Thursday, January 05, 2012

Architecture Sucks

The New York Times blog post, Want a Job? Go to College, and Don't Major in Architecture suggests a) go to College, it's not a guarantee of employment but it improves your chances greatly; b) you should pay attention to current employment rates across sectors to choose your degree and; c) architects are in such surplus, don't bother studying that.

The only thing I can say about that is it proves what boneheads economists can be by seeing every problem as a statistic and every human as a rational, unemotional, robotic consumer device. This chart looks like it proves their point:

Yet what it doesn't tell are really the things you need to know. Having a post-secondary degree or trade is the best way to ensure long term employability. A similar statistic to one mentioned in the article is that white males, between the ages of 35-50, with a university degree or higher have a unemployment rate around 5% while non-white men without any post-secondary education or training have an unemployment rate above 20%. What that tells me is, it is good to be "The Man". It actually brings me solace and allays my fears to know that, statistically speaking, I'm more likely to be employed than unemployed. But it's got nothing to do with my specific area of work (where I'm guessing the unemployment rate in Toronto is less than 5%. Not many people have ten years experience doing something that didn't exist 15 years ago apparently.)

The other things you need to know? Don't choose a degree based on unemployment rates across sectors. If you choose a degree today but wouldn't actually enter the work force until five years later, do you think those stats will be the same or unchanged? Choose what you study based on what interests you. If nothing interests you, well, then you have bigger things to worry about. There are so many degrees, trades, skills to study, you'd have to be pretty boring not to find something. Most parents are probably worried that their teen-age kids haven't found their "passion". They shouldn't worry. I mean not even "Christ" found his "passion" until he was in his thirties. Before that he was just a carpenter/handyman. Which brings me to my other point. If you've studied something you like, that might eventually become or lead to your passion. You'll probably change course a few times over your life anyway. My general profession is "design" but there are dozens of fields within that description, and I've changed direction at least 4 or 5 times (countless jobs or contracts varying across industrial design, graphic design, animation, Web design and now user experience design). Through all of that, my education in the design process has been the common thread.

Lastly, there are plenty of reasons not to study architecture. It's just one of those things like "Library Science" that is difficult, takes a long time to study and become proficient, and the pay sucks. But if that's what gets you out of bed in the morning, you don't have a choice. Some people say I was lucky to know what I wanted to do in high school. I did look up the employment rates and incomes for designers but the numbers then, probably as they are today were so broad as to be useless (eg. potential earnings range fron $20k to $90k). I didn't know what I wanted to do when I was 17. I just wasn't any good at anything else. Even after graduating from industrial design I didn't think I'd be a product designer. Manufacturing had been devastated in the 90s and had been in decline for years. Still, I couldn't do anything else, so I slogged onward. I generally went where the work took me. It was only years later that I made a conscious decision to turn down some work in favour of something I wanted to do. I think that's a really common Canadian designer story. I did exhibits and graphics because the work was available, I did signage because I knew one end of a bolt from another, I did illustration because I could draw, I did Web stuff because I knew some software. At some point, it adds up to having done a bit of everything, which comes in handy.

In summation; go to school and study what interests you; don't fret about "passion"; be open to change; sometimes doing what you love doesn't pay that great, but you'll be happier and still be more likely to have a job than not have one.

It's like what the Dali Lama says, "Be happy and useful." Certainly that's better advice than choosing your life's work based on a set of actuarial tables.


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