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.