture majors. The same question comes up in my mind. What are we preparing these students for in the future? Will there be a career for these future architects? How many will become architects? Will the economy ever turn around and what will architecture be like in five or ten years? I wonder.
Another thought-provoker was Architect Magazine’s recent issue where they include data from the 2011 AIA Compensation Report. My first question is do any of you make this kind of money? Really? Yes it noted that salaries are down from 2008, but if I compare myself against the categories that match my experience and position, I am seriously pulling down the averages. Honestly, that doesn’t matter as much as some of these larger issues, but it makes me shake my head. How many out there have no job = no income? What does a survey matter when almost a third of us are unemployed?
A lively LinkedIn discussion was another source of angst (see Jody has me saying it). We were discussing the future of the profession and where we should direct young people for a career. What will the architect be in ten years? What will our role be? Will there be more of us? There ought to be, but will we redefine ourselves and make ourselves invaluable? Or will slow-to-change people like me stall the process and resist adapting to changing roles, changing processes and changing methods of delivery? Will there be a difference between how small firms operate and large firms? Maybe if we found better ways to team up and collaborate there would be no large or small firms. There would be large and small teams. OK, I’m getting off topic a bit.
So if you were speaking to high school students or college students what would you say? Try plumbing? In the recent issue of Architectural Record, one author explores whether an architectural education is worth it in this recession. Many question this path when many will leave school worn out and exhausted (perhaps a bit jaded) with a debt three or four times their starting yearly salaries if they can even land a job at all. The article mentions many go on to graduate school, but not for the assumed Master of Architecture degree, but an MBA degree or one in another discipline. Being unique with broad skills and a broad education seems to be a must.
I think about these things. I also consider myself blessed for still surviving after following a traditional path and practicing in a fairly traditional way. However, I can’t predict how long that will last and what I need do to prepare for the next chapter. I also have to wonder as I see my students three times a week what they will do if they make it through. Was I dishonest to the high school students? The term “career fair” where a few dozen people from a variety of fields come to share their chosen path with impressionable minds seems a bit dubious. Is the career of architecture fair? Perhaps if we dwell on that we’re asking the wrong question. What do you think?
photo is from raman..exploring myself..’s photostream on Flickr (used under the Creative Common License)