American Institute of Architects’ Illinois component recognizes Legat Architects as one of only six firms in the state for outstanding support of emerging professionals.
When Noelle Ridley earned her Master of Architecture degree at the University of Michigan, she decided to move to Chicago. There she did a sweeping search for design firms that would support her journey to licensure. She wanted to feel like she was part of a team, work on different project types, and pursue her interests in research and the future of the built environment.
She landed at Legat Architects’ Chicago studio. Since then, Ridley has contributed to projects ranging from classroom additions and a regional innovation center to indoor soccer fields and a symphony hall renovation. She regularly consults with licensed architects willing to share “words of wisdom” and help guide her licensing efforts. The firm gives her access to advanced study materials and offers reimbursement for ARE exams. Ridley also has opportunities for public speaking. For instance, she joined other emerging professionals (EPs) at American Institute of Architects’ (AIA) Chicago chapter for the AIA Chicago Young Architects Forum (YAF) panel “Gen Z and the Future of the Workplace.”
Legat’s business plan hinges on encouraging individuals like Ridley to fine-tune their skills, earn their licenses, and elevate their careers. Consequently, AIA Illinois, the state component of the American Institute of Architects, has designated Legat one of only six EP Friendly Firms for 2023, the program’s inaugural year.
The program recognizes firms that offer exceptional support and opportunities to emerging professionals including students, recent graduates, and architects licensed within the last 10 years.
“If you have the drive and desire to do something and grow professionally, Legat will support you,” said Ridley.
Supervision and Licensure Assistance
Becoming a licensed architect requires 3,600 internship hours in six categories, each of which involves a separate test.
Legat’s AXP supervisors and mentors help guide emerging professionals through the National Council of Architectural Registration Board’s (NCARB) Architectural Experience Program (AXP). These advisers make sure that EPs get a variety of professional experiences in the required categories to gain licensure.
“You can go to one of many mentors and they’ll take the time to make sure you’re on the right track to meeting your career goals,” said Legat’s Kelsey Jordan, now studying for licensure.
Legat also subscribes to digital study materials including Amber Book, a video-based instruction program aimed at getting emerging professionals licensed as efficiently as possible. According to the organization’s website, the program has an 80% pass rate (based on completing 75% of the course) compared to the 55% national average.
Whereas many firms require employees to take weekend tests for the six divisions of NCARB’s Architect Registration Examination (ARE), Legat not only allows weekday testing but also reimburses for the test and pays for the employees’ time if they pass.
A running joke says that recent graduates from architecture programs join a firm only to get locked into doing toilet room details until they make a name for themselves. Though this is an exaggeration, there is some element of truth to it — once they enter the industry, many ambitious graduates find themselves pigeonholed into doing the same task day after day.
Legat’s team structure allows emerging professionals to participate in all phases of a project.
“We believe that diversity of experience is critical in the early phases of an emerging professional’s career,” said Legat Chief Operating Officer Jeff Sandberg, AIA, “not just for obtaining their licensure but also for helping them determine a specialization they might want to pursue.”
That focus bears out in an emerging professional’s experience at the firm. They participate in early brainstorming sessions to hash out the design concept. They participate in client and board meetings. They visit the construction site.
“I have friends in the industry who have still never done some of those things,” said Jordan.
A Voice for All
“Some of my peers at other firms are not given the opportunity to share their ideas,” said Randy Reyes of Legat’s Oak Brook studio. “Their tasks are to address markups on reviewed drawings. Some of them don’t even get to see the projects they’ve worked on in person. From day one, Legat allowed me to find solutions to design problems and explain my ideas to stakeholders.”
Key to Legat’s mentorship program is giving all employees a voice. That could mean participation in client meetings or industry tradeshows, or it could mean presenting projects for firmwide meetings or presenting trends at conferences.
“You’re not just a draftsperson but a voice,” said Jordan. “The feeling you have is that the firm wants you to grow, to get out there and learn, to spread the word about things that get you excited.”
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