Imagine if you will: you go back to school for an advanced degree, one which will qualify you for a very specialized type of work. As part of this education, you have the opportunity to receive professional certifications and accreditations which will make you more marketable in the coming job search. You graduate, but fail to find a job in your field, most likely because of forces outside your control. However, your professional credentials require continuing education and upkeep. This requires money that, since you’re not working in your field, you don’t have. You could let the credentials expire, but then it would be even harder to find a job. You need the credentials to find a job in your field, but you can’t afford to keep the credentials without a job in your field.

Sound familiar?

If you’re me it does.

Last summer, I graduated with a Masters degree in architecture. As an elective during my studies, I became accredited as a LEED Green Associate (LEED is a green building standard in the United States that outlines a way for building professionals to strive for sustainable and ecologically sensitive construction via a system of credits). With the growing focus on sustainability in the architecture industry, this sort of experience is almost expected. A graduate would stand out more by not having LEED experience. There are two levels of accreditation: Green Associate and AP (Accredited Professional). Accreditation is achieved by taking a test; the GA exam tests general knowledge, while the AP requires memorization of specific minutia of the credits and rules. I didn’t feel like going through the arduous process of memorizing the 700+ page handbook, as I wanted some semblance of a life outside of school, so LEED GA it was for me. While not as marketable as full-on LEED AP, the GA does show a token interest and commitment to sustainability.

Now, these credentials require continuing education to maintain. I don’t disagree with this in principle; standards change, and it’s a fair way of making sure people actually know what they claim they do. But this becomes a problem when one is “outside the club” (read: architecture industry), as this continuing education costs money. Money that I, working an average of 30 hours a week at a retail job and struggling to pay off student loans and credit cards, simply don’t have. If I don’t figure something out by the end of December, my accreditation will lapse.

And now we come to the conundrum. I am still looking for a job in the industry. Not being LEED accredited would make me stand out in a negative way, likely hurting my chances of getting a foot in the door. However, I can’t afford to keep my credentials on my current measly salary. Letting my credentials expire feels like a sort of Rubicon, a way of saying “Well, I give up” on the architecture thing. I’m not sure I’m ready to admit to that yet, but I don’t see another solution.

This catch-22 is one of the reasons I’m becoming disillusioned with the architecture profession as it currently exists in the United States: they make it really hard to even get your foot in the door, and it’s nigh impossible to play outside the club. So it’s great for people who have already made it, but at the expense of those outside trying to get in. But that rant probably deserves its own post.

So yeah, not much resolution here. Just brooding from the ranks of America’s over-educated, under-employed “working poor.”

Anyway, I’m starting to get distracted. Here’s a cute kitten chaser.

1 thought on “Catch-22

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