As the summer begins in the northern hemisphere, many architecture firms around the world have some new fresh faces joining the ranks. The intern season is upon us, and with that we should all be reminded of what a wonderful opportunity this is for us to impart our love of architecture to the next generation.
When I graduated from the University of North Texas in 1997 with a BFA in Interior Design, I thought I had some idea of what I could expect my work experience to be like. When I started my first full-time job in architecture a month later, what I found out was that I really didn’t have clue. You see, my internship experiences had given me a taste of the profession, but they were really just an exploitation of cheap labor. They could have been so much more.
Based on my experience mentoring interns and junior designers throughout my career, I have found that this “lost without a clue” state of existence is all-too-common with fresh graduates. They desperately need someone to show them the ropes. With this in mind, the importance of mentoring cannot be stated strongly enough. As professionals, it is our responsibility to mold the junior professionals under our influence into capable and competent individuals. Instead of holding our own knowledge sacred and secret, we must use it to educate our young team members with the goal of having them take our place someday.
I submit that the only truly successful way to do this is to create an atmosphere where young team members feel valued, clearly understand their boundaries, and are rewarded for their eagerness to learn. Assigning young team members to working solely on mundane production tasks can be relatively productive, and often profitable, but it usually doesn’t give them the breadth of knowledge that is necessary to succeed. Instead, we must build on the basics of what these individuals learned in college and help hone and direct their skills toward bettering their future, and the overall future of the architectural profession.
When you boil it all down, all we really have as professionals is our knowledge and our creative ideas (a.k.a. “intellectual capital”). Sharing this knowledge with the youth of our profession is our ultimate legacy and it is the key that will help them succeed in the future.
Below is a list of key topics that I believe should be a part of any architectural mentorship program:
- Architecture career paths: from Intern to Principal and everything in between.
- Roles and responsibilities of the typical project team: who are all of these people and what do they do?
- Licensure and certifications: alphabet soup and why all those letters matter.
- The building types common to our specific practice: how does this make us different from our competitors?
- The basic phases of a design project and what happens in each one: from programming to construction administration.
- Communicating the design: how to prepare for and deliver stellar presentations.
- The fundamentals of construction documentation: how we show our work and why it is so critical that we do it correctly.
- Coping with the ebb and flow: going from working 60+ hours per week just to keep up, to cleaning your desk to prevent boredom.
- The business side of architecture: ultimately we are all here to help the firm make a profit and stay in business.
- The marketing process: how do we get all of this work in the first place?
Image courtesy of Kevin Lynch