Tuesday, January 07, 2014

How I Know the Architecture Job Market is in the Toilet

The architecture profession has never recovered from the economic crash of 2008.

Despite numerous reports that job prospects are picking up, and the profession might be rebounding, the number seeking design and drafting work is high.  For those starting out in the architecture profession the outlook is dismal.  A recent report on the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce found the unemployment rate to be 14% for architects.  The job outlook is not good, despite numerous blog posts and online articles that suggest strategies for landing that elusive design position.

I will not suggest any strategies or hints for finding employment because they simply will not work.  The work is gone, and there are no jobs to be had.  Even in the better job markets in the U.S., the architect and aspiring architect remains hungry.  Texas grew faster than any other state except for North Dakota, and even down south the jobs are missing.

How do I know this?

I placed a help wanted ad on Craigslist, and watched my inbox fill with impressive resumes.  The ad was vague, yet it would have been answered with my resume for sure.  The non-existent position required an architecture degree, AutoCAD experience, and one to five years of experience.   With ten responses in the first hour, and dozens more over the following days, my eyes opened to the reality of job market.  It sucks.  I will continue with freelance design for the near future, and not compete with project managers with twenty years of experience.

How can I expect a call back when the next applicant has 20x more projects?  Why would someone with such extensive experience apply for a position that only requires five years maximum?  Some applicants had twenty years of experience, some ten, others only eight or six.  The two residential projects I have to my name pale in comparison.

The entry level listing was live for 5 days, and over 30 applicants applied.

  • All had a bachelor degree.
  • All had some experience drafting.
  • One applicant had 30 years of experience, one had 20, another 14, and many had 7, 6 or 4.
  • Most had masters degrees.
  • One had experience as a project manager.
  • One was a licensed architect.
  • One was taking the ARE examinations.
Furthermore, I posted my findings on a popular forum and there were interesting replies.  It seems firms are hiring, but only those candidates that know how architecture is built.  It seems experience is most important.  To quote an insightful reply on the forum:

"I think the eras of firms hiring 30 people for big jobs and then releasing 27 of them after the work is done is over, at least for the most part. This economy is forcing the hand of several "use-to-live-fat" firms into figuring out how to do it with less, for less, and live on smaller profit margins; we certainly are. It's not the same as it was for my firm in 1998. We were a small firm, but for us getting from 12 to 26 people was huge! We had 158 projects on the books in 1998; we were aiming to get to 30 people on staff, which is a big step from moving to small to medium in size. We got to 26, then hit the 2001 market drop. We dropped - down to 8 people by 2008. We didn't lay off 20, people matriculated out - we only laid off 5 people, of which we hired 3 back when we could. We are now leaner and better at 10 people than we were at 26. Those 10 people know all the roles, they are all architects or interns taking their license tests (we don't hire people with Associate's degrees in drafting any longer.) We are all invested, and it's the best time. We are looking to hire the right people, not just bodies to fill chairs. If you are one but not the other, keep looking. 

To be sure, the market is thinning for graduates out of school, it will be tougher for a while, before things loosen up. The product the schools produce will need to change a bit - and that's where better knowledge about construction, about process, rather than JUST design, is imperative. The more you can present yourself as knowing Constructable Architecture, not just designing really awesome Theoretical Architecture - the better off you'll be."

What am I going to do now?

Gaining experience under a licensed architect may be out of the question for the time being, but that may change.  Until then I don't think my business strategies will change much.  I will continue to seek diverse projects and career opportunities, and perhaps even look into a professional certification like building designer.  There are many opportunities in construction, so the experiences so coveted in the architecture and design profession, (like managing budgets, communicating with the client, material and cost estimating, getting documents ready for permitting), could be acquired outside of an office setting.  Designing and building happens all the time, just not necessarily exclusively in an architecture office.

What do you think about the job markets for architects?  Have any thoughts about career opportunities for architects, designers, or drafters?  What do you think about the faux Craigslist ad?  Let me know in the comments.