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Stability of the profession

Hyperion

Hey all,

I'm a young recent architecture graduate, working as a full-time intern architect at a mid-size corporate firm. My wife and I just got married and are trying to figure out what our future joint financial situation is like. A lot of online financial guides have different levels of advice for whether your career is considered "volatile," or prone to unexpected shortages of income, especially in regards to putting away for retirement.

So… I keep getting mixed messages as to the stability of architecture as a career. I know layoffs were all too common after the 2008 crash, but is that considered “normal” for any given recession or downturn? It looks like we might be headed into another bear market, and I’m just wondering if we should be bracing ourselves for a reduction in income at some point, or if most downturns are less severe than 2008.

On that note, I'm just wondering if a layoff is a routine and common part of an architect's career, or something one hopes to go through only once or twice in a lifetime. Thanks for your help!

 
Apr 2, 18 3:56 pm
thisisnotmyname

Yes, layoffs are very common, and not just limited to recessions.  Sometimes all it takes is the loss of a major project or two, and then a firm's management is forced to let people go.

I've been laid off twice over the last 20 years.

Apr 2, 18 4:45 pm  · 
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Apart from the recession which has a bright and dark side for employment prospects, in the short and long run, the smaller the city or market the more risky it can be, with the exception of collage towns.  collage towns, where money is relatively steady or cushioned by a multi year allocation schedule, a recession is not felt until 12-18 months after the fact in terms of spending on buildings and renovations. 

The risk of being out of work is correlated to your skills and experience, both have to be maintained and must be relevant to the immediate and future needs. Knowing construction is good, knowing software is good, having knowledge of how they interact is best. 

Licensure gives you some flexibility with the option of starting your own practice in times of economic troubles. I did this in the recession to survive and architecture was a second job for a while but experience and getting projects done counts and being able to hustle up clients in a tight market, even if the clients are family or friends, says something about your commitment to the profession. 

If you have an image of yourself doing your dream job and that dream job is to be an architect, then you will find a way to be an architect despite the economic climate or professional stability.  Staying in the profession is not so hard, accepting compromises in lifestyle and family plans that are tied to financial achievement is hard.

Over and OUT

Peter N

Apr 2, 18 5:35 pm  · 
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geezertect

2008 was unusually severe, but recessions happen every ten years or so on average, and the real estate and construction industries get hit harder than most other sectors of the economy.  The reason is that buildings are built on borrowed money (leverage) and when banks and investors get scared, they pull back.  New construction is the first casualty.  You will experience bouts of unemployment and/or underemployment if you stay in the profession.  And, saving for retirement will be very problematic because just about the time you start building up a little nest egg, a recession comes along and you have to eat into your savings to keep food on the table.  If any kind of economic security is your goal, you are in the wrong profession.

Apr 2, 18 5:36 pm  · 
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randomised

^^^^^^^^^----  F---ing Hell.... Sheesh!!  ---^^^^^^^^

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randomised

And some retire before they ever become architect...

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randomised

How can you retire if you haven't even started?

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randomised

There is no broader traditional definition of the term architect, you either are or you aren't.

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5839

While it is in the mythical tradition of the architect to work until one drops dead at the drafting table, what about the many for whom that becomes difficult or impossible? One in six people will have a long-term disability in their lifetime. Some people with some conditions/illnesses/injuries/disabilities will still be able to continue working with little to no change to the hours they can put in or the type of work they can do, physically or cognitively or both - but many others will be forced to cut back on their work or their role in it, and some will need to discontinue it at some point.

This is something I've been thinking about a lot since I was diagnosed with a chronic condition recently - something that is currently limiting my stamina and thus decreasing my hours, and in the long run has a significant likelihood of progressing to more serious limitations that will bring into question whether I will be able to continue working to a typical retirement age and beyond.

It's not wise to dismiss retirement planning and saving on the basis that you will work forever. Even if that's what you want, for many it isn't possible, and you cannot predict whether you'll be one of that group.

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5839

Umm... well I am an architect, and luckily I've been saving steadily since the beginning of my career, and have been pretty steadily employed for 30 years, with just a few blips along the path - so I don't have quite the amount my financial planner would like, but not so far off. But Richard you're kind of sidestepping my point: I understand  that you plan to work until you die, and you think it's impossible to save while working in architecture. So what happens if you stay in this profession, continue to not save anything, and then one day you develop an illness, like I did, or what if you are in an accident and you can't work? It's not a remote possibility - close to 20% of adults will develop a long-term disability.

I understand that you personally live with parents and can probably expect not to have to function as an adult for another 20 years or so - but then what? How will you pay your property taxes if one day you can't work anymore? I don't know about you, but I certainly wouldn't want to be counting on just social security/disability with no nest egg of my own. I've worked on enough subsidized elderly housing and it sure is a cautionary tale that will make you up your 401k contributions!

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SpontaneousCombustion

Balkins you spend a lot of time complaining about this profession, for someone who is so peripherally related to it and who has done so few real projects. It begs the question: why don't you just pick a better, more stable, more lucrative imaginary career? How about pharmacist? That's a profession with high starting salaries, demand is increasing, employment is a near guarantee. Don't pharmacists have websites you can haunt?

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randomised

It is not mythical if one is the owner of the firm, and it is also not impossible because architecture is not hard labour that wears your body out, it just makes you bitter before you reach sweet old age ;)

 · 
yarchitect

so bitter..... lol. so, so bitter...

1  · 
joseffischer

Such doom and gloom.  The OP said he's married, so problem solved, right?!  After graduating with a PhD, my Civil Eng wife has consistently outperformed me salary wise and hasn't even considered jumping into private sector.  Govt civil engineering jobs is the definition of stable.  All her work colleagues are as old as the dirt they're working with.

Apr 3, 18 6:00 pm  · 
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randomised

The instability of the profession is very stable.

Apr 4, 18 2:58 am  · 
1  · 
tintt

As stable as a two-legged stool.

Apr 4, 18 6:42 pm  · 
1  · 
thisisnotmyname

To be fair, I know architects who work in government and facility management-type positions at universities and hospitals that have very stable career experiences, and retirement plans with all the trimmings.  The trade-off is that the work they do is mostly un-creative.  There are also special kinds of politics present in organizations where all of the employees plan to be there for life.


Apr 4, 18 8:05 pm  · 
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code

The best insurance to avoid getting laid off is simply to be the best - the mediocre, average and dumb are the ones that get laid off - people who cut out early

Apr 4, 18 9:30 pm  · 
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geezertect

But even that doesn't save you if the market completely craters and the firm is flat out of work and headed for Chapter 11.

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x-jla

Best insurance is to be self employed or at least have a good side gig. You have to lose a lot of clients to completely get shut out of business, but only one employer.

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apscoradiales

And be a kiss-ass!

 · 
code

I started out at a big office in 07', in 08. 1/2 of us were gone - same with many others - most of my co-workers that got layed off left the field

Apr 5, 18 11:59 am  · 
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"Stability of the profession"

Hahahaha

Apr 5, 18 12:46 pm  · 
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sameolddoctor

"Profession"

Hahahha!


Apr 5, 18 2:00 pm  · 
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randomised

"of"

Haha!

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SneakyPete

"Haha!"

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code

Look at the bright side - you could be a programmer for Linkedin, Google, Face, whatever, and be making $150K and paying 3500/month rent in mountain view or SF. % years later, you are replaced by someone fresh out of school and you get laid off, and no one will hire you are obsolete, then what?

 at least in architecture experience counts or rather progressive experience helps

Apr 5, 18 2:21 pm  · 
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harshalmohan

How could architect become programmers? Architects dont know programming. They are not taught programming in university??!!!

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Hyperion

Thanks for the information everyone. Sounds like a cheery outlook, haha! We'll definitely put away what we can for retirement, but it looks like we'll be keeping a lot of savings accessible in case things go south.

@Xenakis, if you don't mind my asking... what kind of other fields did the former architects get into once they left? I've heard that from people in my own firm as well.

Apr 5, 18 2:32 pm  · 
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@Hyperion, check out this series of Archinect features, for some other examples.

1  · 
code

Hyperion

Well, One became a Chef, another went to selling coffee beans, furniture design, web site development, drafting, many moved back to China(H1-B expired) - I myself after a year out of work, worked on Chinese skyscraper projects

Apr 5, 18 2:47 pm  · 
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jennifersmith

I have been working as an Architect for 20 years. I have seen many downturns and layoffs. I only got laid off once when I was still a student at a part time job at an architectural firm while I was in college, and that firm ended up closing its doors shortly afterwards. The firm's usually start off with 1-5 and then move up from there in waves of more as required. Definitely put a paycheck or two in savings for preparation for this. My 401K has been able to grow over the years and I think of the profession as stable. I work hard, am accountable for my work, am self-guided and since I produce a lot I think that is the reason I have not been laid off (other than that student experience). But never say never. I guess do your work, work hard and think always about value you add to the firm. Be flexible if you must, like getting new credentials (I have continued my learning throughout my career). Demonstrate willingness to try new things and a positive attitude. Especially don't let ego take over (not that you would). Keep your debts in check too so that you don't get hit with a situation you can't get out of financially.

Aug 12, 19 4:05 pm  · 
1  · 
atelier nobody

In a 20+ year career, I have only been laid off twice and had one temporary pay cut. The longest I was involuntarily unemployed was 3 weeks. Interestingly, neither of my lay-offs coincided with recessions.

If you're a valuable employee, they'll try their best to keep you, even while laying off others.

Aug 12, 19 5:12 pm  · 
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Chad Miller

I've been laid off three times in 17 years.  The longest was 2010 where I was doing intermittent freelance or contract work for 2 1/2 years.  The shortest was 1 week.     

Aug 12, 19 7:18 pm  · 
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3tk

The big hits seem to happen less frequently, but with all the leveraging in the economy, dips here and there are bound to keep happen every decade or so.  Local policies and economies are different, so there's that too.  Like any financial planner will tell you, best to be prepared and nimble financially (don't over extend, have a nest egg, and save enough to cover a few months expenses at the very least).

Professionally, work hard to have a good reputation for the work & being a good colleague (team player, etc).  Always network and be open to opportunities so if something goes terribly wrong, there are good options out there to jump onto.  Keep an eye and ear out for how you can become more valuable to your employers to be one of the last ones out.  Some of it is playing politics, but a lot of it is taking on more responsibilities responsibly (there are so many over ambitious types who embarrass their firms out there).  Part of the value building is being aware of how the skill sets might translate into another field in case a big recession hits.

Some examples from my colleagues who left the profession: baking, game design, photography, user experience design, marketing, construction.

Aug 16, 19 12:24 pm  · 
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whistler

Two things to protect yourself, your career and livelihood.  A) Make yourself critical to your office.... meaning develop skills or talents that the office can't live without and take on the stuff other don't want to do, bring in clients and / or start your own firm and don't look to rely on your boss(es) to get the work.  Architects are notorious for being poor managers, we just want to draw pretty pictures. But the guy in the back room who knows how to detail and assemble a building is the real keeper in the office.  B) Follow the money.  As several have noted above the economy fluctuates and when that happens look to see where the money or investment goes during recessions or when the market is flush.  Typically the public sector has lots of money during a recession as governments look to jump start the economy, but the private sector is flat broke.  Work with firms who recognize the dynamic or switch to offices that have a healthy mixture of public and private sector work.  I am sure you can look at any firm who has been successful over a long period of time and you will see that their portfolio has a healthy mix of work.  It doesn't mean they have to be doing healthcare work all the time but some small mixture of government funded projects to balance the typical developer spec projects.  Diversity of project income streams is what I call it and even though we are a small office we have a very broad and diverse income streams from; the private sector, institutional, first nations and corporate clients.  I have never not been busy in 25 years of business including the 2007-2010 recession period.

Aug 16, 19 1:28 pm  · 
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apscoradiales

"Stability of the profession"

LOLOLOLOLOLOLOL..........................!!!!!!!!!

Become a butcher or a baker; people gotta eat!

Not many need architects to survive.

Aug 4, 20 4:36 pm  · 
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