Working environment for architects in Canada?


I know that most of the community here is American, and that there is in general a lot of pessimism and an agreement that the work environment in American architecture firms leaves a bit to be desired. Unpaid overtime, difficulties holding jobs, sub-standard pay, etc.

I also read a the article by Andrew Maynardon ArchDaily about how it is similarly exploitative in big Australian firms. 

I was wondering then, in Canada, or in any other countries, are there any work environments which are perhaps a little more balanced and employee-focused? I am Canadian, and if I went down the path to be an architect I would likely end up working  here.

Checking out some websites of the larger firms in western Canada - ie Kasian, Dialog, they seem to really try to sell their employee experience... regular parties, nice lunch rooms, regular education, etc. There is no mention of working hours though, so I wonder if this is just a "postmodern sleight of hand designed to manipulate and disarm staff", as Maynard suggests 'benevolent' corporations use.

So, any experiences or hear-say about working in Canada? If I'm going to go into architecture, I want to know that there are some firms out there that aren't exploitative... otherwise, I'm not sure if  it would be worth it at all.

Apr 2, 14 1:23 pm
Non Sequitur

The work environment in Canada is fine if you stick to the larger cities (and avoid Quebec). I've never come across any unpaid internships or other similar labour abuses often cried about on these forums either. I found a decent paying job 2 weeks following my master's and have worked my way to license in less than 3 years. Depending on how flexible you are with location, it's not impossible to score 45 to 50k/year straight out of school.

The one thing to know is that there is a huge push today for tech schools and every Canadian city has half a dozen college programs that pump-out technologists, interior designers and other design "professionals" at record speeds every semester. You have to make yourself noticeable when applying or else you get drowned out in the noise.

Not everything is a corporate bottomless cubicle pit either  but work is work.  But if you think that once you get that master's degree you can stroll into an google'esque office wearing designer jeans and spend your afternoons at the foosball station, you're greatly mistaken and as far removed from reality as those constantly complaining that the professional is a dead-end.

Apr 2, 14 3:14 pm

I've found (mostly) similar experiences to Non Sequitur.

The main point to take is that there are only ~13 (?) registered, capital-A Architecture schools in Canada. Competition for jobs where one of those exist is unfortunately still pretty hefty, the obvious exceptions being Toronto and Calgary. If you end up being fine with going to a city that doesn't have a university-architecture program, however, there seem to be jobs. I was able go score a summer position just outside one of the major ciites when I finished my undergrad, and when that ended it took me a couple of weeks to find a full-time gig about 2 hours away from the closest major city (where I worked for my full year out from academia). Both had great work/life balances; the pay was alright, but both times the cost of living was also quite low. Between those two I was able to pay off my small student loan and save up $10,000 for my M.Arch.

Technologist programs are much more prevalent, obviously, but I never found that I was competing with those graduates for jobs. Our educations prepared us for different things, quite simply. The plain truth is that many of the people coming out of those programs are not ready for work because of their work ethic/personality/etc. It is not difficult to complete one of those 2-year programs, but it IS difficult to complete one well, learn all the required techniques, and put those to good use in an office setting after graduation. I've worked with many exceptional people who have come from that background, and they are always very good at what they do. The common story from ALL of them, however, is that of their graduating classes, only the top ~2-3 actually find true architecture work, because only those top people have actually learned the necessary skills to get a job; the rest coasted through and don't have many marketable assets due to lack of self-mobilization. Again, this is just what I was told by those that I worked with who went to those schools. Success is dependent on the individual, not the program.

I'm halfway through my M.Arch now, and it seems like just about everyone I know who finished before me has been able to find meaningful, fulltime work post-graduation, if they didnt have it lined up before that.

Apr 2, 14 4:02 pm

Calgary can still be a tough market. The issue is that even though there is work (and lots of it) there are also a lot of recent grads and experienced post grads looking. The U of Calgary has upped their intake and lowered the length of the program to push out more grads when I graduated from my MArch (2011) there we had a record 40 or so grads (2 years worth) at once due to the program changes. This meant that there were fewer opportunities afterward. Most of my friends who didn't have something lined up ended up pounding pavement for 40+ hours/week just to land that first job. I found out myself real quick that firms were looking at the influx of grads and took the approach of hire for less and work them more. Too many grads in the market. Add to that the architects that were laid off in 2008/2009 who were also fighting for those same jobs, at the same wages, it has been tough here. Calgary is all about networking. Who you know not so much what you know. 

Not to dissuade you, just saying it isn't always easy. Took me 2 1/2 years to get to where I am now where I finally feel like I am in a good place and being treated, both professionally and financially like I deserve for my 10 years and 3 degrees of education. 

Apr 3, 14 9:43 pm

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