September 25, 2009
  The Evolution of Internship as Times Get Rough and Rules Change
Adaptation becomes the name-of-the-game

by Amanda Gorning, Associate AIA, LEED-AP and Derek Roberts, Associate AIA, LEED-AP

Summary: Since the first national exam for architects was introduced by NCARB in 1965, the process of becoming a licensed architect has evolved exponentially. Over the past five years, the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) has significantly refined its Intern Development Program (IDP) and Architectural Registration Exam (ARE) rules and requirements. In a 2009 publication, NCARB cites that these changes are necessary for remaining relevant to the “dramatically changing … social, environmental, economic, industrial, and technological forces, with new forms of integrated practice.”

In addition to NCARB’s refinements, the nature of architectural employment is also in the middle of a rapid change. According to the AIA Architectural Billings Index (ABI), between 2004 and 2007, the architecture and construction industry has shown positive growth and profit. However, with the current economic situation, the ABI shows a decline in profit and growth for 2008 and 2009. This is directly impacting emerging professionals. While this downturn has dramatically affected all levels of practice in architecture, C.J. Hughes indicates in a recent Architectural Record article that “anecdotal evidence suggests that many of those affected by the economic downturn are early to mid-level individuals under the age of 40.” In fact, the American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS) warns on their Web site that “while … some companies are hiring, there are not enough opportunities for the thousands of graduates seeking jobs.” As a result, many graduates “may be forced to take a job…that does not include working directly in an architecture firm.” If this causes a large number of Emerging Professionals to leave or not enter the profession, will we see major challenges in effectively filling positions once held by seasoned professionals after they retire?

In light of the vast, industry-wide evolutions indicated above, students and interns are highly encouraged to adopt professional strategies that align education and employment with NCARB’s more refined process. On July 1, 2009, The Six Month Rule for the Intern Development Program (IDP) went into effect for interns who began an NCARB record on or after this date. According to NCARB’s Web site, the Six Month rule “requires interns to submit their training units in reporting periods of no longer than six months and within two months of completion of each reporting period (for more information, visit In addition to the IDP transition, 2009 marks the final transition of the Architectural Registration Exams from version 3.1 to version 4.0. Exam timelines are also changing. In an AIArchitect article earlier this year, Katie Harms, AIA, pointed out that architects have “the longest licensure track time among all professions,” with an average college through licensure timeline totaling 12 years. She also points out that internship and examination together take an average of 6.4 years. To streamline this process of professional development, from intern to architect, many states have adopted concurrent IDP and ARE policies.

According to NCARB’s Web site, there are 25 states that have adopted concurrent IDP and ARE policies allowing interns to sit for the ARE without having completed their IDP, as long as they have a professional degree from an NAAB-accredited program. However, there are 20 states that require interns to have completed their IDP, in addition to having a professional degree from an NAAB-accredited program before sitting for their ARE exams. The remaining states have their own requirements outside of those stated above. Depending on the length of the professional degree program and the years to complete the IDP, this can make for a lengthy process towards licensure.

In the state of Michigan, unemployment rates for June 2009 increased from 0.3 percent to 2.2 percent. According to Rick Waclawek, director of the Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Incentives: “Many areas reported seasonal hiring in June, however it was not enough to offset the influx of job seekers into Michigan’s extremely competitive labor market.” He adds: “also in June, manufacturing losses continued to weaken the state’s job market. These two factors helped drive jobless rates upward throughout the state.” In addition, from June 2008 to June 2009, unemployment rates rose in all counties across the state creating a 6.3 percent jump over the course of a year. Due to this increase, payroll has declined. Could the weakened job market and decrease in pay be a contributing factor for architects and architecture graduates to leave the state to seek employment opportunities in more economically stable environments? Although Michigan’s government does see improvement, it will be a slow and difficult road ahead.

In response, Associate members in Michigan have been working with our regional and local AIA component to help evolve into an organization that provides licensure resources. For us to maintain a steady group of emerging professionals pursuing licensure, we recognize the need to make the process of obtaining licensure more achievable. While we cannot influence our state’s economic situation, it is up to us to encourage our peers towards growing within the profession of architecture. We also need to support them to step beyond the many obstacles, to find the motivation to take the exams and become licensed. To achieve this, we have taken a number of steps at the local and regional components to help.

For example, in 2008, emerging professionals in the AIA Detroit chapter formed an ARE Prep Subcommittee. “Our focus is to provide an array of ARE study resources to chapter members seeking licensure,” says Co-chair Kevin Myshock, AIA. Recently, this group partnered with Lawrence Technological University to provide access to study materials free of charge. With established security policies already in place, they found universities to be ideal locations for housing these study materials. In addition, this group has also hosted a number of seminars, workshops, and roundtables. The graphic workshops cover the graphic vignettes and are conducted by peers who have recently taken and passed that portion of the exam. The lecture seminars cover the multiple choice sections of the ARE and are given by professionals in that field of study who are familiar with the requirements of the ARE exams. And the roundtables allow for a free exchange of test-taking methods. Feedback about the achievements of this subcommittee has been so positive that AIA Michigan has formed a regional committee focused on spreading these concepts throughout all its chapters.

With the actions of the AIA Michigan Government Affairs Committee, the AIA Detroit ARE Prep Subcommittee, and the AIA Michigan ARE Resource Network, AIA Michigan is working hard to evolve our approach to supporting the paths to licensure. Through our actions, we are simultaneously offering the encouragement our emerging professionals need through this period of change. Ultimately, we feel that our level of action and support is starting to benefit the profession of architecture as a whole. Emerging professionals need to know that there is help along the way on the road to becoming a licensed architect.

Associates and licensure-track interns have adapted to a changing environment. Will the profession similarly adapt to engage, sponsor, and mentor them on their journey?

What is your component doing to help interns on the licensure track? Visit the NAC blog and let us know, make suggestions or recommendations!

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Amanda Gorning, Associate AIA, LEED-AP, with Harley Ellis Devereaux in Southfield, Mich., is an active member of her local and regional AIA chapters, serving on the Emerging Professionals Committee and ARE Prep Committee. She is currently seeking her licensure in architecture.

Derek Roberts, Associate AIA, LEED-AP, with the Lord, Aeck + Sargent Architecture Ann Arbor office assisted the AIA Detroit Urban Priorities Committee from 2005-2008, served as 2007 AIA Detroit associate director, and chaired the AIA Detroit Emerging Professionals Committee. He now is the regional associate director on the AIA Michigan Board and is seeking licensure in architecture and certification in planning.