Editorial: Eligibility requirements for State Landscape Architect Licenses

June 28, 2015

Dear Land8 Members:

ANY LAND8 member should feel free to add their own comments here.

EDITORIAL:  It's my opinion......that EVERY student who earns a Landscape Architecture Degree. (4 yr., 5 yr. or Masters in Landscape Architectures) should be "required" to practice under a Licensed Landscape Architect (Full-Time) for a minimum of (5) years, prior to being eligible to apply for ANY State Landscape Architect's License.  And, to qualify this "requirement" a bit further, this (5) year internship period should be with an LA Firm that has a minimum of (3) Licensed LA's; an environment where members of the firm will be able to "mentor" young LA's. Working for a (1) person LA firm, in my judgment, won't really benefit a young LA, like a larger firm will.

But, or course, every LA graduate would also have to pass the CLARB EXAM to be eligible to apply for any State Landscape Architecture License as well.  Plus, some states, like California, Florida, Nevada, Louisiana....probably other states too, have their own "State LA Exams" that must be passed to be eligible to be licensed in those states.

I'm sure, I'll get a LOT of negative feedback in regards to my Professional opinion here.  But, having an equivalent of nearly (42) years practicing Landscape Architecture (which includes 4 yrs. worth of over-time).....I believe I have a very good understanding of what it takes to become "competent".  Even (5) years of experience working in an LA office (surrounded by a group of very talented and experienced) LAs is really not enough experience to become a "Licensed Landscape Architect". 

Currently, most U.S. States require ONLY (2) years of internship (practice) working under a Licensed Landscape Architect.  It's my opinion, (2) years is just not enough.

JOB SEEKING ISSUES:  And, I do fully understand that the job market out there has been extremely difficult for the past 5 to 7 years for Landscape Architects.  Though, in reviewing web sites like "Indeed.com" and "ASLA.org"..I'm seeing many more LA job opportunities being offered than I've seen in the past 6+ years. If I were a new LA graduate, I'd be open to finding a job with an LA firm anywhere in the U.S. (coast to coast).  Though, keep in mind:  the cost of living, State income taxes, weather, quality of life, etc., varies greatly from city to city and state to state.  Personally, I would NOT recommend seeking an LA job in states like California or New York...as the cost of living and state income taxes will take a serious bite out every pay check.  And believe me, the Owners of LA firms in those States will NOT compensate you with higher than average salaries, just because of their high cost of living and state taxation.  So, do some serious research on ANY location that you are considering interviewing for an LA job.  And, speaking of "job interviews", I came across a very good job interview book several years ago (which is still very valid today)...it's called HIRE ME. It's about a $10.00 book on Amazon.com.  Because, besides having an outstanding Portfolio & Resume', you need outstanding "job interview skills". 

I wish ALL new LA graduates (and even those early in their careers), the VERY BEST OF LUCK as you move forward.  Landscape Architecture is a fantastic profession!  But, it takes many years of dedication, passion and hard work to become a talented, competent and successful Landscape Architect.   

Very Sincerely,

J. Robert (Bob) Wainnner - Plano, Texas

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Why stop at a measly five to seven years and only three mentoring LAs? Why not go for ten years and five mentoring LAs?

Calico...............

After reviewing your Profile here on LAND 8......I'm seeing ZERO results.  Maybe, in your case, you will NEED a min. of 10 yrs. of experience before you would have what it takes to pass the L.A.R.E. exam and obtain a State LA License.

With your "attitude".....I think I'm probably accurate in my statement above.

Good Luck....*smile*.

J. Robert (Bob) Wainner

It sounds like a good way to increase competency, but there are problems with this.

First, it assumes that it is currently too easy to get licensed.

Second, it assumes there is currently a competency problem in the profession.

Third, it leaves control of who can get licensed in the hands of those whom may or may not have a vested reason to limit competition.

Fourth, it creates a very high value of the limited "internship" opportunities leading to huge exploitation opportunities.

Five, giving more power to CLARB is the most rediculous thing of all.

Hello Andrew;

I have just a few about your's..  You've made some valid points.

On your First point....From everything I now understand about the "licensing process"...it believe it IS very difficult and yes, very expensive as well......thanks to CLARB.  I totally agree that CLARB's process is out of control and much too expensive.  I have heard of candidates spending between $5k & $10k to finally pass the CLARB exam.  I have personally mentored (2) young LA's with the "Grading" portion of the CLARB exam...and both are now Licensed LA's (in different states).  However, beyond CLARB's testing requirements....YES, I think it's too easy for young LA's to obtain State Landscape Architecture Licenses!

Your Second point....Yes, I do believe there is a "competency" problem in our profession.  ONLY (2) yrs. of internship working under Licensed LAs in a Professional LA firm is just not sufficient time for ANY young LA to consider themselves "competent". To me, (5) years is the minimumExample....assume you are a Multi-Family developer and have a $40 million project in the works.  Would you really hire a Licensed LA with ONLY (2) yrs. of design experience OR would you be more inclined to hire a Licensed LA who has 10 to 20 yrs. of experience (and one who has extensive experience designing multi-family communities?). 

Your Third point.  Not sure I agree.  Yes, CLARB has a lot of control, because, all LA graduates are "required" to take and pass the CLARB Exam.  After I graduated in 1977, I had to take a national LA Exam (called the UNE)....2-1/2 days of testing (similar to the CLARB exam, but, everything was done "by hand" back then. But, the cost, as I recall, wall only a few hundred dollars.  14 months after I graduated from Texas A&M, I applied for and received an LA License in both The States of Texas & Florida. No experience was required to apply for an LA license back then, you just had to pass the UNE exam.  When I think back, that was ridiculous.  I was in no way "competent" enough to consider myself a "Landscape Architect".  What I did do, was go to work for (2) different LA firms for (14) years...where I also logged in an additional (2) years' worth of "over-time"...THEN, at the age of 41 and those (14) yrs. of experience under my belt, I started my own Private Practice.

An LA license does NOT make any LA competent.........it's the "experience" that develops LA's into talented, competent & successful designers.

On your Fourth point.  My suggestion was not a (5) year "internship"...it is, that I believe a young LA graduate needs to land a LA design job.....and surround themselves with very talented and experience LA's for (5+) years - to gain the experience they really need!  Most normal "entry level" LA jobs start around $40k to $50k (depending on the City & State).  I believe Summer Interns are normally paid a "minimum wage" plus some other benefits. 

Finally, No, CLARB doesn't need MORE power in the LA licensing process. But, I just believe that every STATE LA Board should take another look at the minimum number of years an LA graduate should work under a Licensed LA (or group of LAs)....before they are considered ready to be eligible to be out on their own.

It's just my opinion, that an LA with ONLY (2) yrs. of design experience (and having a State LA license) and out practicing Landscape Architecture on their own (maybe doing a start-up LA firm) is absurd. And, believe me....this type of practice is going on.

Robert, I also was licensed under the UNE although the state required 3 years' experience to qualify for it at the time. My main concern here in addition to the impact of recessions on hiring in general, is that there are whole states in this union, where finding such firms with 3 experienced mentors working together would be much harder, because they are much rarer, than you may realize.

In the whole of NC we have a population of practitioners I'm willing to bet (or have the impression) are mostly employed in multi-disciplinary firms, government, and tiny private practices with maybe a principal, associate or two, and understudies in the pre-license track, with the remainder in teaching or planning departments, etc. I don't think all the grads from the 2 main schools that we produce every year could possibly be absorbed into an ideal like you propose. The effect would be to discourage future LA's and further shrink the field. But I assure you, I've never been one to think "graduate them and the work will come."

Off on a side rant here: Maybe schools believe generating enough hungry would-be LA's will somehow make them or their employers promote the field that much harder in order to feed themselves. Hence, grow the classes and grow the field... but who in business goes out on such a limb? I think it operates the other way around, where hiring flows from having work that needs workers. Until we solve that deficit, we have to be careful about the number of grads we pump out. Overgrowth of student numbers in relation to the economy, combined with inadequate preparation and poor exam performance, is where I think the pressure for "lowering of standards" you seem concerned about actually originates. 

The alternative is to honestly make good marketers out of them in the educational process. Perhaps grads that emerge really need to be well prepared for the exams & ideal office work, but possibly also for independence in regions where it's a struggle to find any mentors at all. And I would think the best way to grow the field is not for everyone to have to cluster in a few "hot spots," but be good examples wherever they land, and thereby spread the message of who we are and what we can do more broadly.

June 29, 2015

Thank you, Leslie, for your very detailed comments here! 

Thinking through this issue further; I believe there are a few other KEY problems that have existed from even when I was an LA student (and even today).  I believe way too many students are graduating and are not really prepared to face the real world of "Landscape Architecture".

I won't mention my source, but, before I graduated, I was told by a very reliable source. that at least 50% of my fellow LA graduates will most likely NEVER become successful Landscape Architects.  Well, I think the TRUTH here is that without a certain number of LA students.......LA professors will lose their jobs at major universities (Though, stating that, I intend absolutely no disrespect for ANY University LA Professor); I think LA Professors have an extremely difficult job! 

The other problem is that our economy has always run in cycles.  I was fortunate, in that that the U.S. economy really was pretty strong between 1977 and 1991.  At the end of 1990, the economy began to sag.  And, there were no LA jobs out there to be had.  I was placed in a position where I HAD to create my own start-up LA firm - and it takes at least (2) years to get any start-up business up and running (regardless of how much talent, experience & money you have). From about 1993 to 2008, I feel the U.S. economy was again strong and a great environment for Landscape Architects, and my private practice kept me extremely busy!.  But, the past 7 years have (as I understand it) have been very difficult for most LA's across America.

In fact, just last week, I was reading on an "Indeed" job board where there were hundreds of comments posted.  The most recent comment was posted by a female LA graduate who stated that she is STILL searching for her first LA job & she graduated 4-1/2 years ago!  About 2 years ago, I remember reading on-line, that some LA graduates from a couple of major Universities on the East coast...that their entire LA graduating classes (some as large as 50 graduates) could NOT find an entry level LA job.  I even personally know of an LA graduate from a (5) year LA program on the East Coast, who after working maybe 2+ years for a couple of different Landscape Design Build companies, has left Landscape Architecture & is now an Insurance Salesman.

But, I'm now beginning to see what "might" be a bit of an economic turn around for the U.S. and I'm seeing many more LA jobs showing  up on various job boards, like Indeed.com and ASLA.org.  But, I feel sure, competition for the LA jobs available is making it very difficult on new LA grads. LA firms have the luxury of choosing only the best and brightest of the bunch.

I guess, my thinking, with regards to the State LA Licenses is, that they should have more VALUE than they currently hold.  The CLARB Exam (from everything I have read about it) is out of control & just too expensive.  Constant changes to the test, where candidates have to re-take sections they have already passed.  I believe all LAs now have to maintain a CLARB file - more money for CLARB.  I just believe STATES need to ensure that their Licensed LA's really are "competent" to practice. I've seen where very experienced LAs have set up CLARB review workshops, yeah, for about $500.00 for a 3 day seminar, just so the candidates can learn HOW to take and pass the CLARB exam. One young LA friend of mine told me he spent at least $10,000.00 before he finally passed the CLARB Exam (Cost of seminars, travel expenses, etc.). 

It's my Professional opinion is that there are just too many Licensed LA's out there who have no idea what their doing.  Because, the system failed them.  4 or 5 years of LA education at a major University is one type of education...then, as a graduate enters the REAL world of Landscape Architecture, they learn to design with budgets, deadlines, deal with clients, learn to write legal contract proposals, produce cost estimates, preliminary designs that are creative & functional, learn how to produce full sets of contract documents that are in full compliance with local, state & Federal codes, deal with legal & safety issues, how to produce construction details, etc. When I think back on my own LA career, it probably took me between 5 to 8 years to reach a level where I really was a "competent Licensed Landscape Architect".  AND, I have seen some Portfolios from some LA graduates here on this site, who, in my Professional opinion, should NEVER have been issued a "Degree in Landscape Architecture". All it did was give those graduates an unrealistic belief that they will one day become a successful Landscape Architect....and they won't.  And, I truly feel badly for them.

And, these are just my "opinions", I don't in any way wish to hurt the feelings of ANY Landscape Architect, here on LAND8.  In fact, I would be more than happy to counsel or advise any young LA who feels they needs some input.  Landscape Architecture has been very good to me & I'm very willing to give back. I have helped a couple of young LA's get up to speed on "Grading", as they were having a lot of difficulties passing the Grading section of the CLARB exam...both have now passed the CLARB exam and are both Licensed LAs in their home states.

My third point was not made clear by me in my original post. It allows existing LA firms to control whether the development of future competitors takes place or not simply on whether they themselves hire them and hold them for the required length of time.

The fourth point used the term "internship" rather than "design job" after some hesitation, but I used it because I saw that you used it that way in your post - " this (5) year internship period". Call it what you will. There is a certain element out there in our profession that hires desperate grads at low wages because they need to work for an LA and then they dump them after a couple of years to replace them with new low paid desperate grads over and over..

The only job that I was ever exploited at was when I was in that situation. I needed some more "full time design job time" with a licensed LA to get licensed - they hired me at a reasonable salary so that I'd quit my other job to work for them. When I arrived, they informed me that I was going to work six ten hour days with a one hour commute each way (with a three year old child at home).  

Extending that dependency on the charity of firms with three or more licensed LAs is ridiculous.  The free market, such that it is, does not make licensed LAs instantly competitive. It just does not. You don't need a licensing board to protect bigger developers from under qualified LAs. You don't need them to protect big firms from hiring under qualified employees just because they have licenses.

I just don't think there is a current problem with under qualified people getting licensed and wrecking the profession.

Leslie said a lot of great things as usual and Dave is right on the money as well as I see it.

I understand your perspective, but I think it only fits if you further isolate the definition of Landscape Architect to bigger scale projects or more technically demanding projects.. Currently 40% of billable hour in this profession is in residential design (ASLA). I had my license a dozen years and worked for others before I was positioned well enough to work full time on my own. The market saw to that, my license did not.

I could cancel my licensed and keep on doing what I'm doing with the same success , such that it is. Someone can move into my market with a license and would not become an instant competitor to me based on that fact only. I agree that it was the experience that made me and not the license and for the same reason I do not fear inexperienced persons getting licensed - they simply won't be able to get the work that they are not qualified to do.

Hello Andrew.....I just read your newest comments as well as Dave's. I have to agree with what BOTH of you have stated here.....WELL SAID!

Hey, I fully understand being taken advantage of by an LA firm.  In looking back at the Dallas LA firm where I designed for 13 yrs...I started as the #5 employee and worked my way up to #3 (just behind the 2 Partners)....we were at (40) LA graduates by then.  But, I sincerely believe my salary was about 50% of what it should have been.  Though, I didn't really realize that until about year number 7 or 8...I could have left, but, I really enjoyed designing at that firm, had a great friendship with the 2 Owners and when I did leave, I left with a TON of fantastic experience that made it possible to create my own successful private practice.  As I'm sure you have learned, working on your own is a better financial situation, it absolutely was for me in that my annual income increased over 5x. Except for Federal Income Taxes, 95% of my fees really were "profit". Texas does not have a State income tax.

I totally agree with what you said about large LA firms taking advantage of new LA grads or young LAs.  The turnover rates in those TOP LA firms must be extremely high.  They work these young LA's half to death, pay them as little as possible, then, as you said, just replace them with another bunch.

I believe you are also correct, that most LA design projects these days tend to be "residential design projects".  I still do a few each year, but, it irritates me that too many homeowners expect to get a professional design, then, are not be willing to pay a fair design fee for those design services.  85% of my private practice was with upscale multi-family projects (as that was the primary type of project I designed at the Dallas LA firm for 14 years), so, it's what I knew best.  Great repeat business, but, I was up to my eyeballs in design work (doing 100% of every project on my own and everything drawn "by hand".  Can't say I miss it all that much...*smile*.

I checked with the Texas Landscape Architecture Board (down here)...and reviewed the State's LA laws carefully.  As long as I don't use the TITLE "Landscape Architect", I can legally design residential and multi-family projects.  So, I just allowed my Texas LA license to expire a couple of years ago, didn't see the need to keep it...though I kept it active for over 30 years.  I have to use the TITLE "Landscape Designer" to design projects here in Texas.

Thanks again to BOTH you and Dave for your very valid comments!

Bob

Bob, you've got some solid points and I appreciate the dialogue on the subject.  So first: THANK YOU for starting the conversation!!!!  

I got my degree about 5 years later in life than most of my classmates, after a stint in the Army and a year working to save money.  So I had a mild non-traditional student viewpoint during my studies.  I did an internship right out of school with the city of Topeka, KS working hands-on with some pretty innovative stormwater projects (innovative at the time, anyway).  I worked under a civil engineer and knew I needed a more LA-oriented environment if I was ever going to get my legs under me.  I worked at BNIM in Kansas City for a few months after that in a more "full-bodied" design firm setting.  After moving back to Texas and not finding a "big firm" job close enough to my wife's job, I landed at a small high-end residential design/build firm.  What was supposed to be a short term stop turned into over 10 years.

I worked under two LA's for about 3 years before testing for my license.  Do I think I learned everything I needed to know to work on multi-family, large commercial, or similar projects?  Nope.  Did I learn what I needed to know in order to be successful in my niche of an enormously broad field like LA?  I do.  Now that I'm licensed and work independently from anyone else, I know my strengths and weaknesses when it comes to being an LA.  I'd never consider trying to win a project that I knew I was not capable of doing well.  I'd like to think that many others out there do the same, not wholly out of principle, it's just that we make more money doing what we do well and make less money when we have to fumble our way through something.  Time is money, after all.

I wonder if the underlying premise of your proposition assumes that most people aren't able to recognize that a project would be out of their ability or skill level.  Or if developer's aren't savvy enough to realize they might be getting fleeced by a young LA trying to win their first big job.  Or if everyone should know how to function in a "corporate LA firm", even if they have no desire to be a part of that slice of the profession.  I've seen those young LA's win big jobs by putting together a good team of firms to collaborate on a project and produce a solution that would rival any big firm, so it seems that it's possible for those who want to do it.  While the current requirements might not be perfect, they might be a best-fit solution for an incredibly diverse profession.  Maybe the goal of licensure requirements (always coupled with a good dose of self awareness) should be to create the right conditions for LA's to compete with one another to go after projects that they choose to pursue. Inherent to these conditions is that anyone competing for these projects has demonstrated mastery of the minimum health, safety, and welfare components of public or quasi-public projects.

Again, your willingness to ask tough questions and share your thoughts and experience is downright awesome.  We all have different opinions and that's a good thing.  I look forward to hearing other perspectives and hope that your input on this topic helps foster a grass roots dialogue that should continue if we want to keep our profession vibrant and relevant.  

Dave

1. You are either going to pass the exam or you aren't, regardless of whether your experience is 2, 5 or 10 years, which leads to my next point -

2. It's questionable whether the exam (been a while since I took it, so it might be improved) is a valid gauge of useful knowledge and experience. For example, I recall one question from the exam that asked about a sheepsfoot compactor. Had I not seen one in a construction zone along the highway that I drove to work every day, I would have had no idea of what that meant. To this day, I have yet to have the opportunity to employ the use of a sheepsfoot compactor in one of my projects.

3. As such, passing the exam only qualifies you as "minimally competent". That is the exact phrase that was used in the notification letter that I received when I passed the exam. What an overwhelming sense of accomplishment, to be declared "minimally competent".

4. Consequently, I have worked with/for licensed LAs with 5 - 10 years experience, or more, who were just dingbats. In light of that, professional licensing, regardless of whether it requires 2 years or 5 years (or more) of work experience as a prerequisite for taking the exam, should probably not be equated with professional competence.

5. Lastly, there is no magic time threshold of professional experience where one passes from incompetence to competence. Chances are, a landscape designer with 2 - 5 years of experience is going to travel along the same career trajectory, working for a licensed professional, whether they are licensed or not. The few that choose to strike out on their own with only two years of experience are mostly likely going to be limited to small projects, where their potential for harm is minimized, or they will eventually take themselves out of the equation.

The exam is weak. It probably wasn't back in your day. I'll be the first to admit it. I qualified for the exam based on experience and I already knew far more than many of the people I studied with in preparation for the exam. So, to an extent, I do agree with you. If I don't know what I'm doing then I surely will not put my seal on it. I hope that is common sense that resonates with every practicing LA. I don't need CLARB or a State Board to tell me that. What I don't agree with you on is that experience has to be entirely under the supervision of a LA. Civil Engineers can do just as much as any LA can do if not more. Architects can fill in the rest. I typically work for both. What remains is what I bring to the table, my expertise. No, I do not think that a bureaucracy needs to be involved in the careers of the individual. I pass the exam. I get a license. It should be automatic. But, take CLARB for example. They only administer the exam. They DO NOT teach LA college or otherwise. They DO NOT employ the vast majority of LAs. They DO NOT issue licenses. They "regulate" by taking money from professionals like me. In return, I get benefits that are not divulged to others in my profession. That's basically "pay for play". Yet, the have influence on which states I can practice and to me that's wrong. State Boards I do trust their judgment, but again, pass the exam, get a license to me is how it should be. Make the exam harder not weaker as it has been going and it solves all of these problems, CLARB, Boards, experience level. 

Martin......I just wanted to add my 2 cents here to your comment above.

My nearly 43 yrs. of exp. as an LA tells me that YOU will NOT learn anything about "Landscape Architecture" from a Civil Eng. or an Architect.....period. They are clueless about what LAs do...even though, many LA firms and some Architecture firms TRY to provide LA design services to their clients, when they should NOT. Oh, they can maybe teach you autoCAD skills...but, that's it. In fact, I have come to learn that very few CEs have any respect for Landscape Architects or what we do.

Working under a Licensed LA or an experienced Landscape Designer is the ONLY way you can learn the LA profession.

I was fortunate to have worked under and with many very talented and experienced Landscape Architects during the first 14 yrs. (after graduating from Texas A&M)...those 14 yrs. provided me with a solid foundation to begin my own LA private practice @ age 41.

On the CLARB exam, I don't have extensive knowledge about it, but, I do know it's a 100% computer exam. When I took the U.N.E. (what the national exam was called back in 1977...it was 2-1/2 days of testing. About 65% of the exam had us do "hand drawn" LA design solutions & grading design...and draw construction details...the rest of the test were multiple choice questions. It was 2-1/2 very intense days...it was rough, but, I did pass all sections. In August of 1978, I was able to become a Licensed LA in both Texas & Florida. It is my understanding that the CLARB exam does NOT relate very well to the "real world" of Landscape Architecture...and that MANY LA grads have to take the CLARB exam more than once...and spend a TON of $ to final pass it (having to spend a lot of money on practice CLARB testing seminars)...it should be a challenging exam, but, you shouldn't go broke trying to pass it. LA jobs just don't pay that much...at least not entry level jobs...maybe $35k to $45k? Plus, with 4 or 5 yrs. worth of student loans, it's pretty sad the LA profession doesn't pay all that well, in most cases....not until you have significant experience anyway. I went thru Texas A&M on the GI bill (due to my 4 yrs. of service in the U.S. Navy)...I graduated with zero student loan debts.

Again, I just really believe that the LA experience is critical to an LA's success in our field. You can NOT teach yourself "Landscape Architecture" after you graduate from a University.

Bob

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