Who is going to take your place when you retire?

Landscape Architecture for Landscape Architects Forums GENERAL DISCUSSION Who is going to take your place when you retire?

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    I have first hand experience with this.
    Currently I hold a position with a Design/Build company that also does a good deal of maintenance.
    I was more than willing to go into a LA firm and ‘pay my dues’ but there were none that were hiring entry level BLA graduates and I was snubbed so many times my enthusiasm for LA has dwindled.

    So I am at a large D/B doing everything a LA does just can’t call myself one.
    So what does that mean for all those retiring LA’s? It means my carrier path has changed and I can’t take their place at this point, or the near future.

    I agree with Jonathan that in a numbers game LAs will be outnumbered by other professions that can do the same work, not better just that they can.
    But I disagree in that Jonathan is thinking about the here and now.

    5 years from now, I believe, that BLA graduates will be able to find work and begin to replace the retiring LAs.
    My only concern is that the boat for me may sail away. In 5 years I may have more financial responsibility, family, than will allow me to work for little money and ‘pay my dues’.

    This will not stop me from designing. It only means I am having to follow a different path.

    Thomas J. Johnson

    Hi Jonathan,

    Great website! I went to CSU also and really miss it… those were the days. It looks like your D/B company does really nice work also, naturalized but very designerly.

    I don’t think you’re going to be prohibited from working for a design firm, if that’s what you decide you want to do. If anything, they will value your field experience and knowing about the real world, what works and what doesn’t. After your current experience, you may find that you don’t want to spend 10-12 hrs a day strapped in a chair doing AutoCAD… people do that for years and years with little increase in pay or responsibility, just cranking out others designs.

    To address your and Mark’s comments; I have a hard time believing that working under an LA for a D/B company doesn’t count towards your 2-3 yr. apprenticeship. I guess it depends on what you’re doing, design/production vs. maintenance. If an LA signs-off that you worked for him, how can CLARB/ASLA tell you that you weren’t working under an LA because the company also built the work… seems like flawed logic.

    One more thing… BLA’s who graduated recently are not going to be replacing the retiring LAs, 5, 10 or even 15 years from now… Think about it. Is a 25 year old who just got their license going to fill the shoes of a senior associate or principal with 40 years of experience? No way. Recent grads are not going to replace retirees for a long time… it’s a gradual process, not “out with the old, in with the new”…


    I’m coming fresh into this topic so there is much I could respond to. To preface, I myself am in “landscape designer” status with 1 year of 2 needed to be able to sit for the LARE in Pennsylvania. Were I currently working in an LA firm, I’d be well passed that point. I am the only person at my job that holds a BLA so unless I switch jobs (which is a tough task during this season especially), I won’t garner any more experience on the books until I’m employed by a firm again…this isn’t news to anyone.

    CLARB requirements and Practice Laws may appear to be exclusive to recent grads, but IMO it is for the safety and well-being of practitioners and their clients. This is why a doctor goes through a four-year residency before they are able to officially sign-off on certain things. Sure, they can make recommendations, but it isn’t set in stone. One could argue this is much like an intern landscape architect doing a grading plan that includes a retaining wall, but that plan will not and should not be built unless it is first reviewed and approved by a licensed professional, be they an LA or structural engineer who is assumed to have previously done similar work. If this were not the case, we’d be in danger of wrecking the profession having licensed LA’s fresh out of college and with no practical experience piling up lawsuit after lawsuit for errors and omissions that could easily have been avoided through a 2-year “apprenticeship” of sorts. That certain states allow this (no offense to people who HAVE succeeded as a result) is to put their citizenry at risk. Practice laws merely insure against the multitude of scenarios that simply cannot be addressed within a five year degree program, but can be through practical experience under the proper supervision.

    Jonathan, I’m sorry you’re having difficulties growing your business right now and I’m sure in a town of only 30,000 people LA certainly does seem ‘weak sauce’, but that isn’t the case everywhere. Now that you are licensed, what are you doing to “take it by the balls”? As others have said, success takes many years and lots of hard work. Personally, I’m trying to figure out how best I can position myself to be able to do the work I want to do. If you want to “[design] the future of our towns, cities, regions”, how are you positioning yourself to gain that work? Are you talking to planners, city officials, and other LA’s about what the atmosphere is for that type of work in your area? Even if your aim is not to spend the rest of your life doing master plans, catch my drift?

    There are still a lot of recent grads that are in it for the long haul. Times like these require some concessions, creativity, and strategy. The LA’s that end up at KFC or Starbucks may be there only for a year or two, but the ones that have no initiative and go no further aren’t really cut out for this business.

    AR Coffeen

    This is good stuff, i like to rant myself, so here I go.

    Preface: I just graduated with my MLA in May, I have established relationships with the principals of every LA firm in town, I am the Treasurer of the NMASLA, I network through my connections at the school and local governments, I volunteer and I still can’t get a job in the LA field, design build places won’t even hire me because my only landscaping experience is through the school and my side projects. So, to help pay the bills I have turned to part time Cost Segregation Accounting (more aligned with my undergrad degree).

    It’s hard to stay optimistic that something will come up and it’s challenging to be enthused about a profession that just takes the punches of a bad economy. Instead now is the time to invest in the future, hire young talent that you can train and grow so when you retire they too have 40 years of experience and can carry on the legacy of your name and company, go after new work, distinguish yourself from the competition, and start throwing punches. Take work back from the architects, planners, environmental ecologist, engineers, etc…

    I realize it’s our own (landscape architects) fault for not materializing the benefits of landscape design in a more tangible, dollars and cents, type of way like these other professions do and as a result the value of our work is rarely being seen. This causes landscapes to be the first to get cut from the budget and the last things to be considered on a majority of projects. If we can better monetize the value of our work we will be able to better justify and sell our skills.

    I am working on this, I’ve been studying monetary values of landscape and how to place monetary benefits on a more complete relationship between land and structure (place). It helps fill in the other part of my time, when i am not working as a cost segregation accountant…

    good luck to you all!

    AR Coffeen

    Also, here in NM you can sit for the LARE as soon as you graduate but, you can’t get your license until you have fulfilled the 2 years experience under a licensed LA or the 6+ years in the field doing similar work not under an LA. Also, here, if you pass any part of the LARE and submit a form you can call yourself a “Landscape Architect in Training”, a nice piece of legislature pushed through by one of the LA’s here.



    I like that kind of strategy. What have been the most valuable sources of data in your research?



    The relationships you have established will certainly pay-off in the future.

    But take work back from the architects they’re jockeying for a place in the bread line just like we are.

    So let me guess firms are supposed to hire young LAs to work on imaginary projects just so they can get experience. Sounds nice, but that’s just bad business. Maybe I’m missing something.


    Thank you for the comment on the website. I have not updated it since January so it is lacking my newest work and sadly has a few bugs to be worked on. Will be rebuilding the whole thing shortly.

    As far as your comment on 10-12 hours in Auto CAD is that in reference to working for a firm? or at what I am currently doing? Because believe it or not I have only used Auto CAD once in my 5 months at the company. I do hand drawings and the construction side of the company has drafters.

    As far as the apprenticeship the problem lies in that we do not have a LA on staff. My designs get singed off on by Architects, Engineers, or Construction Contractors. There is talk of starting an LA branch but not in the near future.

    Lastly when it comes to the retiring LAs your point is valid. It is a process to replace principles of a firm. I think I more so just see less LAs feeding into that process at this time. But to me this all feels like growing pains.

    Heather Smith

    Thinking more about this throughout the day. I think the thing that bothers me is that our education does not require an internship (at least our our uni) but licensing essentially requires one. For recent graduates…there aren’t even free internships available. If this practical experience is so worth it why don’t universities require internships/practicums like nursing or medical schools. Otherwise I do see people leaving the field because of all the unromantic realities we face like student loans!

    I think the idea of paying “dues” is silly. Prove yourself to be competent through testing and professional experience. The issue is the unavailability of the professional experience. I have heard more experienced LAs in Idaho try to discourage new graduates from taking the test but some of us already have the responsibilities of children and a coffee shop job is not an option. My thought is that the test is hard…and paying for and passing that test should counts as some of your “dues”. We also have thousands in “dues” we are paying…something called student loans. It was hard work going to school with a family. It was hard work scraping up money for exams and paying for plane flights to Boise to take the tests several times. Learning how to run your own business is hard work! Saying that being able to take (and pass!) your LAREs is some form of line cutting? I am frustrated for classmates in other states that are simply working odds and ends jobs or going onto continuing education accruing more student loans for advanced degrees…will that really help since they still have no experience?

    I don’t see any commitment by universities or businesses to take new grads under wing and provide some/any mentorship opportunities. We have attempted to gain some professional office experience by renting…yes renting….space in an engineering firm that previously employed LAs. We figure this will allow us to meet people and yes…ask questions of more seasoned professional…in this case an engineer.
    I think various states laws do smack of protectionism like a previous poster stated. And why is this helpful to the profession?

    Heather Smith


    Have you thought of starting your own design/build? I am not sure what state you live in and how the economy is. We started out with fliers around town when reality struck…and have actually been able to survive!

    mark foster

    Good point Heather. Why doesn’t this happen more?

    I will say my niece is in her 4th year of industrial engineering (GA Tech), and she has 4 awesome internships under her belt.

    Any academic types want to weigh in?


    Heather I agree with you on the internship idea. My university didn’t have an internship program either and I know it would have been a benefit to me. I spent my first year unlearning a decent portion of what I was taught in school.

    I’m not too sure about the silliness of paying dues though. I’ve pretty much accepted that life might be about paying dues. When do you really stop paying dues (especially in our profession)? Even when you’ve “made it” there’s always something else.

    I have no problem with a person that is able to take and pass the LARE fresh out of school. That says something about the program they graduated from, as well as the individual. With that said, just because a person has a degree and a licensed does not mean they are ready for primetime.

    Here’s an example, the last firm I worked for had a young guy there who was very intelligent a computer wiz kid. He was in his mid-twenties and already passed the exam and held the position of senior project manager and in theory was my boss. But, he made critical mistakes, I mean big money mistakes.

    He completed a set of construction documents for a sports field to about 90%. I was asked by the owner to finish them because he had moved on to more important things. The field had an existing 36” drain pipe running through it and he had designed a full cut grading and drainage scheme. I looked at the site photos and I saw the pipe drained to a creek (more like a ditch) that was about 3 ½’ deep. I told the owner that something didn’t jive with the drawings and I needed to go out to the site before I could finish up the drawings. I walked straight to the end of the pipe when I arrived on site. There was about 6” of cover existing over the pipe. He hadn’t considered the pipe or the depth of the creek. His preliminary drawings had made it through the firm owner’s and the town review and nobody caught it. If the contractor attempted to build off these drawings it would have been a calamity. This was just one of his many screw ups.

    I’m not the smartest guy in the world, but practical experience gave me the knowledge base to look for the important things first. He made a rookie mistake, because he was still a rookie. The firm owner overlooked the mistake because he was an administrative type.

    Everyone knows that pipes need a minimum amount of cover, but when you’re looking at a survey with a zillion different lines, text and other information, it’s easy to overlook the basics. Experience teaches you to see through all visual noise so that you can get the information you need.

    Also, once you’ve been licensed for a while you’ll appreciate a little protectionism. If we LAs want the respect that architects and engineers get, we can’t just open the barn doors and let any Joe Schmoe in.

    Thomas J. Johnson

    A lot of people don’t understand what an “internship” is. An “internship” is when you pay your tuition for the semester while working for someone for free or close to it. I don’t know why anyone would want their school to require an “internship” in order to graduate.

    Why would you want the university to require it of you? Not only are you working for free, you’re paying the school for the credit of working for free. Nobody is stopping you from getting an “internship” at any point, either in school or after graduation. You are welcome to work for free. In fact, I bet there are a lot of firms that would be happy to have you working for free right now…

    I was fortunate to have a paid “internship” with the CO Department of Local Affairs while I was in school. An internship was not required by the program but it was something I wanted to do and needed the extra money. It was a good learning experience and gave me a taste of government / community development work. After graduation I was very lucky to get a paying position with a firm in Southern California. This was the spring of ’08. As you all know, the gravy train officially ended in the fall of ’08. I was unemployed for a spell. Heartbroken, frustrated, depressed out of my mind (still haven’t fully recovered from the experience 2 years later). Eventually got to work in a local nursery and then got hired by a solo landscape architect to draft his plans. I learned a lot there but again it was short lived at 6 months… Now I’m looking for work again… In hind sight, I consider both of my last two firm positions “internships”, one in commercial, the other high-end residential. Had they been clear about the title and their intentions the whole experience would have been much different. I still would have worked hard but I would not have been emotionally involved or committed to staying, erroneously thinking that long hours and hard work would secure my position when they started letting people go, as I knew they would.

    It’s been a rocky road, to say the least, that has proven to be financially devastating. $35k in student debt plus spending $60k in savings to pursue and attempt to hold onto “the dream”. I sure wish I had that $60k in the bank and didn’t have $35k in student debt hanging over my head. I am more than broke… I am broken… thank god I don’t have a wife, kid or a mortgage to worry about, then I’d really be up the creek.

    So, to get back on track, an internship would not help you. Experience would, but an “internship” by definition, would not. Go work for free, get experience, but why you would want to pay your school for the privilege to do so is beyond me…

    Excuse me, I need to go apply for a job at the local coffee shop so I can make $8/hr while I live in my moms house… if I work 40 hrs a week I might just be able to cover my cell phone, car and health insurance, while living room and board free…”Good idea going back to school for landscape architecture, genius”… shoot me now…


    Pardon my ignorance, but I thought all internships were like the kids that come in during summer break and get paid. This is what they like at my past firms.

    Tosh K

    As I understand it both VA and CT will allow you to take the LARE w/o experience, but the state board will not issue a license until your CLARB certification is complete and you have the necessary experience as required by the board.

    Compared to the IDP process for architecture, the LA license procedure is, simple – they require you log a specific number of hours in 15 different aspects of the profession (Programming thru office management), report every 6 months and have it verified by your employer… not exactly convenient, and a bit overboard in my opinion.

    My school offered both unpaid internship placement (1~2 weeks) over winter break (more akin to job shadowing for a week, and assistance with networking via alumni. The idea was that the winter internship leads to summer employment leading to future job. The options ranged from standard offices to public nonprofits. The alumni also stay in touch with the faculty, so there’s a great network for us out of school. The majority of the class of ’09 has work in the field or one related to it, and last I heard ’10 is being picked up as well.

    I agree that experience is vital and necessary to ensure consistent quality, and as a profession we are obligated to uphold our own standards of professionalism. That being said, it would be nice to add a provision where a licensed profession can “mentor” an independent practitioner and vouch/sponsor someone like you to get licensed . It is interesting to note that there are age gaps in the profession where previous recessions have culled out would-have-been LAs.

    On professional organizations, I must say that having a lobby in DC and a marketing division to help us convey our value to the public is essential and well worth our dues. The benefits may not be as widely felt, and there’s a responsibility to voice your concerns to the ASLA (they are available to chat and discuss these issues, and are fairly responsive).

    On (civil) engineers and architects moving in on landscape projects, yeah they’re good at some aspects of what we do, but are increasingly aware and respectful of what we offer that they can’t do (I’ve worked in both having studied both) – capitalizing and educating on those can be a great growth opportunity.

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