Ummmm, What is He Thinking? AIA chief economist Kermit Baker suggests that architects should do what they do best—design—and hire paraprofessionals to do the rest.

This month’s Architect Magazine has an article about using design “paraprofessionals,” written by the AIA’s chief economist, Kermit Baker. 

“AIA chief economist Kermit Baker suggests that architects should do what they do best—design—and hire paraprofessionals to do the rest. Try it. Your profitability might just skyrocket.”

I think Mr. Baker is misguided, or misunderstands how our profession works.  Here’s my response, which I posted on the website.

“In this scenario utilizing paraprofessionals in architecture firms, who would train the interns?  What would they learn?

“Since interns who want to become licensed someday have to work under the direct supervision of licensed architects, what would they be learning if the licensed architects aren’t doing anything technical?

“The best way to learn how a technical detail is supposed to look is to draw that detail from scratch.  If interns never learn that, we would be very, very poorly training the future leaders of the firms.  What we are licensed to do is to design safe and sound buildings.  We are not licensed to just design whatever we want. A good start to designing safe and sound buildings is to understand building technology.  We are not training architecture students in building technology in architecture school, and if we stop training interns in building technology, we are headed for much tougher times for the profession.”

Medical students receive 2 years of clinical training, working in hospitals, while they’re in medical school, before they graduate as M.D.’s.  Architecture students have no official training working in architecture offices while they’re in school, but they don’t graduate as Architects.  They go to work as architectural interns after they graduate.  They receive their training on the job, before they’re allowed to sit for their licensing exams and, if they pass their exams, become Architects.

In school, we do not train architecture students in what they need to know to become licensed.  If we quit training them them in technical matters on the job, how will they even become licensed?  And if they do become licensed, how will they be able to oversee the paraprofessionals working for them, if they actually have no technical understanding themselves?  Who will do the construction contract administration?  The licensed architects are the ones who need to seal the drawings and specifications.  The licensed architects are the ones with the professional liability and obligation to design safe and sound buildings.  That’s what they are licensed to do.   

It’s not all about profitability.  Unless the system of architectural education and training completely changes, architects have an obligation to train interns in practical and technical matters.  We can’t shift that responsibility to paraprofessionals.  Soooo… if we have paraprofessionals doing the work that interns and young architects usually do, why would anyone hire an intern?  And if there are no interns, who will be the architects of the future?

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