David Parken

By Tina Perinotto

3 August 2011 – Following hot on the heels of our story last issue on the mass retrenchment of four staff at the NSW chapter office has come some of the reasoning behind the move and an indication of the pressure architects are facing as a profession.

According to chief executive officer for the AIA David Parken the roles made redundant in the NSW chapter last month were not because of any new strategic direction in the institute, but about implementing the existing strategy

He said three of the four roles had already been filled internally and a fourth, to manage the awards program, was currently being advertised.

“The reality is that there isn’t a change of strategic direction, we’re not doing a new strategic plan,” Parken told The Fifth Estate.

“It’s not part of some sort of co-ordinated sweep through the chapters,” he said.

“We have a strategic plan.  This was about aligning our resources to better serve that strategic plan and have the skills and the back up across all those outcomes, so what we did was a managed review.

“We did a review of the resources and the skills base that was there and did a restructure of staff and any business is free to do that and the institute is no different.”

Parken considered such action could be difficult.

“Obviously these things are always difficult.  We tried to be very sensitive about that and of course we are not going to discuss people’s employment with the whole membership; we have a legal obligation.”

The moves started with a revision of how the institute was meeting its objectives, which were set by the membership, in contrast to the operations issues, decided by management.

It was a “top down, bottom up” structure Parken says.

Business units that serve the whole country operate from particular locations, for instance, knowledge services out of Melbourne.

According to Parken, architects are under increasing pressure in their professional lives and part of assisting them was to deliver membership services the way members wanted. Increasingly that is online and through social media.

“The majority of members today want a different service, they want a service online and they want things that are effective and efficient,”  Parken said.

“They want to book on line and pay on line; they are busy people, and we are exploring like every other organisation, social media and some of our events are already promoted through Twitter and Facebook.”

Members could access a “bundle of online support”. This included the environmental design guide, “which is huge”, and the practice guide called Acumen.

These are strategies that were working and attracting new members, especially through the A Plus membership program, which allowed younger qualifying employees of member practices to join at 50 per cent of standard costs.

The institute was “faring very well, contrary to some misinformation,” Parken said.

“It’s actually growing from 9000 two years ago to just over 11,000. We have 1500 practices signing up in the A Plus [program] and that’s resulted in 2200 new members who are the key target audience, the employed graduates and registered architects.”

Parken said that the aim of the institute was to provide a professional “cradle to grave” service from students, to graduates and retired architects but that the A plus program targeted owners of businesses and with offerings to their employees in line with what other members receive.

There has also been a deal struck with Australian Standards to supply 7000 Australian standards for buildings – which architects need to pay for – to staff of the member company.

According to Standards Australia there are up to 150 standards referenced in the Building Code of Australia and the basic package to access these is about $1800 but can go up to close to $8000 a year for a bigger package.

“Our members have been crying out for this deal for some time and delivering it through these initiatives is delivering huge member value and benefit to the profession.”

“For any member organisation this is the biggest challenge they’ve got and over the past two years our membership has grown six per cent.”

At the policy level the AIA has been more than busy, with deep involvement in a national urban policy currently being developed at the federal government level, and in promoting the value of architecture.

The recent report on the Building Education Revolution has helped. It showed that schools – mainly private schools – that had a master plan and used an architect for their projects had much better outcomes in terms of perceived building quality and cost.

In Parken’s view the institute has “really ramped up its lobbying ability at the national level and the state level.”

This was part of remaining relevant to members, he said.