June 2014

Decades of Change for the A/E Practice: 
Is Professional Development Leading or Following?


This month we address some of the changes, difficulties, nuances, and opportunities related to the design professional's continuing education.  Contributing author Thom Lowther, Ed.S is a Facilitator, Coach and OD Learning Solutions Expert, Owner and Chief Learning Officer of Lowther7, LLC - a Veteran owned consulting firm in Alexandria, Virginia, takes us on a  20 year historic journey of professional development for the A/E/C community. 

Everyone realizes that professional practices have changed drastically in unimaginable ways during the past two decades.  So my questions are:  has professional continuing education development (CPD) kept up?  Is it prominent or reactionary? 

Twenty years ago, when I attended my first American Institute of Architects (AIA) convention the education session that attracted the highest attendance was Presentation Skills by Joanne Linowes.  The remaining top ten sessions were related to "hot" practice topics such as project management and leadership.  The irony, these "hot" topics were submitted one year prior to the convention.  Local chapter executives used committees to identity their programs.  This is better known as the "Who do you know?" approach.  And firms basically relied upon any product manufacturer supplying lunch for their "pitch" in an A/E firm.  This was better know as the "Lunch-N-Learn" approach.

Ten years later (2005), a lot had changed in the practice.  Education had made some significant progress.  The AIA had introduced their Continuing Education System (CES).  The AIA/CES provider program vetted 2700 education providers and their courses.  Health, Safety and/or Welfare (HSW) became the driving force of professional education.  A majority of state licensing boards required the mandatory continuing education (MCE) course relate to HSW of the public.  Tracking MCE became critical to maintaining a professional license.  Sustainability had become the "hot" topic that dominated the top 10 courses of the AIA convention.  Presentation skills, project management, and leadership training courses were still simmering. 

In 2005, most A/E firms still relied upon product manufacturers for their in-house education and they still expected lunch.  A big difference at this point, many firms insisted that the product manufacturers and their courses be AIA/CES approved.  Firms continued to struggle to obtain presentation skills, project management, BIM, and leadership training. 

According to the American Society of Training and Development, technology based learning passed traditional classroom training in new courses offered by the end of 2010.  For the A/E/C industry that meant mostly 1 hour or 1.5 hour webinars.  Today, nearly any type of short introductory topics are available on YouTube for free.  Harvard, MIT, Stanford, etc. are offering college level Massive Open Online Courses for free. 

So where are we after 20 years?  Today most associations are struggling to find their education niche.  Some associations have turned to offering certifications that are usually based upon a core curriculum of study.  The process for selecting convention and conference presentations continues as before.  Some 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 positions that were eliminated during the economic downturn.  They are returning with a more strategic approach - matching education to the firm's goals and staff skill needs.  Some firms are looking at developing their own core curriculum that includes emerging professional, technical skills, project management, client interface skills, advanced presentation skills and leadership development.  Firms now use 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, vendors and consultants to address gaps to meet their strategic goals.  Keeping track of all of this activity has become strategic and complex. 

Let us help you simplify some of the complexities surrounding the management of your professional credentials.  You could automatically receive a personalized monthly electronic report providing you with up-to-date information about your credentials and the requirements necessary to maintain them.  Visit AECredentialing.com for more information. 

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