How do you get an accurate read on your profession? It's not always easy, especially in lighting where there are so many different avenues by which one can enter the profession and so many different professional paths that can be pursued. But one tool that does provide a window of insight is the IALD Compensation & Workforce Study.

Released this past June, the 2012 report is the fourth edition of the survey, which was first released in 2006. The survey was conducted from mid-January through mid-April of this year and sent via email to a qualified sample of U.S.-based IALD members—a total of 420 individuals, yielding 182 responses. (The qualified member categories are Professional, Associate, Design, and Fellow. IALD member categories Educator, Student, Commercial Affiliate, Practicing Affiliate, Press, and Honorary were not included.)

The study is as important for what it tells us as it is for what it does not. Although the 2012 survey has a smaller sample of respondents than in previous years (216 in 2010, 200 in 2008, and 214 in 2006), that could very well be explained by the recent weak state of the economy and the subsequent changes in personnel.

Additionally, the survey is sent only to U.S.-based members. According to the IALD, this is because the U.S. provides the only sample size large enough from which statistically meaningful data could be extrapolated. Nevertheless, the sample pool does remain a good indicator of the profession as a whole. (In the future, the IALD hopes to be able to conduct similar surveys of its members in other regions of the world.)

So what does the survey data tell us? To start, the lighting profession is split almost evenly by gender (51.1 percent male, 48.9 percent female), the average age of a lighting designer is 45.5 years, the average total years of professional experience is 21, and the average number of years that an individual has been with his or her company is 10. It also reveals that the highest degree that is most commonly held is a bachelor's (56 percent) followed by a master's (34.1 percent). Only 0.5 percent of respondents hold a Ph.D.

The survey also shows that 49.5 percent of lighting designers hold the LC (lighting certified) designation as part of the NCQLP exam, and that 4.4 percent of people are presently studying for the exam. The next most widely held professional certification among lighting designers is LEED AP at 34.6 percent, and another 7.1 percent of people are working toward obtaining that credential. This is not surprising given the way sustainability has entered design discourse the last several years.

The survey also revealed that most firms are independent entities (84.6 percent) and that the rest are a division or a subsidiary of another company or organization (15.4 percent). From this emerges one of the most interesting insights: the year that these independent entities were founded. The sample revealed that 11.7 percent of firms were founded prior to 1970; 11 percent from 1970 to 1980; 18.8 percent from 1981 to 1990; 21.4 percent from 1991 to 2000; 13.6 percent from 2001 to 2005; 13.6 percent from 2006 to present; and 9.7 percent had no response. This suggests great staying power for lighting firms, given that 62.9 percent of practices have been in existence for anywhere from 11 to more than 40 years. But should we be concerned about the lack of new growth, given that only 27.2 percent of firms were founded over the past 11 years?

The survey goes on to report on changes in salary and other compensation (such as benefits), as well as project type involvement, 12-month performance projections, and trends in request for proposals.

Overall, 57.2 percent of respondents indicated a positive outlook for the coming year. The lighting design profession is in its prime. The real test is how the IALD, as well as the lighting design community as a whole, can and will constructively use the data from the IALD Compensation & Workforce Studies to forge a clear path forward.