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New grads `definitely in the right place at the right time`

Architectural job market, once stagnant, now booming

Over the years a lot has changed in architecture, including the job market.

In fact, when Gary Bailey, AIA, partner with Johnson Bailey Henderson McNeel Architects, P.A., graduated from

Mississippi State University in 1979, there were virtually no jobs to be had due to the economy.

“I was begging for work,” he said. “Now I’m begging to hire people.”

Again, this is being blamed on the economy, but it is great for those just out of school. “They are in the driver’s seat,” Bailey

said of graduates. “A recent graduate with a little bit of experience and some computer knowledge is very marketable. They

are definitely in the right place at the right time.”

And although Bailey is not in as much of a crisis situation now that the construction market in Mississippi has finally

stabilized, his firm still hires three to four people each year on average.

“Where it will be three years from now, no one knows, but today if you graduated from architecture school you’ve got a

good chance of finding a good job with good pay,” Bailey said.

Starting salary for graduates of schools of architecture ranges from $25,000 to $32,000 in Mississippi these days, a big

jump from the 1979 starting salaries of $10,000 to $15,000.

Bailey and others in the business are seeing students come out of architecture school better trained today.

“I think that’s a testament to the school of architecture,” he said. “They’re learning more about the business and becoming

more marketable. We certainly want them, but trying to get hold of them is the question.”

Architectural firms statewide and nationwide are now recruiting earlier due to the shortage as well. At Mississippi State

University where the only School of Architecture (SARC) in the state exists, Career Day has become a major event. At the

last expo put on by the school, 31 firms from all over the country showed up. Minneapolis, Dallas, Washington, D.C. were

just a few of the locations of firms that made the long journey to MSU.

Michael Richardson, director of development at the MSU SARC, believes the level of growth in the economy is directly

linked to the job market for graduates of SARC.

“If the market goes south, they have to look for work elsewhere,” Richardson said.

But for the past several years, the market in the state has been good, affording architectural firms more projects in the state

and the opportunity to grow their operations.

“With the gaming industry boom of the mid-’90s, the industrial and commercial growth on the Coast, the Northeast

Mississippi area and the northwest corner of the state, there’s quite a bit of new construction going on and our architects are

staying busy with those projects.”

The MSU SARC was established 27 years ago, after firms demanded a state program. Before, Mississippi firms looked to

Alabama, Tennessee, Louisiana, Georgia and Arkansas for architects.

“We’ve been able to establish a high quality education for the training of future architects and have gotten a lot of national

acclaim for both outreach to communities and academic work,” Richardson said. “The job market for our architects has

probably reached the highest level that it’s ever been both in the state and across the country.”

Kathy C. Boutwell, executive director of the American Institute of Architects/MS (AIA) does not see this trend slacking

anytime soon. She has heard from many firms statewide in search of licensed architects with two to three years of

experience.

“I’m still getting a number of phone calls searching for licensed architects to hire,” she said.

And what has compounded the problem in Mississippi is that the same thing is happening in Louisiana, Alabama, Arkansas

and Tennessee.

“I think it has become more of a southeastern shortage and it’s due to the fact that construction has been booming for the

past several years in the Southeast.”

In order to remedy the problem, Boutwell and the AIA is staying in touch with MSU SARC alumni and attempting to bring

them back into the state. They have seen some success with this.

As for today’s job market, Boutwell said, “I’m not seeing it slow down at this time. I’m still getting a number of phone calls

searching for licensed architects to hire.”

Even though this seems to be a problem, Boutwell does not see it as such.

“It’s a great opportunity to see the construction industry grow and particularly the architectural industry grow in the state of

Mississippi,” she said.

David Lemons, vice president of Cooke Douglass Farr Lemons/LTD Architects and Engineers, agreed with Boutwell.

“There’s enough work now to keep everybody home, unlike a few years ago when few of the graduates stayed in the state,”

he said. “That’s a good thing.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Elizabeth Kirkland at ekirkland@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1042.

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