THE MILLENNIAL EXPERIENCE:
THE CHALLENGE TO THE TRADITIONAL MOLD OF THE ARCHITECT by Alex Alaimo, Assoc. AIA
oday the millennial generation is cutting its teeth in an industry that holds a different set of values, signaling a fundamental shift in the Architecture workforce. Right now, thousands of employed millennials are undergoing their formative years in the profession, the most influential of their careers and thus the future built environment of the country. In these formative years, many are finding issues with the profession at large. The unique characteristics of millennials, coupled with their formative experience in practice will shape the future workforce of the profession. The traditional ‘mold’ of the architect and culture of workforce need to be evaluated to successfully develop the next generation of architects. The key question for the future of architectural workforce is: Can millennials be shaped by the traditional mold of the profession or is a new model of workforce development needed.
In another finding, Millennials rank life work balance as a key preference in the workplace more than Baby Boomers and Gen X’ers. Freedom to have an enriched life beyond work is something at odds with the typical late hours of the profession. This perhaps more than other traits become evident in the office, which can frustrate supervisors seeing younger staff leaving at the normal closing hour. Darius also points out the AIAS Redesign of Studio Culture document released in 2002 serves as the “millennial manifesto”, key to understanding the millennial workforce. The document outlines the importance and value of studio culture, drawing the line between life and work as well as advocating for an engaging, optimistic studio environment. Interesting enough its drafters were among the first of the millennial generation to come into the profession and its ideas already have influenced many young professionals now in the workforce.
Just like materials, generations have unique characteristics that distinguish them, often found by looking at a generation's values, preferences, and attributes. Darius Sollohub, a professor at New Jersey Institute of Technology, has been researching this very topic for his upcoming book “Design and Disruption: Millennials in Architecture.” His research has been looking into the millennial traits and values, including common misperceptions. According to Darius, the ability to form consensus and collaborate are key competencies of the incoming workforce. These plastic abilities stem from the three defining traits of optimism, pragmatism, and, all enhanced by being “digitally native."
This all matters as millennials replace older generations in the workforce, post-recession. Darius points out “Considering the absence of older generations who did not return, firms today employ disproportionately more Millennials than if the recession had not occurred. And as Boomers retire at an ever-increasing rate in the coming decades, the ratio in architectural practices will dramatically increase.” This leaves the smaller Gen-X stands to take over the leadership of many firms, leaving a thin layer of management between leadership and Millennials, the largest generation in history. The dynamic of this transition will impact millennial attitudes towards the practice and the lasting impression of the profession. Millennials, like a modern-age polymer, may not be compatible with the time intensive casting model of the traditional architectural workforce.
An ability to communicate and the overall hyperconnectivity of the generation become its underlying thread. Growing up with everadvancing technology, from adopting AOL Instant Messenger to Snapchat, millennials are constantly connected and expect change over time. This plastic disposition has been complemented by the influence of interactive learning. Experts have attributed an average of ten thousand hours playing video games to this learning tendency. Ironically, the generation who grew up staring at the screen needs interaction either virtually or in person to be productive. This connectivity and the need for interaction and expectation of change make the millennial generation more dependent and communitybased than previous generations. The traits mentioned above extend to influence millennial workplace preferences. At an event in early 2016 Darius explained compared to other generations, money is less important to millennials. In fact, “working for a company that shares my values” ranks second only to “opportunities for career progression” among workplace factors for young professionals. This may lead to the tendency of millennials changing firms more often that previous generations, where workplace drives the flow of talent more than compensation.
THE ARCHITECTURE AND DESIGN JOURNAL OF THE YOUNG ARCHITECTS FORUM
Take the observations on millennials into the real world of the architectural workforce today and you can see the traditional workforce mold for architects has issues. The workforce is currently being stressed by the ‘Experience Gap” phenomena, a consequence of losing a chunk of workers due to the recession. In many markets, construction is on the upswing with many projects that brought firms out of the recession. Yet only a few millennials have endured a full cycle of construction through to the Construction Administration role. Current circumstance dictates the compression of the traditional development for the architect; the years experience is being replaced by rapid hands-on learning for a greenhorn generation. Today, a bubble of post-recession millennials is undergoing their formative years in the profession. In a panel in the fall of 2015, Ruben Cano of 52X Consulting, an Architectural recruiting firm in New York, explained how the formative years or the first five of your career, are essential to career development. In his observation, “The best learning experience for Architects in the early phase of their careers is to see projects through construction - to be able to recognize the net effect of their design decisions applied in a realworld setting.” He also points out staying at one firm for five years is about the minimum required to acquire the necessary experience
The architecture and design journal of the Young Architects Forum