applying gentle pressure

A new rolling clock on the ARE should give people like Ames the nudge. NCARB's five-year deadline, which takes effect nationally next January, will require people to pass all nine divisions within five years of the date they took the first exam. Beyond that period, the division that was taken first drops off and needs to be redone. Lucey says NCARB adopted the new standard to ensure that the exam keeps pace with changes in practice.

Many firms coax interns along by making sure they get the right IDP credits, but it's up to the individuals to follow through. SALA's biggest incentive is that its associate positions, which allow employees to own their clients and designs, are open only to registered architects. Mulfinger says some people achieve an associateship, and the pay raise that goes with it, shortly after registration. In that aspect, residential firms have a motivational edge over commercial firms, which won't turn over a multimillion-dollar project to an architect with only a couple of years' experience.

At BCJ, the title of project manager is reserved for licensed architects. Haden says there's some liability associated with having non-registered people doing the construction observation—a job BCJ requires of its project managers. “We've had claims where the fact that a project manager was not registered caused a decision to go against us because there was a perception that the person's actions were beyond his experience,” he says.

Because of that policy, the toughest part of the IDP for interns to fulfill is the construction phase. As a substitute for direct field experience, the firm gets interns involved in shop drawing reviews and organizes field trips to nearby construction sites. There, experienced architects explain what's going on and what site issues require special vigilance.

While there's no forced march that leads interns to registration, BCJ tries to make it as easy as possible. The library in each of its offices is stocked with study materials, and architects get reimbursed for exam costs once they've passed all the parts. Interns are also encouraged to work together and get test-taking tips from newly minted architects. Haden recalls a group of about 10 interns who stuck together and passed the exam in less than two years. Occasionally, BCJ intervenes to push a strong architect over the bump. A fellow in the Berkeley office was so busy with overseas work that the firm had to change his assignments just so he could get licensing behind him. “They start feeling frustrated because we can't move them up to the next notch based on their experience,” Haden says. “They know it's within their control to change it. That's how we keep the pressure on.”

Some firms go so far as to make the IDP an integral part of their employment package. When interns at InVision Architecture, Sioux City, Iowa, fill out W-4 and insurance forms, they also sign up to receive an NCARB spreadsheet for recording IDP hours. The commitment extends to the principals, who make sure new grads get broad exposure to the profession. “There isn't an expectation that they're instantly on production,” says principal Dale McKinney, AIA, whose firm won a 2004 IDP Outstanding Firm Award from the American Institute of Architects. Young recruits accompany veteran architects to client meetings and construction sites. With three other offices in Omaha, Des Moines, and Waterloo, Iowa. InVision's single-family and multifamily projects are all over the revenue map, and interns are expected to develop client relationships on the smaller projects. “If I'm not in the office, they're there to take the phone calls,” McKinney says. “They don't make decisions, but they hear the questions and tell me how they'd resolve them. They understand that the answers must come back as quickly as possible.”

A year or so ago, that culture of support inspired an intern at the Sioux City office to invent an efficient way to knock off hard-to-get IDP credits. She and four women in three other local architectural offices banded together to bone up on elusive topics such as site development, zoning issues, and writing contracts. Using an NCARB supplemental education guide for research, they rotated lunchtime and evening presentations to interns among two of the offices. McKinney says the five women developed the idea as a group and then pitched the concept to a principal in each firm. “At least two firms felt comfortable allowing those interns into their office after hours without concern for stealing trade secrets,” he says. “It's possible to do this between competing offices in the same community to better the individual and the profession.”

Even small firms have devised ways to rally around rookie architects. Located across the street from North Dakota State University in Fargo, N.D., Stahl Architects—a 2005 IDP Outstanding Firm Award winner—hires students to help them get a jump on credits. Principal Phil Stahl, AIA, says his employees—all five of them interns—are involved in every aspect of projects, which range from remodels and custom homes to a $5 million church. He tends to hire ambitious people who have their eye on a startup and a knack for the nuts and bolts of practice. Newly licensed employees receive a 10 percent raise and three weeks of vacation.

Stahl is following the example of two former bosses who consistently doled out a little more responsibility than he thought he could handle. One employer was a state IDP coordinator who paid the interns' way to industry events. With his life goals firmly in line, Stahl finished school in 1994, earned a license in 1998, and hung out his shingle in 2000. He says internship was no piece of cake, and he's sensitive to the plight of his own employees. “You're really thrown to the wolves unless your employer has a certain care for interns,” he says.

crystal ball

Some people know what they want early in life and never deviate from the script they've written for themselves. But it's likely that more people improvise over the course of a career. Going solo was an event that the 40-year-old designer who remains unregistered didn't foresee some 20 years ago. He says he's always been wired to be part of a firm. But now he's had a change of heart and wants a new challenge. Does a license matter? For him, it does and it doesn't. He's collaborating on projects, just as he would at a large firm, while maintaining control over every aesthetic decision from the big idea to the details. What he's doing is safe and legal. “For the way I work, registration is not important for the right reasons,” he says. However, he adds, it will always remain unfinished business.

Cheryl Weber is a contributing writer in Severna Park, Md.