State of the Profession

by Justin Ribble

The story is becoming all too common these days. A few more are being let go this month because there’s no work to keep them busy. Talented and career-minded people. Friends and colleagues, mothers and fathers. The economy doesn’t care about the various affiliations behind your name on a business card. The economy doesn’t care if you have a mortgage to pay or a family of mouths to feed.

My neck on the proverbial chopping block.

You see, up until about a month ago, I considered myself one of the lucky ones. I was working in an office that had yet to be touched by the big, bad economy monster. I wasn’t blind though, I could see what was happening out there and when the lay-offs started hitting closer to home, it wasn’t all that much of a surprise really. Every time another friend was let go, I counted my lucky stars that I still had a job to return to. None of this should be news to any of you.

Then it finally happened and it was my neck on the proverbial chopping block. My turn to step up and take one for the team. What I’ve witnessed in the time since then, has honestly and truly scared me beyond all belief.

After the initial numbness wore off, I made a trip to the local AIA chapter office to update my contact information. I chatted with the helpful woman at the front desk and that’s when she said something to me that still shakes me to the core. “Just be sure to stay in the industry, we’d hate to lose you.” The way it was said, as if she’s seen an army of traitor architects abandon ship and head off for parts unknown. The thought of leaving this profession had never crossed my mind until she said those words. I mean, there was that one time in college but isn’t that something we all went through back then? My point is, is that for the last 10+ years, architecture is all I’ve ever wanted to do. In all honesty, I knew I wanted to be a part of this industry since my childhood. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. “Just be sure to stay in the industry,” she said. I laughed it off and tried to think nothing of it.

Fast forward a few weeks and I’m starting to realize just what she was talking about. Between ARE study sessions I’ve been looking for work here and there, cold-calling some offices and replying to job postings that I’m only slightly qualified for. When I can’t sleep at night I pull out my laptop and hunt the state job boards until the early hours of the morning. Long story short, it’s pretty barren out there. But none of this should be news to you.

At times, when I’m tired of having my nose buried in a Kaplan book, and too frustrated scanning a job board that I know isn’t going to look any different than it did yesterday, I get to thinking…What other “professions” are like ours? How many out-of-work doctors or lawyers do you know right now? Maybe that’s a bad example and I’m far from an expert on the subject, but I can’t imagine those very same individuals even considering leaving all of their schooling and hard-work behind.

What really gets me though, is that very little of this is happening because there’s a bunch of bad architects out there doing shoddy work. I don’t want to venture too far out into the politics of this thing, but no matter which way you look at the economic downturn, none of this is our fault. Our profession is at the mercy of the economy and there’s little we can do to protect ourselves from getting gobbled up. Remember the horror stories from all the old-timers in your office, when they talked of the profession in the 80’s and 90’s? Um, hello!!! History is repeating itself and by the looks of it, there’s very little we as professionals have learned from the past.

Who is the steward for our profession?

This brings me to my final thought. Just who is the steward for our profession? Who is out there looking out for us, protecting us, lending a hand when we need it the most? We don’t have a union that can help elect public officials and apply pressure where needed to further our cause. We don’t have anyone marching on Capitol Mall with signs demanding change. All we have is an ever-growing group of unemployed workers who are having to be reminded, “Just be sure to stay in the industry.”

(Stay tuned to for further editorials on this and other subjects of interest. Do you have some thoughts to share? Please leave a comment below!)

About the Author

Justin Ribble