Now three decades old, has the IDP lived up to its lofty goals?

The AIA and NCARB created the Intern Development Program (IDP) more than 30 years ago in order to establish a structured training process in architecture firms for students and graduates. The program was meant to expose students to different aspects of the profession, and help them become competent licensed architects. Now three decades old, has the program lived up to its lofty goals?  

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G. Chaise Nunnally is a freelance writer and editor in Southern California.

In an attempt to assess the program and its impact on the architectural profession today, I interviewed several current and former interns, architectural firm owners, officials from the NCARB, and other experts on the profession. (Contacts for student interviews were obtained through the American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS), and architectural firm owners were randomly selected.)

Interns

The interns interviewed who are currently participating in the program generally described it in positive terms, seeing the program as a useful process that gave them a broader understanding of the profession. “IDP helps with showing you what it means to be an architect—that there is much more to the profession than, say, stuff you do in the studio,” says Jake Begnaud, a 5th year student at Southern Polytechnic State University in Georgia.

But some interns spoke about the lack of mentorship in the offices. Others said it was difficult to gain experience in bidding and contract negotiation. One student suggests that interns be encouraged to take more initiative to ensure supervisors help them get the experiences they need.

South Carolina architect Corey Hilton was an intern about 10 years ago. He thinks it’s important that the public see architects as highly trained and qualified professionals, and argues IDP advances that perception. However, he doesn’t necessarily believe that IDP, despite its value, produces higher-quality architects than those who developed professionally without the program. “My older colleagues were well-trained, and some of them probably did not have IDP,” says Hilton. “They received on-the-job training without a formal process of documenting the results. I have no problem with a formal process, but I personally can't say that we have or will have a superior generation of architects because of it.”

Firm Principals

Michael McLane, principal of Taylor & Associates Architects in Newport Beach, CA, thinks IDP is relevant because it exposes interns to all aspects of the profession. Even if interns can’t be involved in large projects, McLane believes they still benefit from indirect exposure, which adds to their overall understanding of the profession. He also thinks interns can get the training they need without IDP if a firm strongly advocates a mentoring process with staff members, he says.

Michael Pyatok, founder of Pyatok Architects in Oakland, CA, a 25-person firm, thinks IDP gives interns exposure to all aspects of the profession, successfully addressing the problematic tendency of firms to pigeonhole interns through specialization, he says.

NCARB

Harry Falconer, director of IDP at NCARB, notes that the program has changed over time and has been responsive to feedback from interns and other members of the profession. In response to complaints about the burdensome process of filing training hours, it has implemented an electronic Experience Verification Reporting System (e-EVR) that allows interns to easily submit their completed training hours online. IDP has also developed guidelines to help supervisors better understand their role in supporting the program, which includes ensuring interns receive training in all required experience categories.

NCARB’ historical IDP data show that those who completed IDP perform better than those who didn’t on all categories of the Architect Registration Examination (ARE), says Falconer.

Professional Experts

Both Casius Pealer (formerly of ArchVoices) and Victoria Beach, a professor in Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design, believe that IDP has value. But they feel interns should not be solely responsible for attaining required skills and training critical to professional development. Firms, they believe, should also be compelled in some way to support the requirements of IDP. “An internship program, if that is what the profession believes is required to train the next generation, should be the responsibility of the trainers and not just the trainees,” says Beach. “The reasons are prudential as well as ethical. Like other professions, some oversight, accreditation and teacher training are necessary to make IDP good enough to be mandatory for anyone.”

Casius Pealer adds: “The fundamental problem with IDP is that it is mandatory for interns and voluntary for firms. It should be mandatory for firms the way that accreditation is mandatory for schools. If this is not possible, then it should be voluntary for interns and firms alike.”

In support of his argument, Pealer points to an IDP study (2003) by researcher Beth A. Quinn of Montana State University. Quinn suggested: “The fulfillment of any system of experience should be recommended rather than mandatory. That is, the profession should return to a required unstructured internship while continuing to articulate a set of suggested training experiences. One obvious advantage is that the administrative need to record interns’ hours — a task born by the intern, his or her employer and the NCARB staff — would be eliminated.”

Michael McLane, principal of Taylor & Associates Architects, disagreed. “I am not sure if there would be any noticeable improvement in the intern’s exposure and understanding of the profession [if IDP was mandatory for firms],” says McLane. “It really depends on the intern’s own motivation to truly become a well-rounded professional. It is certainly true that the quality of the firm and its desire to provide leadership and mentorship can have a significant impact on the intern. However, if the intern lacks the drive, it really doesn’t matter how much the firm contributes.”

Closing thoughts

This sample of viewpoints is by no means a definitive assessment of how all interns and practitioners view IDP. But what is revealed is a sense that, while there appears to be a general belief that IDP is of value, some improvements could be made - not to appease critics, but as a means of ensuring that the program remains relevant to those compelled to comply with it. The challenge is to not lapse into an attitude of complacency simply because it has been in practice for an extended period. Therefore, NCARB and firms must keep striving to make every aspect of IDP a worthy investment for both interns and the profession as a whole.

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