The same conversation seems to happen in every organization in the construction industry. How do we get more people involved and active in the organization? How do we get emerging professionals to join? The same ideas are discussed – start a blog, social media, fun events at a local bar, or maybe try a lunch meeting instead of dinner. So what is the answer, why are you involved in professional organizations? What value do you see in giving your time to the industry?
My favorite industry organization is CSI. I will always renew my dues with this organization and know that investing my time in it delivers huge benefits back to me. CSI brings me the most value of any of my other organizations through professional contacts, technical articles, and most important, they make me feel included, valuable, and accepted. To me this is the key to getting more people involved – make them feel needed, wanted, and equal. I look forward to CSI events because I know they are going to be interesting, but also because I know the other people attending want me there and will treat me as an equal. At one of the first CSI meetings I attended out-of-town years ago, I was asked by Mitch Miller to express my opinion to the entire group about the organization – me, one of the youngest people in the room. They wanted to know my thoughts and wanted to include me. That is added value for anyone in any organization.
At a meeting last night of the local AIA chapter, the discussion centered around the future of the chapter and the organization. AIA brings a huge value to the industry for architects and I believe to our clients. However, not all architects join and those that do join, many don’t get involved. The dues are high, the meetings are not held in my town, and I have been reminded that I am not equal many times. So why pay the dues (highest of all the other organizations I belong)? Last night one experienced architect in the room said the most important thing is having the initials behind your name – it helped her advance a career through the public sector. Another idea was you get to participate in the design awards (these awards seem to go to the same firms every year so they have little value to me). Another architect said it is your duty to belong to your industry association: “As a member of this profession you must join, get involved, and advance the profession.” I think these are all great reasons to belong to the AIA. However, that is not a reason to join and be active when there are many other ways to give to your community, advance your career, and be recognized for your work as an equal.
The reason I join a professional organization is to advance my skills. Yes, it is that simple and selfish.
So why did I join AIA (not paid for by my firm, I paid my own membership until I became a partner): it provides me with connections to peers who want to compare notes, teach best practices, and discuss the future. I miss having monthly meetings where I could meet the best and brightest in the industry now that I don’t have local meetings to attend. Getting to know Patricia Jessee, Jim Boyd, Mark Humbertson, Jeff Sties, Kurt Keesecker, Jimmy Grigg, Bill Daggett, Steve Davis, and Candy Smith has allowed me to grow as an architect and better serve my clients. Even if I have not had deep conversations with all of these architects, I know their work, personality, and styles and learn from observation and even emulation. I joined AIA to be a better architect.
What I want more of from AIA is help with being a better architect. I should not have to do all the work to find the experts to learn from, that information should be shared to every member and every member should feel included, valuable, and equal. AIA staff on the national and state level should know my name, know what I do, and know what I need from the organization. They should reach out in a personal way, not in a blind email sent to all members. In our profession, it is very easy to focus on the flashy, expensive design solutions, and the firms with project photography budgets bigger than most of my total design budgets. I need an AIA that promotes the value of all scale of firms and projects and treats me and my small firm as an equal.