Recent research on registration has identified concerns about the way the process impacts negatively on women – and thereby on practice more broadly. What can the ACA and architectural firms do to help improve things?
A recent research paper by Dr Susan Shannon, Naomi Webb, Yishu Zeng and Jenna Holder identifies serious issues facing graduates seeking to become registered architects, and outlines how these impact particularly negatively on women. This has consequences for the profession – the paper observes:
Australia is not making the most of its architecture skills base because gender-based issues appear to be deterring female graduates from completing their registration as architects; gaining suitable employment is also a factor in non-registration for men and women.
The paper reports on a ten-year study of South Australian graduates, but other research, including the Parlour surveys and case study research by Gill Matthewson, has identified similar issues at a national level. These findings are outlined in the preliminary report Issues of Registration.
What are the issues?
Dr Shannon’s research involved interviewing women and men graduates, some of whom because registered and others who had not, as well as employers. The resulting paper provides a detailed account of the factors affecting registration, many of which are similar for women and men. These include:
- The lack of obvious benefits to registration
- The expense of the registration process
- The time commitment required in the midst of busy professional lives
- Difficulty gaining the right mix of experience, particularly in larger practices
- The difficulty in gaining recognition for international experience and education
- The perception that the process is dated and out-of-touch with contemporary modes of practice
- The perception that the exam is discouraging, disconnected from real practice and requires considerable time investment from the candidate and the employer
Women identified two further issues:
- The difficulty of finding time on top of family commitments in addition to work
- The experience of some of the registration process as a ‘boys club’
These findings are similar to those identified in the Parlour research. The Issues of Registration report summarises these in terms of perception and process as follows:
- The benefits and value of registration are unclear and not well promoted
- The process is perceived to be difficult and daunting, including
– the amount of time required
– the amount of work required
– the costs involved
- There is a perception that parts of the assessment are subjective, inconsistent, and inequitable:
– log book: generally uncontroversial, but required experiences seen as limited compared to the diversity of practice.
– exam: negative marking and that it can only assess a small fraction of the body of knowledge seen as problematic
– interview: highly dependent on the skills of the interviewers, some of whom were experienced as very biased and sometimes inappropriate
- There is a perception that what is assessed is out-dated, irrelevant, and exclusionary of the diversity of roles of a contemporary architect
- There is a perception that ‘the longer you leave it the harder it is’, thus that perversely more experience in practice is a liability rather than an asset.
- The process is strongly critiqued for being mis-aligned with contemporary architectural practice in all its diversity
- Divergent levels of support are reported by would-be registrants from their practices and employers
- Distinct state registration systems and legislation appear to cause unnecessary bureaucracy
- The process of moving from non-practicing to practicing status (where available) is unclear and inconsistent
- There are bureaucratic problems with the recognition of international qualifications including registration in other jurisdictions particularly for a profession that considers itself global
- The stakes are higher for more senior and experienced architects undergoing the registration process
- There is a lack of feedback systems, constructive criticism, and mentoring for those who are unsuccessful
Many of these issues are structural and systemic, and some registration boards are investigating how to address them. Nonetheless, there is also a lot that architectural practices and associations can do to help equip graduates for registration.
What can the ACA do?
Dr Shannon and colleagues point out that the ACA has a role to play in addressing these issues, and makes a number of recommendations. The ACA welcomes these recommendations and is in a position to follow up on two of these:
- Continue to support, and if necessary expand, the Keith Neighbour Graduate Study Program. Monitor registration outcomes for participants and fine-tune the program in response.
- Encouraging ACA members to adopt the recommendations for practices to promote registration practices beneficial for graduates.
In addition, the ACA is aware that the research suggests that the format of the registration exams can lead to unequal opportunities – in some cases candidates experience direct discrimination, while others feel strongly supported.
We will use our role as industry advocates to discuss these issues with the registration boards. We also acknowledge that some registration boards are conscious of these issues, and are already working to address them.
The ACA is also concerned about the deletion of the requirement for the supervising architect to sign the logbooks, as this means that levels of competency are no longer scrutinised.
Keith Neighbour Graduate Study Program
The Keith Neighbour Graduate Study Program is currently run in South Australia only. The program is very successful, but ACA – SA is aware that some groups have higher attrition rates for women participants. The ACA will start by conducting a short survey of recent participants to identify any issues and thereby work to improve the program.
The ACA will also discuss the potential of expanding the Keith Neighbour Graduate Study Program to other states.
What can practices do?
Dr Shannon observes that practices have an important role in providing a supportive pro-registration environment, and that this is paramount in ensuring that graduates feel well prepared and confident for registration.
Practices also have an important role in helping their employees gain the required mix of experience. The ACA recognises that providing this mix of experience can be difficult – and depends on the kind of work the practice undertakes – and that there are financial costs associated with some of the recommendations below.
However, we also encourage practices to understand the business benefits of supporting staff to registration, as well as the benefits to the profession and the individual.
Dr Shannon identifies the business benefits as follows:
- Increased staff competency
- Better client service
- Reduced staff turnover, as graduates may develop within the firm to achieve their potential instead of swapping firms, which has inevitable costs in terms of the firm’s productivity
A broader discussion of the business benefits of an equitable workplace, and a diverse workforce, is provided in the Parlour Guides to Equitable Practice.
The ACA encourages all architectural practices to support their staff to registration. To assist with this, we provide an edited version of Dr Shannon’s suggestions below. (Note: the ACA provides these for members’ information, not as a direct endorsement.)
- Create a pro-registration culture within firms. Preferably including policies on the process of registration. In large firms, this may mean a graduate registration development program that enables graduates to rotate through sections to contribute to different areas of practice.
- Encourage graduates to start keeping the logbook straight away. Where possible, give the graduate their records electronically to assist with this.
- Make registration beneficial. Directors should give sustained, positive messages at professional development reviews about the importance of registration to architectural firms, and reward registration with possible title, salary and responsibility increases to reflect the architect’s greater capacity for contribution.
- Implement annual performance development reviews and interim reviews for graduates to monitor progress towards registration. (ACA Note: performance reviews are a mandatory employer requirement under the Architects Award – clause 15.2)
- Develop a continuing education model linked with, and responsive to, Recommendation 3 with a continuing education budget that graduates can draw.
- Monitor logbooks: monitor graduates’ project allocation, practical experience and contract administration towards achieving registration, and candidates’ accurate understanding of their achievement.
- Implement mentoring by a registered architect for candidate graduates or, through alternatives, provide a mentoring environment.
- Mentor women and men into on-site professional practice. Look out for women who may appear reluctant to pursue on-site experience, and support them to overcome this reluctance.
- Talk openly about failure in the registration process and the implications for the candidate and the firm, and possibly meet the candidate’s reapplication fees.
- Devise part-time work pathways – job sharing is recommended as a model for part-time engagement with half-day crossovers for briefing on projects.
- If financially viable, consider accepting commissions that may be marginal for practice profitability for the purpose of giving registration candidates the opportunity to accrue suitable contract administration experience.
- If contract administration is not conducted within the firm, arrange secondments of employees to alternate firms (possibly practising in association) so they can gain contract administration experience.
- As a last resort, when no possibility exists within a firm of accruing suitable competences, encourage and assist candidates into alternative employment to achieve registration.
- Budget for the downtime for architects to mentor; allocate recently registered employees to mentor.
- Strongly encourage women to register in the period following graduation, recognising that it can become difficult to find time as other commitments accrue. Discuss how the practice can accommodate of time out for family (for both women and men) up front.
- Agitate for change to the AACA APE/RAE examination process to align competencies assessed with practice needs.
The ACA also recommends that all practices familiarise themselves with the Parlour Guide to Equitable Practice on Registration. In addition to providing brief practical advice to architectural employers, the guide outlines the key issues and why they matter, as well as providing advices to employees.
Dr Shannon’s paper also includes recommendations for university, other industry bodies, government, registration boards and graduates.
These are complex matters, and there is no quick fix. The ACA is committed to playing its part, and encourages all practices to take these matters seriously – to the benefit of the business, their employees and the profession as a whole.