Tuesday, December 1, 2009

How serious is your firm about mentoring? How serious are you?

A recent post about the state of the architectural profession prompted some good comments on how serious our profession is about mentoring its interns. The comments echoed the frustration of the lack of good direction for interns between the end of school and the end of the ARE and the lack of commitment from firms regarding intern mentorship. Even though NCARB and the AIA created IDP back in the 1970s to provide a structure for ensuring that interns learned what they needed in order to become well-rounded and qualified architects, not all firms and managers seemed to have absorbed the real point of it.

For example, I gained most of my Construction Administration hours while working for a manager who had terrible record-keeping skills and poor communication skills. It wasn't until I was into my fourth year as an intern that I truly learned how to put together a set of documents and learn how to run a project, and it wasn't until I was taking the ARE that I really learned how to do CA (hint: if your CDs are well done, CA is way easier). Internship requires quality and quantity of contact with good professionals in order to succeed. So while I met the amount of required hours for CA in IDP while working for my previous manager (quantity), I didn't necessarily get the kind of education and mentorship regarding my job that I needed.

Some firms out there do get it. They understand that mentoring and creating good interns is beneficial to their firm and indeed their profession. They understand that taking time with interns to show them the best way to do something and spending time regularly reviewing their work and just checking in with the intern makes a better employee that ultimately needs little supervision, just as taking the time to take care of your car regularly means it runs much better and more trouble-free for a long time, or taking the time to get regular exercise and eat healthy allows your body to have the occasional big meal and dessert without gaining weight and allows you to bounce back from illness more easily. Investing in interns makes for a healthy firm and profession. The firms that understand this will, by and large, remain with that firm longer and do good work, while the firms that believe "beating will continue until morale improves" will ultimately suffer.

Regardless of how committed your firm is to mentorship and aiding and guiding you along in your job and career, you have to meet them halfway. Just as employees are no longer as committed to companies as they used to be, neither are companies as committed to employees; hence, your best ally and spokesperson at your job--wherever that may be--is you. You will have to advocate, at least from time to time, for yourself and your career. It is not your firm's job to make you an awesome architect; you have to show some initiative and drive, critical thinking skills, and an ability to retain what you learn in order to be successful. Surprisingly, just getting your B.Arch or M.Arch does not show commitment to a firm. Remember, you can get that final diploma with a range of GPAs. To a certain extent, firms help those who help themselves, so you're going to have to show a firm that you're interested in learning as much as you can.

This means that you'll have to let people know that you need IDP credits in x, y, or z and is there an opportunity to get those hours anytime soon? One of the commentators on the aforementioned post described a situation in which s/he was accused by his/her firm of being more interested in getting IDP credits than in his/her productivity. I would find this situation to be amusing if it weren't for the fact that s/he was eventually fired. What, dare I ask, could be more productive than another licensed architect, or at least an intern with plenty of good experience in every aspect of architecture? Again, the firms that see the benefit need no explanation. However, the firms that don't get it (like the commentator's former firm) need to have it explained. When you make a request for this sort of thing, frame it in the service of the job. How does it help the project, the team, or the firm if you do this/research that/put together whatever? Perhaps you need to get some CA hours, and there is a pile of shop drawings and submittals on an architect's desk that need to be done. Offer to go through them and make the easy markups first and then offer to review them with the architect (or with another architect) once you're done. You can frame this by offering to take it off the architect's to-do list and allow them to do more pressing and high-level matters, like prepare for and go to a few meetings and then edit some specs. A phrase I found to be really useful while I was an intern (and even now) is "I know how busy you are; what can I take off your plate to help you out?"

On Thursday, we'll talk about different ways to mentor as well as the difference between an IDP supervisor and a mentor. In the meantime, if you have a question or would like to see a topic discussed here at Intern 101, feel free to post it in the comments or send me an email from the sidebar. Thanks!

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