An Evolution in Experience: Licensure Candidates Still Benefit from Best Practices

Carrier Johnson + CULTURE

(From left) Designer Katee Chard, Senior Designer Lina As’ad, and Architect Sami Khoury, AIA. Photo courtesy of Carrier Johnson + CULTURE.

Michael Johnson

Michael Johnson, AIA, NCARB

Founder and Design Principal, Carrier Johnson + CULTURE

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB).

The last few decades have brought us rapid changes in how architects work, as well as how students emerge as professionals and become the architects of tomorrow. In my role as firm practice leader for Carrier Johnson + CULTURE, a 100-person practice operating nationally, I’ve seen how leadership advocacy has to extend beyond the walls of our studio and our project jobsites. That’s why our team pioneered ways to address firm liability and project risk exposure, authored new contracts, and even established an Architect’s Defense Fund.

We’ve also come up with ways to help nurture and inspire the next generation of architects. Our firm works hard to create a better path to licensure for these professionals, an experience that has become a highlight of my career. It also helped position our firm for the laudable, recent changes that NCARB has engineered for architectural education, experience, and examination.

Integrating Experience Into Firm Culture

Around 2003, our firm leaders decided that a foremost firm goal would be “to advance the practice of architecture and mentor a new generation of architects.” To turn these lofty words into reality, 18 months later we adapted to the California Architects Board’s requirement of the Intern Development Program—the IDP, which is now known as the AXP, or Architectural Experience Program.

Then we expanded on those state prerequisites, adding our own touch: We launched the CJ+C Technical Lecture Series, lined up new presentation workshops, and created a suite of novel digital tools including an intranet and an online reporting system. All of these, we figured, would help aspiring architects get smarter, faster—and get ready for the rigors of examination and, ultimately, practice. In addition, our firm pays for the cost of maintaining NCARB Records, as well as passed divisions of the Architect Registration Examination® (ARE®).

Our emerging professionals loved the attention and the advantage that came with the firm’s initiatives. The cherry on top: Our accomplishments led to Carrier Johnson + CULTURE receiving the 2008-2010 IDP Outstanding Firm Award, given by the American Institute of Architects (AIA) for being a national leader. “Carrier Johnson not only satisfied the requirements for recognition with the IDP Firm Award, but has demonstrated a deep commitment to the program by going above and beyond the baseline criteria,” wrote the jury. We were elated.

Today, we’re taking that know-how and applying it to the new world of preparation for the architectural profession.

Setting Measurable Career Goals

While NCARB has successfully retooled and streamlined many of the steps leading to licensure over recent years, the baseline criteria are as rigorous and relevant as ever before. At our firm, the goal has always been twofold: (a) investing in professional development for our talented designers, and (b) recording measurable, valuable increases in rigor and preparedness of our licensure candidates for the ARE, as well as improving internal performance reviews on firm work.

For other firms, we recommend a few steps that will help their employees aspiring for licensure. For example, there are many ways to blend HR and AXP needs, such as aligning timesheet categories with AXP categories. This gives supervisors automatic monitoring of credit-hour progress, and takes the burden off the licensure candidate. If you have in-house CEU programs such as lunch-and-learn sessions, align those with AXP categories. At our firm, we also help up-and-coming practitioners rehearse their presentation skills and gain valuable input from firm leaders by conducting frequent Project Design Reviews.

Encouraging Licensure in Firms

The upshot? I’d say that it’s working—not just in our own vibrant practice but across the United States, everywhere we work and visit. I recently scanned NCARB’s 2016 edition of NCARB by the Numbers, which serves as a statistical snapshot of the entire profession. This year’s data shows more than 41,000 candidates currently working toward licensure, the highest number on record. Plus, we have at least 110,000 architects in the United States, a healthy increase over the previous year.

To keep the profession vibrant and innovative, we need more licensure candidates to commit to the AXP and licensure. At Carrier Johnson + CULTURE, licensure is the core standard and represents a commitment to delivering a quality end-product that meets the level of safety expected by our clients and the public. Licensure also means increased financial incentives for employees, more opportunities to be creative, and personal freedom in future career choices.

That said, we need more of our leading U.S. firms to commit to the same thing, for the benefit of not only your firm’s health but also for the future of the profession.

Michael C. Johnson, AIA, NCARB, is founding design principal at Carrier Johnson + CULTURE, a leading global architecture, design, and strategic branding practice known for innovative building, living, and communications solutions, reflecting the unique three-dimensional brand opportunities for each situation.

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