To AIA, or not to AIA?

That is the question.  At least that is one of the myriad of questions any newly licensed architect must answer for themselves.  Of course there are serious costs associated with membership, both in terms of economy as well as time.  While the annual membership costs alone can be difficult to swallow, the time requirements may prove to be the most daunting for a young professional already trying to build a career and life.  All is not gloom and doom responsibility though; there are many resources to be harvested from membership if you know where to look.  From educational opportunities to networking events, membership in the AIA can prove to be a benefit for a young professional.

If your firm doesn’t compensate your membership (or heaven forbid you have struck out on your own!) the AIA dues, while not outrageous, certainly require their own line on the expense report.  There are also costs which are difficult to pre-determine such as attendance at conferences, participation in educational opportunities, even the methods by which your firm purchases and uses AIA contract documents.

Then there are the demands on your time.  You can participate on a number of boards and committees, from the Emerging Professionals Coalition, to the Committee on the Environment (COTE).  Even if you decide not to donate any of your time to a board or committee, the continuing education requirements will have you spending at least 18 hours of each year obtaining learning units and reporting them to the AIA/CES Records Department.  Combine these requirements with the state licensing CE requirements (DORA), any third party professional organizations (USGBC, DBIA), and the time spent simply tracking appropriate courses becomes a challenge.

Wow, so it sounds like a bunch of extra work, right?  Well, like any other endeavor in life, the benefits must outweigh the costs in order for it to be viable.  The continuing education requirements keep our professional members at the forefront of emerging technologies, delivery methods, and sustainable design opportunities.  Programs such as the recently launched AIA+2030 Professional Series gives participants an opportunity to advance not only their knowledge and skills, but may ultimately expand the range of services that their firms can offer in a difficult economic environment.

There are resources that individuals and firms alike can benefit from.  The AIA Knowledge Net contains everything from discussion forums to white papers and economic data.  The AIA trust offers more of the cut and dry elements of the profession like insurance group rates and (yikes!) access to legal information.  There are many more member resources…perhaps some more experienced members out there can share their favorites in the comments section?

Beyond the resources are the networking opportunities which occur regularly throughout the year.  Most events include not only other architects, but also related industry partners, which sets up ideal networks for a young professional to advance their career.  These are offered in both professional settings like the annual AIA Practice and Design Conference, as well as more relaxed social events like the Young Architect’s Awards Gala.

So although the AIA is not a one-stop solution for all the challenges a young architect will face, coupled with other professional organizations (NAIOP, ULI, SMPS, Please share others!) it can help us to begin to navigate these turbulent waters called the architectural career.

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