CE survey underscores thirst for knowledge in professions

August 11, 2010

"Continuing education in many professions is a proven means for ensuring that the profession remains current." So stated the American Institute of Architects in its 2003 report, "The Business of Architecture." For that very reason, the AIA requires its members to earn 18 "learning units" every year to keep the "AIA" after their names, and it is why 33 states have mandatory continuing education (CE) requirements for architectural licensure. Of course, engineers, contractors, and other Building Team members need lifelong learning just as much as architects do.

Based on an exclusive Building Design & Construction survey of AEC professionals, however, the commitment of professional Building Team firms to continuing education appears to be in question. Consider these somewhat dismaying findings:

  • More than three-fifths of survey respondents (61%) said their firms did not have a structured CE program in place.

  • More than one-fifth of respondents (22%) said their employers did not pay even partial expenses for CE courses.

  • One-third of respondents (33%) said their firms did not hold any in-house CE courses in their offices. This is quite remarkable, given that there are hundreds of building product manufacturers out there willing to sponsor "lunch-and-learn" technical courses at no cost to professional firms.

On the plus side, those who participate in CE programs report taking positive actions as a result of their course work: Nearly three in four (74%) said they had "implemented an idea from the program" in their work, while a nearly equal number (71%) said they had discussed the content with colleagues, and nearly half (48%) copied handout materials for others in their firm.

Meeting certain standards

Almost three-fourths of respondents (74%) said they worked in a state or belonged to a membership association that required them to obtain learning units to keep their licenses or memberships. This was particularly true for architects, 86% of whom cited such requirements, and for engineers, 72% of whom said they had to take a minimum number of courses to stay licensed or remain enrolled in their membership societies.

But the source of motivation for learning was not entirely external. It is interesting to note, for example, that two-thirds of respondents (67%) said they would participate in a CE program even if the course did not offer credit toward licensure or association membership. Even if you take away those who work in states that do not require learning units to maintain licensure, 45% of respondents said they would still take courses without such a requirement.

Courses that offer "health, safety, and welfare" (HSW) credits are seen as crucial to respondents' needs, and for good reason: Of the 33 states with mandatory CE requirements for architects, all but Kansas require the equivalent of eight HSW learning units a year. Three-fourths of all respondents (60%) said this was a motivating factor in whether they would take such a course.

What respondents wanted to study produced at least one surprise. The top-rated topic: building codes, which was of "greatest appeal" to 55% of respondents. Design topics (51%) and construction issues (46%) did well. Green building/LEED/sustainability (36%), HSW issues (24%), and project management or delivery (24%) showed some strength. (Totals exceed 100% due to multiple answers.)

Respondents' choice of venue was understandable: Nearly three-fourths of the 253 who answered this question (74%) said they preferred to get their learning units at conferences and conventions (such as the AIA's or the Construction Specifications Institute's), while two-thirds (61%) favored in-office lunch-and-learns from building product makers; a slight majority (53%) would choose an out-of-office program, such as one at a university.

Online "distance education," such as programs from Red Vector, scored slightly better (41%) than learning units in print publications (38%), but even in-house programs taught by experts in the firm did fairly well (31%), as did the relative newcomer webcasting (30%), one of the fastest-growing forms of continuing education. (Will podcasting be the next big thing?) Again, multiple answers were permitted.

Training programs at conferences were deemed "most effective" by respondents (28%), followed by extramural programs (e.g., at a university) at 22% and manufacturer lunch-and-learns (21%). Print, online, in-house "experts," and webcasts all fell into single digits in terms of perceived effectiveness.

The majority of respondents (54%) wanted to keep their CE efforts local or regional, with another 31% saying that they could not stray beyond local programs. Only a chosen few (15%) said they were "free to travel anywhere in the U.S." to take a course.

For in-house training, the bulk of respondents said either that their firms offered courses "about once a month" (22%) or "every few months (22%). Nearly half (49%) said their employers offered no in-house program at all or did so only once or twice a year.

As for the preferred format, the case-study approach proved to be a clear winner (61%), with ol' tried-and-true-lecture-cum-PowerPoint-slides holding on just south of 50%, in a near-dead heat with "product or technology demonstration" (49%). Hands-on workshops drew a respectable 35%, as did job-site visits (24%). But only a few respondents were willing to risk role-playing or game-playing.

The typical AEC respondent spends $1,109 a year on average for learning units ($559 median), with nearly half (47%) devoting less than $500 a year to further their education. This includes out-of-pocket costs and employer reimbursement.

Who pays for CE? For a good number of respondents (43%), the employer pays all expenses, even travel. Another 35% said they were partially reimbursed. But better than one in five (22%) said they got zilch from their firms.

Where do you currently obtain learning units for Continuing Education? (multiple responses)

Base: 253
Source: Reed Research Group, 12/05
Conferences, lunch-and-learns, and university-type programs remain the top CE sources.



Conferences, conventions 74%
In-house 'lunch-and-learns' by product manufacturers 61%
Out-of-office programs (e.g., at a university) 53%
Online 'distance education' (e.g., Red Vector, PACE)` 41%
Print publications 38%
'Lunch-and-learns' by in-house experts 31%
Webcasts, webinars 30%


From your experience, which format is the most effective for Continuing Education?


Base: 257
Source: Reed Research Group, 12/05
Respondents favor conferences, outside programs, and in-house lunch-and-learns.



Conferences, conventions 28%
Out-of-office programs (e.g., at a university) 22%
In-house 'lunch-and-learns' by product manufacturers 21%
Print publications 9%
Online 'distance education' (e.g., Red Vector, PACE) 7%
'Lunch-and-learns' by in-house experts 7%
Webcasts, webinars 6%


What type of presentation do you find most effective for Continuing Education? (multiple answers)


Base: 258
Source: Reed Research Group, 12/05
"Interactive" presentations, such as role-playing and team projects, get little support.



Case study of a project or problem 61%
Lecture with slides 50%
Product or technology demonstration 49%
Workshop ('hands-on') approach 35%
Visit to a job site 24%
Roundtable discussion 16%
Panel discussion 14%
Team project 6%
Role-playing, game-playing 1%


How does your firm seek ideas for CE programs? (multiple answers)


Base: 256
Source: Reed Research Group, 12/05
Respondents reported that their employers sought ideas for CE from a variety of sources.



Suggestions from staff or management 54%
Vendor offerings 52%
State licensing requirements 40%
Firm's strategic plan 17%
Firm's performance review process 16%
Market research 11%
Client surveys 6%
Other 6%
Don't know 15%


How often does your firm hold in-house CE programs?


Base: 259
Source: Reed Research Group, 12/05
One-third of respondents reported their employers offer no in-house training programs.



About once a week 6%
About once a month 22%
About once every few months 22%
Once or twice a year 16%
None/rarely 33%


Which topics are of greatest appeal to you for Continuing Education? (multiple answers)


Base: 261
Source: Reed Research Group, 12/05
The high level of interest in "building codes" as a CE topic was strong across the board.



Building codes 55%
Design topics 51%
Construction topics 46%
Green building/LEED/sustainability 36%
Health-Safety-Welfare (HSW) 24%
Project management or delivery 24%
Practice management/business issues 12%
Mold/moisture protection 11%
Leadership development 10%
IT topics (CAD, BIM, etc.) 8%
Risk management 7%
Safety issues 5%
Security issues 1%


After participating in a CE program, what actions have you taken? (multiple answers)


Base: 252
Source: Reed Research Group, 12/05
This chart points to the effectiveness of continuing education for AEC professionals.



Implemented an idea from the program in my work 74%
Discussed with colleagues 71%
Contacted a product manufacturer for more information 58%
Adopted a product, service, or technology discussed in the program 52%
Copied handout materials for others 48%
Contacted the presenting company 41%


Mandatory continuing education requirements for architects
(as of August 2005)



State Report Date HSW Hours/Year Total Hours/Year Distance Education Accepted
* Not finalized ** For 2006
Source: AIA/CES


AIA/CES 12/31 8 18 Yes
Alabama 9/30 12 12 4 hr, not HSW
Arkansas 7/31 8 12 4 hr, not HSW
Delaware 7/31 16/2 years 24/2 years Yes
Florida 2/28 16/2 years 20/2 years Yes
Georgia 6/30 16/2 years 24/2 years Yes
Hawaii 12/31 8 8 Yes
Idaho 12/31 8 8 Yes
Illinois 11/30 16/2 years 24/2 years Yes
Iowa 6/30 16/2 years 24/2 years Yes, not HSW
Kansas 6/30 0 30/2 years Yes
Kentucky 6/30 8 12 Yes
Louisiana 12/31 12 12 Yes
Maryland 9/30 16/2 years 24/2 years Yes
Massachusetts 8/30 8 12 Yes
Minnesota 6/30 24/2 years 24/2 years Yes, with exam
Missouri 12/31 16/2 years 24/2 years Yes
Mississippi 12/31 16/2 years 16/2 years 50%
Nebraska 12/31 16/2 years 24/2 years Yes
New Jersey 7/31 16/2 years 24/2 years Yes
New Mexico Renewal 16/2 years 24/2 years Yes
New York Renewal 24/3 years 36/3 years Yes, 50% max**
North Carolina 12/31 12 12 Yes
Ohio 12/31 16/2 years 24/2 years Yes
Oklahoma 6/30 24/2 years 24/2 years Yes
Oregon 6/30 8 12 Yes
Rhode Island 12/31 16/2 years 24/2 years Yes
South Carolina 6/30 8 12 *
South Dakota Renewal 20/2 years 30/2 years Yes, with restrictions
Tennessee Renewal 16/2 years 24/2 years Yes
Texas 2/28 or 7/31 8 (1 hr ADA) 8 Yes, 3-hr max
Vermont 12/31 24/2 years 24/2 years Yes
West Virginia 6/30 12 12 Yes
Wyoming 12/31 16/2 years 16/2 years Yes