How to prepare more fearless landscape architects part two

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When the graduation ceremony for my masters in landscape architecture took place, I already started working as a landscape architectural intern at LADR Landscape Architects in Victoria, BC. I landed the job in the spring of 2010, learning new skills such as rendering site plans and creating planting plans. If you think I cried because I missed my graduation—you’re mistaken! I was in a state of bliss.

I worked under two seasoned landscape architects and a dedicated staff at LADR. It wasn’t (and still isn’t) lost on me how fortunate I was to work at a firm like LADR. Many graduates from landscape architecture do not always land a good position at a firm or design-build company right out of school—especially one that values mentorship and diversity of experience.

The University of Manitoba’s graduate program did a great job of teaching me design theory and experience, but it didn’t necessarily teach me all the skills I would use and need in practice at a firm. Some would argue that teaching the skills required in practice is unique to a firm, and it should be their responsibility to bring new staff up to speed, but it would also be beneficial to have a bridge between schools and workplaces as well.

In Manitoba, I find there is a disconnect between what universities and professors teach students and what employers require them to know and be able to do. Even though I feel the landscape architecture graduate program did a good job teaching me to think critically and understand the process of design theory and the process of design in design studios, I feel I would have benefited further if there had been more emphasis in school on comprehensive and covered topics that happen in practice such as:

  • Practicing business etiquette like writing emails and effectively addressing client demands,
  • Preparing for the delivery of a project, including preparing a project proposal and agreement for a client,
  • Developing a preliminary budget based on a schematic design,
  • Working through the various stages of design within a deadline and using realistic budgets and
  • Developing a maintenance manual and handover process. 

I realize that all jobs are different and that each situation varies between design firms and companies, including design-build and the project delivery process. The skills and knowledge that is particular to a job will ultimately be learned on the job. However, looking back, I wish I could have taken a work internship while in school, providing me with an opportunity for hands-on experience with a firm or a design-build company. I believe that covering these topics in school combined with an internship program would share the responsibility of preparing students for practice academic institutions and potential employers, easing the transition from school into the workplace. In addition, I wish that an internship program could be designed to help postgraduate practicing professionals to become landscape architects.

In Canada, the Internship Architecture Program (IAP), which came into effect in the late 1990s. Ontario Association of Architects (OAA) created the IAP to help improve the profession, requiring interns to remain in it, while gaining and recording professional experience and writing their licensure exams. Furthermore, the IAP provides structure to the transition between education and registration, while involving practitioners in the development of new architects. Some of the key features of the IAP include creating an uniform national standard: the Canadian Architectural Experience Standard (CALA), which outlines and documents the areas of practice where professional knowledge and skills must be attained, provides interns with a standardized system for documenting and assessing their activities, while providing them with guidance and feedback that involves members of the profession.

Similar to CALA, graduates need to register with the Council of Landscape Architectural Registration Board (CLARB) that establishes and promotes licensing standards for our profession and where we can take the registration exams. However, currently, we do not have a program similar to IAP for our profession. I think developing a similar program to IAP would benefit graduates and our membership, ultimately helping promote our profession to clients and potential students by strengthening the knowledge and skills of our graduates on their way to becoming landscape architects. Manitoba Association of Landscape Architects MALA should consider ways to develop an internship program that helps graduates become registered. The following recommendations were adapted from the OAA’s white paper, BEcoming an Architect: Sustaining Our Future:

A framework for an internship program for Canadian landscape architects:

  1. Strengthen the academic curriculum’s relevance to practice
  2. Continue to improve collaboration between the profession and education
  3. Strengthen the mentoring relationship
  4. Streamline and incentivize the internship process
  5. Support interns and include them in the actives of the regulator

Strengthen the academic curriculum’s relevance to practice: Develop a survey that asks professionals in firms and design-build practices what they are specifically looking for from students and graduates who are planning to enter the workforce concerning skills, technical knowledge and their confidence and abilities to perform the various stages.

Continue to improve collaboration between the profession and education: There should be more collaboration between professionals and academics. Professionals should be engaged in the development of a professional practice course and with an internship program, which students are required to complete prior to graduation. They should also be required to deliver a presentation at an open house attended by professionals and academics, prior to graduation. As well, schools should continue to ensure that they involve professionals with varying degrees of experience in design studios and engaging them, as guest critiques at studio presentations.     

Strengthen the mentoring relationship: The IAP introduced an innovative feature into its program when they introduced the external mentor—an architect other than the employer that offers interns the opportunity to seek Independent advice and counsel. This should be adopted into an internship program for landscape architects because it would allow interns to receive additional advice and different perspectives for their career. A benefit for the external mentor could be acquiring continuing education credits for the time they spend mentoring.

Streamline and incentivize the internship process: Create an internship program that designed in parts or modules (pre-graduation and post), offering students currently in school and graduates with the support in each of the four sections of the Landscape Architects Registration Examination (LARE). These sections include 1: project and construction management; section 2: inventory and analysis; section 3: design; and section 4: grading, drainage and construction documents. As well, this program should offer incentives like a reduce cost in membership to MALA that could subsidize with government or private funding to a degree.

Support interns and include them in the activities of the regulator: MALA together with the landscape architecture program at the University of Manitoba, and members of the profession should allocate resources to maintain a post-graduate internship program that has tools such as an online digital resource hub, as I described in my first article, which is certified by CLARB. As well, interns should participate in the regulation of this program.

Since writing this article in December of 2017, the Faculty of Architecture at the University of Manitoba announced a Cooperative Education Program that was approved and planned to begin in May of 2018. This program is open to both undergraduate and graduate students from architecture, city planning, interior design, and landscape architecture. With this co-op program, employers can hire a student and claim up to 15 per cent of wages and salaries, up to a maximum of $5000 per student.

This co-op program is a great step for the university to take, and I anticipate that it will help students ease into the workplace following graduation. I hope that there will also be an internship program that can assist graduates becoming landscape architects, but alas, this is a step in the right direction.

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