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Decades of Change for the A/E Practice: Is professional development leading or reacting?

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Everyone realizes that professional practices have changed drastically and in unimaginable ways during the past two decades. So my questions are: has professional continuing development (CPD) kept up? Have the education providers, design associations, and firms acted as leaders or followers in their efforts to shaping education in the design industry?

When I attended my first American Institute of Architects (AIA) convention twenty years ago, I observed that the education session attracting the highest attendance was Presentation Skills by Joanne Linowes. The remaining top ten sessions were related to "€œhot" practice topics such as project management and leadership. The irony of these topics, presenters submitted their proposals one year ahead of the next convention. Local chapter executives overwhelmingly responded that they selected their monthly meeting topics using a committee, better known as the "who do you know?" approach. Firms basically granted any product manufacturer supplying lunch "€œpitch" time. This was commonly referred to as the €œLunch-N-Learn approach. The better the lunch, to more time allowed.

Ten years later (2005) a lot had changed, in the practice and education. The AIA had implemented their Continuing Education System (CES). The AIA/CES provider program vetted 2700 education providers and began monitoring their courses. Health, Safety and/or Welfare (HSW) became the driving force of professional education. A majority of state licensing boards required 8-12 hours of mandatory continuing education (MCE) all related to HSW. Tracking MCE became critical to maintaining a professional license. Sustainability had become the hot topic everywhere, or at least the title of those€“ dominating the top 10 courses at the AIA convention. Presentation skills, project management, and leadership development courses were still simmering, but other practice related courses became more difficult to find.

By 2005, most A/E firms still relied upon product manufacturer for much of their in-house education, and they were still expected lunch. The big difference at this point, many firms insisted that the product manufacturer and their 1 hour courses be AIA/CES approved. Some of the larger firms had even hired training and organization development specialists with experience from professions outside the A/E industry to head their internal programs. Smaller firms would develop an education specialist from among their own staff. Firms still struggled to obtain presentation skills, project management, and leadership training.

Web based learning was making its influence felt by 2005. According to the American Society of Training and Development (recently renamed Association for Talent Management), by the end of 2010 technology based learning passed traditional classroom training in new courses offered. For the A/E/C Design industry that meant mostly 1 hour or 1.5 hour webinars. Today, technology based learning is making everyone evaluate their approach to sharing knowledge and delivering education. Today you can now find nearly any type of free, short introductory topics on YouTube. More traditional education is offered through programs like the Open University that includes schools like Harvard, MIT and Stanford offering free Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC).

So where are we after 20 years? Today most associations are struggling to find their education niche. Some associations have turned to offering certifications but there are legal education concerns and restrictions but these programs are usually based upon a core curriculum of study. The process for selecting convention and conference presentations continues as before. However, many associations include a virtual component or have expanded their webinar series to complement their conference education programming.

Today, firms are beginning to fill the talent management and organization development positions that were eliminated during the economic downturn. They are returning with a more strategic approach, matching internal education to the firm’s goals and staff skill needs. Some firms are looking at developing their own core curriculum that include development of emerging professionals, practice skills training, project management, client facing skills, advanced presentation skills, and leadership development. Firms are using a blend of knowledge sharing technology tools for the introductory and awareness level skills. For their practitioners, they are using a blend of in-house trainers with vendors and consultants to address gaps that meet their strategic goals. And yes, many still rely upon the product manufacturer with registered AIA courses on, and still expect lunch be provided. Keeping track of all this activity has become strategic and complex.

Building a Design Firm'€™s Professional Development Program - Introduction

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For nearly three decades I have been designing and managing organization-wide professional development programs. Early on I figured that to reach high standards I should try to model my programs after some of the best in the business, so I would regularly pull ideas from different industry award program guidelines and applications. The various awards programs use buzz words and phrases like: Excellence; quality and total quality management (TQM); the customer is always right; best practices; and elite programs.

Over the years I have submitted my organizations for professional development awards. I have also served on jury’s, managed continuing education award programs, designed award programs, and trained jurors of award programs. What I discovered is that while the award applications, processes and criteria may be different depending upon who is offering the award, there are still common themes and practices between them.

Using the Baldrige National Quality Award and IACET as models, we created the AIA/CES Award for Excellence for The American Institute of Architects, Continuing Education System. This program was used as a cornerstone for building a national continuing education program that shaped education offered in the design industry. Today, other learning and development award programs such as the ASTD-Awards/Best-Awards and the Chief Learning Officer, CLOmedia Awards are also being used to elevate the practice learning and development.

As part one of an eight part blog series I have assembled common themes from these and other prestigious organizational award programs. Not all of the awards programs are specific to learning and development but they do reflect similar core values. Since award applications, structures and terminology differ greatly I have taken this opportunity to organize the core values that we found and used to create the AIA/CES Award for Excellence. The core values listed below are generic and can apply to many professions and industries.

Common core values that address the following:
* Commitment and support €”examines the firm'€™s educational commitment and support.
* Planning and analysis €”examines the firm’s structure for analyzing the educational needs and professional development of the professional.
* Design and implementation €”examines the program(s) goal setting, learning objectives, design, and delivery methods.
* Resources and records €”examine human resources and the record-keeping process.
* Evaluation and improvement €”examines evaluation and improvement process of the education activities.
The assessment guidelines that you can view in the remaining seven installments of this blog are intended to assist those individuals who are responsible for establishing and operating an Architectural/Engineering Design Firms’ professional education department. The recommendations are organized in a manner that should be used as general guidelines to establish, organize, and manage the organizational structure of the firm. This assessment tool is not intended for the design or development of any individual course, certification, skills or professional program.

Building a Design Firm'€™s Professional Development Program - Strategy

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I have been designing and managing organization-wide professional development programs for years. Early on I figured that to reach high standards I should try to model my programs after some of the best in the business, so I would regularly pull ideas from different industry award program guidelines and applications. The various awards programs used buzz words and phrases like: Excellence; quality and total quality management (TQM); the customer is always right; best practices; and elite programs.

In part two of this eight part series I have assembled requirements from several prestigious organizational award programs that appear with consistency. The self-assessment guidelines presented in this piece are intended to assist those individuals who are responsible for establishing and operating an Architectural/Engineering Design and Consulting Firms’ professional education department. The recommendations provided are organized in a manner that should be used as general guidelines to establish, organize, and manage the organizational structure of the firm. This assessment tool is not intended for the design or development of any individual course, certification, skill or professional program.

KEY 1: Strategy:

Overall, work to gain a commitment at all levels of the firm. Building a successful program needs senior level support. It needs senior management’s involvement in creating and sustaining the firm’s educational direction, performance, and focus. And it should include the development of a strategic process that ties education into the overall business plan of the firm.

Key 1 examines senior management’s involvement in creating and sustaining the firm’s educational strategy, commitment, and support. This section provides recommendations for long-term education and professional development planning and program development.

Leadership Involvement
1. CEO/executive team leaders set direction and seek future educational opportunities.
2. Leadership set performance expectations and metrics.
3. Leadership reviews the education program's overall performance.
4. Leadership takes into account the educational needs and expectations of all key personnel.

The Firm'€™s Strategic Education Plan:
5. Describes how the firm’s professional development strategy aligns with the firm’s business strategy and objectives.
6. Uses key performance indicators to measure the effectiveness of the learning strategy. (Ex: forecasts, models, projections, etc.)
7. Outlines educational expectations, including options to seek new educational opportunities and/or prepare for new requirements.
8. Explains the process for analyzing the cost benefit of education investment for the firm.
9. Clarifies the firm’s approach to coordinating knowledge sharing efforts with the delivery of education.

Sources:
Using the Baldrige National Quality Award and IACET as models, a special task force created the AIA/CES Award for Excellence for The American Institute of Architects, Continuing Education System. This program was used as a cornerstone for building a national continuing education program that shaped education offered in the design industry. Today, other learning and development award programs such as the ASTD-Awards/Best-Awards and the Chief Learning Officer, CLOmedia Awards are also being used to elevate the practice of learning and development.

Building a Design Firm'€™s Professional Development Program - Need Assessment and Analysis

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Successful professional development programs require a system for identifying and analyzing educational needs that relate a firm's overall strategic plan. It is important to assess the learners' educational and professional development needs both short-term and long term.

In part three of this eight part series I have assembled requirements from several prestigious organizational award programs that appear with consistency. The self-assessment guidelines presented in this piece are intended to assist those individuals who are responsible for establishing and operating an Architectural/Engineering Design and Consulting Firms'€™ professional education department. The recommendations provided are organized in a manner that should be used as general guidelines to establish, organize, and manage the organizational structure of the firm. This assessment tool is not intended for the design or development of any individual course, certification, skill or professional program.

KEY 2: Need Assessment and Analysis
Here we examine the firm’s structure for gathering appropriate data and analyzing the firm’s educational needs and the staff member’s professional development. This section provides recommendations for how the firm configurations short and long - term education needs and professional development planning using multiple need assessment approaches.

The selection of information and data collection is critical to building a strong program foundation. How well does your firm match up?
1. There is an established process I place to determine what program evaluation information should be collected.
2. At least 3 different tools are used to collect supporting data to determine learning needs.
3. A review process is in place to determine appropriateness of educational information and activity content.
4. Staff members of the targeted profession (architect, engineer, interior designer, landscape architect, graphic designer, IT support, etc.) are included in the assessment process to determine learning needs of the audience.
5. There is an established process to determine what data will be shared and how it will be reported.

Regarding Data Analysis:
6. There is an established process to determine what program evaluation information should be reviewed and maintained.
7. There is an established process to determine who should review the data.
8. There is an established process for determining how comparative data will be used to measure performance.
9. Annually, the firm shares action(s) taken by the Learning and Development team that impacted the firm, based on business performance results.

Sources:
Using the Baldrige National Quality Award and IACET as models, a special task force created the AIA/CES Award for Excellence for The American Institute of Architects, Continuing Education System. This program was used as a cornerstone for building a national continuing education program that shaped education offered in the Architecture, Engineering, and Construction (A/E/C) industry. Today, other learning and development award programs such as the ASTD-Awards/Best-Awards and the Chief Learning Officer, CLOmedia Awards are also being used to elevate the practice of learning and development.

Building a Design Firm'€™s Professional Development Program – Planning and Performance Projection

Photo of staff reviewing graphs

Planning and performance projection is the critical third step to building a successful professional development program. This step should be based upon the results your needs assessments and analysis. At this point you develop measurable short and long-term educational goal with performance projections of key education results that tie into the overall business strategy. If you have not already done so at this point, be sure to develop a realistic budget that supports your project.

Continuing in part four of this eight part series I have assembled requirements from several prestigious organizational award programs that appear with consistency. The self-assessment presented in this piece are intended to assist those individuals who are responsible for shaping and managing the organizational structure of an Architectural/Engineering Design and Consulting Firms'€™ professional education department. This assessment tool is not intended for the design or development of any individual course, certification, skill, or professional program.

KEY 3: Planning and Performance Projection

Here we examine the firm'€™s planning, support and performance projections. This section examines how the firm identifies, develops, and supports program designers and faculty. Key 3 also takes into consideration how the firm effectively collects and reports information about activities and participants.

Planning Process
1. There is an established organizational planning process leading to the implementation of learning solutions and educational programs. As appropriate this process includes on-the-job support where and when your L&D customers need it.
2. There is a process that addresses how technology supports the learning evaluated, improved, and kept current with changing business needs.
3. There is a process involving how to use key information in the determination of learning objectives for learning and knowledge sharing activities.
4. There is a short-term planning process leading to necessary adjustments of educational programming, staffing, and delivery.

Human Resources
5. There is a process to identify and involve key personnel in roles of program designers, developers, instructors and facilitators, and evaluators.
6. There is a process to train and support key personnel to serve as program designers, developers, instructors and facilitators, and evaluators.
7. There is an established process that ensures all appropriate staff is kept current of all requirements, regulations, and laws related to course content.

Performance Projection
8. There are identified metrics used to assess the effectiveness of your learning solutions that are updated annually.
9. There are short and long-term projections related to desired key education results.
10. There are short and long-term projections related to performance and/or benchmark data that can track improvement.
11. At least some of the short and long-term projections for the education program reflect measurable goals.

Program Tracking & Maintenance
12. Detailed summaries of all revenue and expenses related to the overall program are maintained and evaluated on a scheduled basis.
13. There is a process that ensures that program standards are maintained when partnering with other organizations.
14. There is a process for compensating and recognizing individuals and groups who help reach the education objectives and for those whose performance improves.
15. A process for tracking and reviewing the education program marketing results - internal and external.
16. There is a process for tracking, reviewing, and improving the program content and offering new educational activities.
17. A process is in place for recording and filing required designations for activities, such as Health, Safety and Welfare (HSW), LEED, ISO, ANSI, Mandatory Continuing Education (MCE), PDH, state license etc.

Sources:
Using the Baldrige National Quality Award and IACET as models, a special task force created the AIA/CES Award for Excellence for The American Institute of Architects, Continuing Education System. This program was used as a cornerstone for building a national continuing education program that shaped education offered in the Architecture, Engineering, and Construction (A/E/C) industry. Today, other learning and development award programs such as the ASTD-Awards/Best-Awards and the Chief Learning Officer, CLOmedia Awards are also being used to elevate the practice learning and development.

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