NCARB reaffirms its opposition to unpaid architecture internships

The Unaffordability of Free Labor

NCARB reaffirms its opposition to unpaid architecture internships

(Evgeniy Surzhan/Unsplash)

In a statement put out this morning, the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) reiterated its unequivocal stance against unpaid internships. The reaffirmation comes as part of a larger effort spearheaded by NCARB and the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) to identify and eliminate the barriers, financial or otherwise, that many emerging architects confront along the frequently bumpy path to licensure.

In their 2021 Baseline on Belonging: Examination Report released last month, NCARB and NOMA highlighted how factors including firm support (or lack thereof) and financial limitations disproportionately impacted older candidates and candidates of color, particularly women, while prepping for and taking the Architect Registration Examination (ARE). This rigorous six-part exam is required by all state licensing boards and passage is a critical step in securing an architectural license. A previous report Baseline on Belonging: Examination Report published by NCARB and NOMA identified the myriad effects that race, ethnicity, gender, age, and firm size can have on candidates earning and tracking documenting practical professional experience toward the Architectural Experience Program (AXP).

In today’s statement, NCARB made clear that the practice of bringing on interns without financial compensation only deepens existing barriers. Furthermore, the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization emphasized the fact that since launching the AXP framework in 1977, it has “expected—and later required—that employers compensate all students and licensure candidates for their work, regardless of duration or experience level.”

Still, nearly 45 years on, there are architectural firms that do not pay interns.

While NCARB has not compiled precise data on architectural internships and compensation, its anecdotal findings are revealing. In a recent poll conducted on NCARB’s LinkedIn page, 32 percent of the nearly 500 respondents claimed to have either been directly offered or have had come across a listing for an unpaid architecture internship within the last three years. According to statistics from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) shared by NARB, a staggering 40 percent of internships across all industries are unpaid. This disproportionately impacts low-income students and graduates and, as NACE has found, 81 percent of unpaid interns are women; Black students are also more likely to hold unpaid internships compared to their white counterparts.

“Architects have an ethical obligation to compensate licensure candidates for their work and provide meaningful internships that advance their skillset,” said NCARB president Alfred Vidaurri Jr., in a statement. “Over the course of my career, I’ve had the gratifying opportunity to guide several candidates through the licensure path—and I can’t imagine not paying them for their contributions.” (NCARB goes on to detail the comprehensive internship program offered by the family-owned company where Vidaurri serves as vice president, the Fort Worth, Texas-headquartered engineering, planning, and consulting firm Freese and Nichols.)

According to NCARB data, over 20,000 licensure candidates are actively reporting hours toward the AXP. In reaffirming its opposition to unpaid internships, the organization has provided links to its AXP Guidelines and Model Rules of Conduct alongside the U.S. Department of Labor’s Fair Labor Act as reference for candidates, AXP supervisors, and firm leaders seeking clarification. NCARB has also shared an email address ( it has made available for reporting violations of long-established policies regarding internships, compensation, and AXP eligibility. Directly contacting a state or territory-based member board with a complaint is also an option.

“The majority of architects begin gaining professional experience while in college, so educating students about their rights is paramount,” said NCARB CEO Michael Armstrong. “Ensuring architecture students and graduates have access to paid, quality internships is one way the profession can begin to address inequity.”