Correction appended on March 31, 2009

Whether it’s word of mouth or official government statistics, architecture employment news remains bleak. Average monthly paid employment for architects dropped from 209,000 in 2007 to 199,000 in 2008, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Also according to federal statistics, January’s payroll at architecture firms was down 18,400 jobs, or 8 percent from the recent monthly high of 224,500 in July 2008, notes Kermit Baker, AIA chief economist. And it’s gone downhill since. “We’re still four or five quarters away from a significant design recovery,” he says.  

While architects commiserate, brainstorm, look for paying work, volunteer, and revamp their skills, software vendors are providing free training.

Part altruism, part competition, the initiatives by Autodesk and Bentley Systems are open to unemployed designers and engineers. (Verification of unemployment is required.) Autodesk is working with the Boston Society of Architects to offer one-day classes and educational licenses to Revit, its design and building information modeling (BIM) software. “There’s a trend toward integrated project delivery,” says software instructor Stephen Rines. “Folks with those skill sets seem to be surviving better.”

By late March, Autodesk had already reached the 30-person maximum for each of its first four Boston classes. However, it has plans to expand the program nationally and add online training, according to company officials.

Through its Be Employable initiative, Bentley is offering access to the instructor-led distance learning and self-paced online courses for its design and project management applications. “Many users work on long projects with a single version of software, and to some extent have outdated skills,” says Joe Croser, Bentley’s global marketing director for platform products and infrastructure.

The Bentley program provides unemployed architects, engineers, and other “infrastructure” professionals with the chance to pick up or burnish skills in CAD, 3D modeling, visualization, analysis, mapping, and other disciplines. Those marketable skills should translate into higher productivity and greater organizational efficiency at the firms doing the hiring, says Croser.

Bentley’s offer includes access to the company’s career development and jobs Web site and a non-commercial software license for its V8i applications good through the end of 2009. The license could be extended if the slump persists, according to Croser. As of late March, close to 700 participants had pre-registered.

If the vendors were to charge for these programs, the training and licenses would likely be beyond the reach of many unemployed professionals. The Autodesk class and software would normally cost around $7,000, say company officials. Typical tuition for the courses in Bentley¹s training catalogue range from $800 to $5,000, and there is no limit to the number of classes that Be Employable registrants can take, according to Croser. Software licenses for the individual products within the V8i portfolio would run from $3,000 to $8,000, he says.

Correction: The original article contained lower estimates for the dollar value of each vendor¹s training program.