Building a future

The architecture industry is facing one of its worst labor crunches in recent history.

There are fewer than 100 university architecture programs in the United States graduating fewer than 100 students per program. Moreover, with the School Capital Bill passed by the Ohio legislature last year earmarking $1.8 billion for school construction projects, there aren’t enough architects in the state to handle all the work.

While it may not be able to solve the immediate crisis, Herschman Architects in Beachwood started a program that may help the labor shortage five or 10 years down the road. In conjunction with the Cleveland School of the Arts, company president Jerry Herschman and vice president Judson A. Kline developed an architecture studies program at an eastside Cleveland school.

Kline says the firm didn’t set out to start an architecture program; rather, it evolved from a donation he offered the school when the company was upgrading its systems.

“We asked them if they’d be interested in these computers, and we would furnish them with printers and software and we’d help them hook it up,” Kline says. “They said, ‘That’s wonderful, we’d love to have it. We don’t have an architecture program, though.'”

So Kline and about 10 other architects at the company created a weekly course for junior high and high school students from Cleveland Municipal Schools. The program consists of several lectures and hands-on projects and includes a tour of Herschman’s office, as well as Kent State University’s School of Architecture, to expose the students to the coursework and the financial assistance available to architecture students.

“We felt to a large degree that kids don’t have the exposure to that kind of a profession, so that became kind of a motivating force behind it,” Kline says. “We need to have greater diversity in our profession. This way, we have an opportunity to enable kids within the inner city to contribute to that diversity.”

Work force renewal

Few students, especially in the inner city, are exposed to architecture, which is doubly unfortunate because it is a career path most have to start traveling early in life, Kline says.

“At 15, 16, 17, is not too early to be thinking about it (and) right now, most architecture programs run anywhere between five and eight years to come out with a professional degree.”

Network building

As Herschman earned recognition for the program, more firms and organizations expressed interest in getting involved. Kline has even discussed creating a Cleveland architectural education consortium that would bring together a number of firms from around the city to develop future programs.

Creating a reputation in the community

Herschman’s architecture program offers benefits to the company, as well. Besides possibly creating future employees, it develops an image of the firm as a community leader, helping differentiate it from others, building trust and legitimacy to prospective and current clients.

“If you’re willing to work that hard for the community, what are you going to do for them?” Kline says. “You’re more apt to be responsive to their needs. The benefit is somewhat intangible but it’s there, nonetheless.”

Kline hopes to develop the architecture program into a complete academic course. Although it’s still new, there has already been one success story.

A student who graduated from the Herschman program has earned a scholarship to enter The Ohio State University School of Architecture. How to reach: Herschman Architects, (216) 464-4144

Morgan Lewis Jr. ([email protected]) is a reporter at SBN Magazine.