A/E Firm

Architecture and Engineering firm. Often includes interior designers and in larger firms, landscape architects.

Emerging Blend of Degrees, Certification, and Professional Development: Impact on A/E/C/ firms

Continuing Professional Development Conference

Today many A/E/C/ firms have established professional development programs. These were created to address the continuing professional development (CPD) of their staff, certification programs and state licensure Mandatory Continuing Education (MCE) requirements. A few progressive firms extend their programs to their clients and peers through cooperative programs with associations and universities.

For decades there were only a few firms that encouraged professional development or had organized mentoring programs for their staff, but those firms were the exception and not the rule. In 1995 the American Institute of Architects (AIA) implemented MCE requirements of their members. Within ten years most state licensing boards began requiring MCE for licensure for registered architects, engineers, interior designers, and landscape architects. The number of industry related certification programs, such as those offered by AWI,IFMA,ICBO,NFSA,NKBA,and LEED also expanded during this period. Professional development began to take on a new importance.

What was lacking during the 1990’s, role models of how the A/E/C firms should adjust to the changing CPD environment? No longer is that the situation for A/E firms. One solution from 1997 - 2008 – the AIA Continuing Education System (CES) Award for Excellence program The AIA/CES award program not only recognized firms for their commitment to internal CPD, the award program also provided a roadmap for all firms to achieve professional development success. The AIA/CES award program was a blend of the Malcolm Baldrige award and education standards established by International Association for Continuing Education ( IACET). The AIA/CES award criteria involved a detailed review of the firm’s education strategy, planning and analysis, design, implementation, delivery, evaluation and the improvement process of their professional development programs.

At first only large firms had the resources to build these types of programs. Large firm award winners included NBBJ; HOK; FreemanWhite; Rosser International; Gresham, Smith and Partners; Einhorn Yaffee Prescott; Mithun; Cannon Design; and Lord Aeck & Sargent. During the last several years of the award some mid-sized firms such as Rogers Krajnak Architects, Inc and Marshall Craft Associates, Inc. also met the standards and won the award. Turner Construction was the first to achieve the honors for creation of their online education efforts following the standards of the International Learning Unit (ILU).

Now added into the mix are a few online certificate or certification programs such as those found on UGotClass that are developed by associations, colleges and A/E firms. Don’t forget the free online management courses from leading universities such as Stanford, Yale, MIT, Harvard, Berkeley and other colleges. While the Boston Architectural College offers an online Sustainable Design degree, RedVector delivers sustainable design courses created by University of Tennessee faculty for professional in the A/E/C industry. What’s coming? Look for A/E firms to offer online professional practice education using their own adjunct college faculty’s to reach out their clients globally, 24/7.

The Emerging Blend of the Degree, the Certification, and Professional Development: The overview

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We often hear that change is constant. In yesterday’s issue of the Washington Post was an article on education, “An alternative to high-cost college?" A major focus of the article was about how start-up companies are providing free or low priced programs are designed to compete against the expense of a college degree program. This article is yet another statement about the current assault on the expense of obtaining a degree in higher education and the perceived value of that degree. While the Post article focused mainly on higher education, this is just the tip of the transition. There is a related larger issue that needs our attention, the emerging blend of college degrees, certificate and certification programs, and continuing professional development.

In their book, Nine Shift that was published in 2004, the authors William Draves and Julie Coates introduced to us the changes that were beginning to occur in our society because of the acceptance and use of the internet. They described changes that were just beginning to occur in our approach to work, in our life styles, and in our approach to education. As the Washington Post article describes the situation, we are now well into the middle of the transition described in Nine Shift. So, where are we now? What'€™s the current landscape?

Related to formal education MIT, Harvard and others have used the internet to design a new education landscape. The Washington Post article sited MITalong with other universities as pioneers for offering open courseware. To date there are more than 15,000 online open courses provided by more than 250 institutions. Suddenly, what had been the exclusive domain of courses for the purpose of receiving college degrees become part of anyone'€™s opportunity for continuing professional development (CPD). In their association'€™s official publication, Training + Development, the American Society of Training and Development (ASTD) indicated that in 2010 more new online courses were being developed by companies than traditional classroom courses. Online companies such as Ron Blank, RedVector, AECDaily, Saylor.com, P2PU are using college faculty to develop and on offer online CPD. And don'€™t forget McDonald'€™s Hamburger University or the Disney Institute.

Throw into the mix a few online certificate or certification programs offered by associations, community colleges and technical schools. Suddenly the lines between degrees, certifications, and professional development begin to blur. You now have a real conundrum. How do you sort through what I refer to the "€œterrible T's" - Turf, Trust and Tradition. Who is supposed to offer what to whom? Who can you trust? And, who are these people – have they ever offered education before?

So, what’s next? What can we expect? In the upcoming series of the “emerging blend of college degrees, certificate and certification programs, and continuing professional development” we will offer papers specific to the impact on higher education, associations, firms, product manufacturers and the workforce.

Virtual Curriculum: A program design solution for A/E/C firms.

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The responses were interesting and varied when last month I submit this series of questions to more than a dozen online professional discussion groups.

“Does anyone have an example of a virtual curriculum based upon an individual’s subject matter interest rather than group subjects or topics? Is success measured based upon the participant’s mastery of the subject or some type of norm scores? Are the results tied to work performance, pay, or certification?

Quickly, a definition of “virtual” needed to be established. It was generally agreed in most of the discussion groups that “virtual” meant “online.” Bill Brunk, Ph.D asked the question on the CLO Magazine discussion group, “ I wonder if you might not be confusing two concept here: self-directed learning and virtual (online) learning.” Dr. Brunk brought up a good point and I thought we were beginning to address the question but the largest number of immediate responses came from consultants and schools who obviously were trying to market their online courses. If they bothered to look, I too offer online classes on my website– but that did not really address the questions.

To clarify I stated that I wanted to explore the curriculum definition that relates to a set of courses constituting an area of specialization, where curriculum is built around the individual’s interest rather than the institutions offerings. I was looking for more than simply saying we (the association/consultant/university) give online degrees or provide certification in...(fill in the blank).

From the TED discussion group Donald R. (Chip) Levy, a former Senior Director of Professional Development at the AIA responded with, “In common practice, many think of a curriculum as a generally linear, organized learning path to some goal (degree, certification, specialist credential, etc.). For me, the interesting twist has less to do with getting one's ticket punched at the end of a process, and more to do with building a thoughtful, if idiosyncratic, learning program that continually moves each learner toward evolving performance excellence and (career) success. The resources can be from a variety of sources, focused on a variety of KSAs, employing a variety of delivery channels and media, and uniquely aggregated for each person. It is an ongoing, evolutionary prospect -- a "lifelong curriculum" that guides "lifelong learning" as we progress through our careers.”

In conclusion, I believe that technology allows us to expand our learning options in a format where we can pick the one that works best for us. If I take courses at my own discretion I would be reluctant to call that a curriculum. In order for the learning to become a curriculum I would suggest that the process follows a guided path, such as one outlined by a negotiated contract. I would advocate however that the curriculum options are greatly expanded when the learning process is not limited or restricted to just the courses offered by the school, the association or a business. The instructor or consultant thus becomes a learning adviser - guiding the learner toward agreed upon learning goals.

Evaluation and Improvement – The 7th key to quality continuing education for product manufacturers

For the product manufacturer the 7th key towards providing quality continuing education is to evaluate each course upon completion and use the results to continually improve the course. Michael D. Perry, Hon. AIA,is the Vice President Government Sales and STAMP and is currently with Simon Roofing/SR Products. Michael has been a long time advocate of holding the product manufacturer accountable to the highest standards of developing and providing continuing professional education to design professionals. In an effort to improve continuing education quality standards for the design industry Michael was the first to support the AIA Continuing Education System Award for Excellence. He was also responsible for launching the AIA/CES Firm Symposium which assisted firm leaders in the establishment of industry standards for internal professional development programs that relied heavily on support from product manufactures. According to Michael, “professional development and continuing education is all about constant improvement. The only way to measure the impact of the message you are delivering is to conduct an evaluation at the end of a program. This process is essential not only for the content of your message but also for the quality of the presentation. Without good feedback from the course attendees you will never know if the information is beneficial and if your methodology of delivering the information is leaving the audience at the altar.”

David deBear, CTC, CSI, is the National Construction Service Manager and works for Custom Building Products a product manufacturer and a long time registered continuing education provider. Under David’s leadership Custom Building Products was a multi – time winner of the AIA/CES Award for Excellence. When I recently asked David to reflect back on contributing factors to winning the award he share this story with me related to what he called a more technical related course. David stated that he received one evaluation where the participant thought the topic was relevant but that the course was confusing. David indicated that the course had been receiving mixed reviews and not consistently delivering the intended message. This one evaluation was more critical and more specific. In summary the participant stated that they could not follow the story the topic was covering and that it was confusing. With the specifics provided by this particular participant as well as comparing statements from previous evaluations, David realized that the company needed to bring in a curriculum specialist to restructure the story line. The curriculum specialist reorganized the content and to follow the story line so that it was not confusing. The curriculum specialist added a summary of key points so regardless of the knowledge level of the participant, information was received. David said that after the adjustment, participant satisfaction with the course increased dramatically.
A Product manufacturer that offers continuing education in any industry needs to build a system that continually evaluates all of their courses. Catch the evaluations immediately on-site, do not rely on the internet for feedback for on-site courses. Focus on items such as content, instructor delivery and methodology. Use the information you collect to continually improve your program and courses and to build upon your reputation as a product manufacturer that offers reliable quality education.

Evaluation and Improvement – The firm’s 7th key to quality continuing professional education

The question that I like to raise, "what does your firm do with the information collected after having employees evaluate each course upon completion?" Does your firm require course evaluations from each participant before certificates or credit is awarded? Does your firm use a competency based learning approach that ties into performance and bonus pay? Does your firm use a systematic approach to annual or semi-annual review of the overall education program? Does your firm integrate the results of the evaluations into the firm’s business plans? In order to establish a quality education professional education program you should have answered either “yes,” or answered, “We are working on all of these questions.”

It is amazing that firms spent time and effort to provide some type of an evaluation form for their employees and clients at the end of a training session and then do not use the results for improvement of the either the courses, instructors, staff performance, or business improvement. The opportunities for improvement within the firm are great. The collected information can be used to improve future course offerings, content, instructors, and delivery methods. Forward thinking firms can use the results to improve their firm’s product or services. They can also improve their firm’s marketing and promotion by having clients participate in select sessions.

Your firm could build a system that continually evaluates all of the courses and the employees upon completion of the courses. Curriculum could be developed from the results of the evaluations. Faculty or instructors could be developed from a selection process involving high performing employees. Performance improvement could be measured, evaluated and adjusted according to the business needs of the firm. Internal instructors, staff and human resources/training department staff could receive instantaneous feedback on what needs to improve, and maybe even how to improve. Use the information you collect to continually improve your continuing professional education courses and your business. Who knows, it might even help in the firm’s recruitment efforts when emerging professionals discover that the firm is serious about professional development.

Placement By Design

"PLACEMENT BY DESIGN, Inc. is an A/E/C Design Industry-focused career placement and consulting services firm, specializing in the placement of technical and non-technical A/E/C industry professionals. Our mission is to join design firms and design professionals together - resulting in quality placement services for satisfied employers and employees.

SERVICES:

The 6th Key for a Firm: Implementation and delivery of professional education

For most firms the big question is how committed is the firm toward promoting continuing education for their employees? Assuming that the leadership of the firm is committed to the professional growth of their employees then assessment of employees and firm needs, analysis of the data, and setting measurable objectives are the basics to insuring that implementation of the best process will succeed.

There is no shortage of eager education providers and consultants available, firms should have little difficulty matching education to needs. Many firms that have successful internal professional education programs start by forming and education committee that handles the administration functions of need assessment, selection, implementation, delivery format and other administrative type functions. Generally a staff member is volunteered to handle the facilitation of these duties. As a rule of thumb, if the firm has more than 50 employees the position could be half time with pay or shift of billable hour responsibility. When the firm reaches 100 employees it is time to consider committing to a full time staff person to coordinate the responsibilities of education.

What use to be predominantly a choice between sending staff somewhere externally for training or allowing vendors and consultants to come into the firm has radically changed these last 5-10 years. The use of the internet changed everything and has opened up many new possibilities for adding new delivery formats of education to the firm’s staff. Surprisingly, a hot issue now is what policies are needed to “control” the use of the internet by employees. While cost is the excuse often given for not using new technologies, control of employee’s use of time is more often the concern. Some firms have embraced the new technology and invest in expensive LMS tools. However, there are many solutions available today that are inexpensive that firms could use for implementation and delivery of planned employee education. Other firms withdraw from the technology tools completely and block access to social media tools such as Facebook and limit delivery format types like flash. The education committee needs to match the firm’s strategic plan, with employee needs, and delivery formats. There are so many options available that a blended approach should be seriously considered. Internal technology policies should be realistic and open to considering what are the firm’s education needs. You can either educate your staff or spend time recruiting and training replacements. Identify a qualified staff member and provide the direction and support necessary to maximize on the opportunities. There are now four generations in the workplace. They don’t all learn the same way. Be flexible!

A Key 5 ROI: Unifying Marketing and Promotion thru Social Media

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Last February one of our staff, Jacob Robinson convinced me and several others that we should join him and several marketing and sales folks from FedEx Services for dinner at a local Georgetown restaurant. As it turned out, not only was it a great dinner but perhaps one of the more significant business learning experiences that I have been exposed to in a long time. The social conversation turned from advertisements during the Super Bowl to exposure to the type of information and education that many senior executives would pay handsome sums to experience. Our host for the evening was William Margaritis, Senior VP Global Communication & Investor Relations, FedEx. FedEx has been regularly ranked in the top 10 on the FORTUNE magazine “World’s Most Admired Companies” and “Best Places to Work.” Under his leadership, the FedEx communications program has been recognized as “best-of class” in the discipline of reputation management.

Blog contribution by Jacob Robinson, Curriculum Development Manager at the Green Education Foundation.

Social media has become a buzz term that we hear talked about in our offices and see written about in news and blogs nearly every day for the past couple of years. “How to Maximize Social Media in Your Firm” or association or something similar is a common title for blogs and articles that seek to provide strategies on embracing social media in a holistic and meaningful way. Yes, social media is in. It’s hip. Everyone is talking about it and everyone is doing it. In other words, “If you’re not there; you’re noticeably absent,” as a 2010 study by FedEx Corporation stated. Companies and organizations everywhere on the planet are participating in social media in one way or another, with many continually increasing their annual budgets for such programs in both external and internal communications.

However, be wary of the rewarding temptation to only use social media as a promotional tool; while you may see an ROI of views, retweets, and hits, this limiting output could put your company at risk of relying too much on brand. As companies like FedEx and Southwest Airlines are successfully showing best results come from fully integrating social media into your promotions and your marketing business plan. Even for smaller organizations, it is paramount to understand that social media is a two-way street, whether B2C or B2B, your level of engagement (including follow-ups to posts and tweets) is a key factor to successful implementation. With social media, you have at your hands a powerful set of tools to show the world the culture of your business, not just what products and services your business provides, but who you are as an organization. Through these means, you can effectively promote your education program and build brand reputation leading to customer loyalty and business strength.

I want to end by first thanking Mr. Margaritis for a wonderful evening, both entertaining and educational. You have an excellent sales and marketing staff in the DC area. And next, I would like to thank Jacob Robinson for writing this blog and convincing me that the business dinner would be much more valuable than just food and wine. Best of luck Jacob on your new position!

The Fifth Key for Firms to Successful Education Courses: Marketing and Promotion.

The Fifth Key for Firms to Successful Education Courses: Marketing and Promotion.
The emphasis for most firms is internal professional development of their own staff. Those firms that think strategically will include key clients when it is appropriate to share knowledge and information on common critical elements of a project during their training sessions. Even though most training is internal for firms I still want to highlight the fact that there are two actions that need attention as the firm builds their education programs, marketing and promotion.

Be sure that your firm’s education strategic plan is integrated into the business marketing plan. As part of the strategic development process, include a targeted needs assessment of not only your staff but one that includes the education needs of your clients as well. For your firm to be most effective your staff will need to be aware of the knowledge level of your clients related to the projects you are working on together. Do your clients need to have your staff teach them through each step of the project or merely inform them of your progress as you work through the scope of work? If you find that your staff consistently needs to train your clients then you need to be sure that your staff is knowledgeable about the subject and know how to train your client. How does this become a part of the firm’s marketing plan? Your trained staff becomes a selling point.

During the past several years, in large part due to the economy most firms have had to alter their approach to offering internal education to their staff. Most firms cut back on staff support, others released their education staff, and still other firms cut out the budget for education entirely. According to Jill Faulkenberry, PHR, Director of Human Resources at the architecture firm FreemanWhite, Inc., firms have had to reduce their education efforts and become smarter about how they offer professional development. I asked Jill, with four offices, Charlotte, NC, San Diego, CA, Nashville, TN, and Leeds, UK how do you communicate what, when, where, how and why staff should take internal classes. Jill stated that even with an award winning sophisticated intranet system FreemanWhite relies on the basics. Jill says the firm uses staff meetings to promote important upcoming training; those the firm leadership believes support the mission and/or culture. The most widely used promotion method is email and the notice taped next to the coffee machine. For the FreemanWhite Academy – a structured program that is integrated into the employee’s performance appraisal and promotions, the classes are promoted on the FreemanWhite internal website and internal newsletter. Jill stresses, “keep the promotion timely, accurate and simple.”

As the Director of the FreemanWhite Academy Jill realized that sometimes it is better to let others provide support and assistance. Thinking strategically FreemanWhite wanted to share some of their in-house developed courses with the rest of the design and construction industry. To achieve this goal FreemanWhite Academy partnered with AEC Daily to market and promote some of their online classes.

What Content?€- The missing fourth key for product manufacturers.

The missing fourth key to unlocking the secrets of a quality education program for the product manufacturers and service providers includes external assistance. Product manufacturers can be effective in the developing a systematic approach that will identify the appropriate subject matter content and support a consistent work flow process. Product manufacturers are rarely effective in the design and development of the actual course that they offer. If a product manufacturer was to ask, €œWhat do I want the participant of this education program to be able to do upon completion of this class? The answer would be? If your first thought was to either buy or use our product you would be among the vast majority.

I have reviewed thousands of product manufacturer course evaluations. I have listened to hundreds of professionals talk about manufacturer'€™s courses. And I have sat in on hundreds of these courses myself over a period of more than 20 years. I have just one piece of advice for the product manufacturers who are thinking of develop these courses, get out side professional help.

What the product manufacturer often does have is a reliable source of new content and potential material that could be used to offer a steady new supply of continuing education courses offerings. Instead they often teach the same one, two or three courses over and over. There are a multitude of education formats and delivery models from which a product manufacturer can choose. Unfortunately they are so often locked into the mainstream sales and marketing approach that requires they stand in front of their customer. While this may still be the most effective for them the rest of the world is moving on without them. And then you must ask: "Where are the learning objectives?" Remember that we are talking about education courses and they are not supposed to be direct sales pitches.

Over the years I have seen many very good product manufacturer courses. CertainTeed offers some excellent examples. They were ever a multiple winner of the AIA/CES Award for Education Excellence. And as you can guess, they used education consultants to assist in the development and design of their courses. I only ask of most product manufacturers, please do not try to do development and design education courses on your own.

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