Know your worth: an American campaign that should expand worldwide

Marianna Lepore

Marianna Lepore

Scritto il 20 Nov 2015 in International

International internship

Remember to value your work and the profession: this seems to be the central message of the “Know your worth” campaign launched by the American Institute of Architects and dedicated to the new generation of architects.

The Fair Labors Standard Act requires employers to compensate their employees. Basically they have to pay at least a minimum wage for the work they have provided. But, unfortunately, «There’s still an attitude of the older generation to train the younger generation. The feeling is “I’m going to take some time out of my day to train you and in return you need to do some work for us”. This cuts across every profession» according to Terrence F. Canela, deputy general counsel of the AIA, in one of the videos of the “Know your worth” campaign.

But work for free is not fair.
That’s why AIA started this campaign, which is not necessarily a call for action. «Every year, the Center for emerging professionals and the AIA get questions asking whether students and recent graduates should take internships that aren’t paid» the American Institute of Architects informed Repubblica degli Stagisti. «It is a problem that is slowly dissipating, but not quickly enough. The Center for Emerging professionals created these videos as a response to this problem, but also as a way to begin responding to issues in the large context of the profession».

The campaign is dedicated to the many architects around the US: according to the National Council of Architectural registration boards there are 107,581 architects (a three percent increase since 2011) and roughly 85,000 AIA members. Data from NCARB shows a record number of aspiring architects who are testing earlier and finishing in advance the path to licensure. So the average age of a newly licensed architect in 2014 - 33,3 years old - was at its lowest point since 2001.

This younger age may affect the decision of working for free
, but, as the AIA campaign says, this is wrong. «When you say my work isn’t worth any money, what you are saying is that anyone’s work isn’t worth any money. So if someone is in a situation where there is a need to argue if they should be paid or not, my advice would be to walk away from the situation» said Laura Ondrich, architect at SmithGroupJJR during the “Value your work” video.

«The focus of the campaign is to empower emerging professionals to value their work and the profession, as a whole. It will speak to firm culture, the outward appearance of the profession, and the many other high level issues we face in the architecture and design industry. The “Know your worth” campaign is just beginning» says from the American Institute of Architects to Repubblica degli Stagisti.

But AIA is struggling for another important issue: the elimination of the term “intern” from the professional language of architecture. «This term does not properly address the level of experience or value that recent graduates bring to the industry. Eliminating this title for graduates with a degree in architecture will inspire emerging professionals to value their work and encourage practitioners and clients to see the value in their work as well». The decision was made during the 2014 Emerging Professionals Summit where participants from the summit «agreed the term “intern” has outlived its usefulness and suggested revising titles along the entire career path». 

What AIA is trying to fight in the US is a common worldwide problem for young architects. Already in  2010 the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) revealed that 11% of the students in the UK were not paid in their current or most recent work placement. So RIBA has warned that practices which hire unpaid students will be stripped of their accreditation. Angela Brady, RIBA’S president, promised offenders would be penalized and said «Your practice must commit to paying at least the statutory minimum wage to architecture students working within the practice». But a few years later it was clear that unpaid internships were still going on. So Oliver Richardson, vice-president for education at the RIBA, promised to raise the issue at the RIBA and urged students to contact RIBA with the names of chartered practices still offering unpaid work.

In Portugal the professional unpaid internships have been banned by law since 2011, but not for architects and lawyers: every year many of them work for free, because it is the only way to access the profession. The situation is much better in Sweden, where there are no fixed salaries for architects but the salary statistics - based on what members of the Swedish association of architects reported – says the recommended trainee salaries are set at 21,100  SEK (after 3 years of studies) or 18,900 SEK (up to three years of studies) respectively. 

In Germany the introduction of a minimum salary of €8.50 per hour since January 1st, 2015 affected interns, as well, but not all of them. Interns have to be paid if their internships last longer than three months but they can still remain unpaid if the stage is required to complete a study course or is required to help you choose a profession. 

In Italy, as well, the problem of unpaid internships for young architects still remains. In 2011 a few engineers and architects founded an association called “Iva sei Partita” to focus on the practice of young architects working almost for free in architectural firms. «In Italy after completing the university studies the graduate must pass a state exam to become a fully credited architect, but, after that he is still considered in training. That’s why you have to accept an internship from three to six months in big firms with no pay. Some times they get a free lunch» says Laura Calderoni, from Iva sei Partita, to Repubblica degli Stagisti. «So personnel changes every six months in the big architectural firms. However, there are always younger professionals ready to take the job». Something may be changing because in the past two years new enrollments at the faculty of architecture are decreasing. However it’s too early to say.

In order to help young architects understand what the right salary for the work they are doing is, the American Institute of Architects has launched a new tool to provide compensation information for 17 architectural positions by region and firm size. A very interesting Salary Calculator, which includes data from all US respondents employed full-time, that has been positively received by emerging professionals and members of the AIA. With this tool everyone can see the statistical salary for the several different architectural staff positions. A similar tool has been offered by Archinect, too, “The Architecture Salary Poll” where architects can globally submit their salary info anonymously and view sorted results. 

A calculator that is impossible to apply in Italy: «Once there was something similar for the Rome Architects Association website, but then, after the fee deregulation, the Antitrust Authority ordered it cancelled. Therefore, today just a few architectural firms employ young architects. In a study of 30 people, usually only three-four are employed. All the others work with VAT numbers and earn around 900 euro net».

Very distant from what is happening in the US. If you take a look at the AIA Salary calculator, you can see how a full-time entry-level intern on the path to licensure with fewer than two years of experience could receive from 38,700$ a year in the East north central to 41,500$ in New England. 

A dream for many other interns around the world, especially for young Italian architects. A starting point not only for American architects to lay claim to their rights, but also for worldwide trainees to become aware of how unpaid internships is a global problem they should face all together.

Marianna Lepore

Rectangular photo: by Wokandapix from Pixabay in creative commons