As the economy slowly starts to correct many of my candidates are realizing and unhappy truth.  Architect salaries are 10% to 20% less than they were a year ago.  This trend was highlighted in the Architect Magazine 2010 salary survey.  Firms of all sizes have been in survival mode, doing whatever they could to stay afloat. No surprising, the most widely used tool was the lay-off. In fact, the Architect Magazine article quotes Kermit Baker, Chief Economist of the AIA: “Our estimates are that 25% of the positions at architectural firms were lost since the middle of 2008”.

Second tool in the firm’s survival tool chest was salary reductions.  Unfortunately salaries are fast to fall and slow to rise.

Some of the highlights from the article are:

•  Median salary fell from $88,800.00 to $80,900.00
•  68% of the firms surveyed made changes of some sort last year
•  There was a slight increase in bonus’ correlating to smaller base salaries

Click here to read the article.

What I have seen since this article was posted is good news, the worst may be over. The industry is taking its cautious steps to recovery. I also think the industry may be set up for another problem, a looming talent gap as a  mass exodus of talent finds shelter in other industries.  The article states that most of the lay-offs were concentrated in the lower salary spectrum. This young talent could not wait for the industry to recover and has left or is thinking of leaving for greener fields. This talent gap will be a blow to the industry not realized for another decade.

It will also be history repeating itself.

The recession of the 1990’s created a talent gap as young architectural talent left the industry due to lack of work. As the industry recovered, grew and thrived this talent gap became more obvious. While the work younger staff does, mainly drawings, can be outsourced to other firms or even done by a Project Manager or Sr. Project Manager, the business development, client management and other “higher function” skills that are unique to each firm cannot be passed down to the up and coming talent because they are not long in the industry.  This creates a stress on the more seasoned staff, they worked more in the weeds, unable to lend their skills at a strategic level and some even postponed retirement.

We know what will happen, we have seen it in recent history.  So what is the fix? While one fix does not fit all needs one idea might be the AIA. The group is uniquely poised to help firms fill the talent gap. Not through hiring but through training. The AIA’s continuing education program is a great forum to train the industry on firm management, business development and other important aspects of the business of architecture. I know that this is already a part of the wonderful curriculum the AIA puts together, I just wonder if there is a bigger idea there. Some way to either train leadership how to mentor and train younger staff or provide individual training to firms.

Of course this is just my opinion. I would love to hear others. Whether we are creating a new talent gap with this recession or not, we are still working through the last one. I know the attitude of the firm leaders I work with is “all ideas are welcome”.