By Nick Caravella, AIA
When looking at the problem of training in the industry, the problem is not that we are not training well. Our struggle is that we’ve forgotten the very reasons many of us chose this profession we love and are not training our staff to experience this. For many of us, we did not pursue a career in architecture to become solely production staff. We chose this profession to be exposed to the countless design problems, ability to use self-expression and come up with unique ideas, and to leave a plot of land or existing structure a little better than when we first found it.
Ernst & Young published the Global Generations study in 2016 that suggests some of the key reasons employees stay with their companies are opportunity for growth, meaningful work, supervisors who respect their employees, and pride in the company. Creating a culture of learning responds to some of the key issues and the largest enemy of training: employee turnover.
Given the freedom to take on new challenges, employees can feel a level of ownership and pride in their work. Both emerging professionals and architects can feel like they have the support and guidance they need for success when they work through issues as a team and with strong mentors. Allowing those challenges, you’re not only creating a natural growth path, but also increasing your employee’s value.
Productivity through passion
We all work our best when we are exploring our passions. We’ll all have to carry out tasks we may not enjoy at times, it’s the nature of the business. But it’s important that we identify opportunities for employees to explore their passions in the profession. Listen to your employees and ask them what their interests are and how you can help them grow. They will return your interest with some of their own and before you know it you’ll be learning something new too.
Architecture is a craft
There is a reason we call our work in architecture ‘practice’. Each project brings a new challenge or lesson for us to learn. We often forget variety in project work creates a variety of expertise. To this end, we must think deeper about the purpose of training and the objectives behind it.
Practice, Practice, Process
Since no two projects are alike, it is necessary that we understand training in architecture is not task oriented. An emerging professional must learn how to practice. This comes through understanding how to approach a problem and identify a solution. In order to capture this process we need to structure our firms around teaching the practice of architecture.
The Architectural Experience Program, AXP formally known as IDP, outlines some of the principles of broad exposure to the many facets of the industry. A focus on these items help build a better architect. Yes, great technical drafting is essential to a productive draftsperson. Yet, if we’re training the next architect in a firm, it is essential to look at the Experience Program and find ways to expose the full practice of the architectural profession. This means encouraging our emerging professionals. Encourage licensure. Celebrate it. Provide the mentorship that will expose them to the practice and process of architecture.
With any practice comes failure and with failure comes opportunities to learn. Another key element of the AXP is that practice must be completed under the direct supervision of an architect. To establish a good mentorship program, it is important to understand the importance of practice in training.
At Davis Wince Architecture, we have project kickoff meeting and weekly team meetings. Here we discuss the practice and the process of each project. We identify pain points in the process and how we can refine them, and discuss our progress. These conversations create a culture of mentorship. No question is a dumb question. Throughout the process of designing a building, the lead architect can help teach the approaches to the problem and the questions young professionals need to be asking. It is in these discussions we are not only training, but also learning about how we can improve the process ourselves.
Innovation is where wisdom and new ideas meet
As the process becomes celebrated and asking questions becomes encouraged, our firm often finds ourselves hearing questions that haven’t been asked before. These questions often lead to new ideas, innovative solutions and practice methods, and ways we can refine our process to be more productive and meaningful about the way we work.
My passion for exploration is what fueled my pursuit of the architectural profession. I recall spending days in studio chasing down various ideas. Throughout my studies, I found myself on a path of self-expression and discovery. Being exposed to different areas of practice by my own mentor and being encouraged to challenging the norm of practice and process, I found my true passion in architecture. As a result, that passion has drawn me to push the practice further and empower my peers to do the same. Together, we can make a difference. Isn’t that why we’ve become architects in the first place?
Nick Caravella, AIA is the Denver Technology Leader for Davis Wince Architecture and serves on the National Associates Committee (NAC) as an At-Large Director. He is passionate about the “craft of architecture” and creating opportunities for the new workforce to chase their passions and push the industry further.
(Return to the cover of the 2017 PM Digest: Tips for training employees)