Overview of our mentoring programme
Mentoring is a great way for architects to pass on knowledge and guide students and other architects. Mentors gain specialist skills and help the next generation, while mentees benefit from their experience.
The RIBA define mentoring as a professional relationship between an experienced architect – the mentor – and a junior or less experienced architect – the mentee. Mentoring provides opportunities for mentors to offer guidance and for mentees to access to knowledge and contacts that will help to fulfil their potential.
How mentoring with Universities works at Clay Architecture
We have engaged with architecture student mentoring through RIBA South East since 2010. In most years we take two or three mentees from either of our local architecture schools – Kent School of Architecture or Canterbury School of Architecture. The two schools of architecture work together and they rotate being hosts each year. The school of architecture check-in with architects and students to make sure everyone’s doing ok.
There is an introductory meeting at one of the schools, where we have an initial chat with the mentees. Then our mentoring sessions are split into three parts:
1. An initial session at our studio where we explain about our practice and projects
2. A second session where we meet and show them a completed project
3. In the third session, we bring the mentee to site, sometimes a live site meeting
Alternatively, at the mentee’s request, the third session may involve advising them on a topic of their choice, for example a CV or portfolio surgery, advice on applying for jobs, or occasionally, advice on their school project.
How mentoring can work in the current COVID-19 situation
Social distancing guidance, the need to limit travel to essential only and the temporary closure of offices are now part of everyday life. But, that doesn’t mean there has to be a secession or a disconnect regarding mentoring. Virtual tools like Microsoft Team, Zoom, Skype and other platforms allows mentors and mentees to communicate well, without being in the room. Text-based mentoring, e-mentoring and phone content can all be used together to provide a valuable experience for all. However, in the context of the current situation, it is even more important to be open-minded and creative and for both mentors and mentees to emphasise with one another.
Tips and advice for those thinking of becoming a mentor
1. Make sure you have the time to be a mentor. It does have to be all consuming, but you do need to be able to allocate time to prepare, to manage your programme and of course time for your mentee(s).
2. Nominate a Mentoring Programme Coordinator. That could be you, as the mentor, or someone else within your practice like the practice manager. They need to be good at project management, organising and able to take responsibility for the day-to-day management of your mentoring programme.
3. Be clear about whom you want to mentor. This could include the staff in your own practice. It could also include groups who you feel could benefit from your experience because of your own background. Your mentees could be from groups that you feel should be helped, for example early entrants to architecture, those wanting to re-enter after a career break, sole practitioners, those who wish to start their own practice, etc.
In this post we discuss how we engage with mentoring at Clay Architecture. We’ll also touch on how mentoring can still take place successful during the current COVID-19 situation and how it’s now more important than ever.
Mentoring can take place within a practice, but generally the mentor would not be the immediate line manager of a mentee. Small and micro practices – one or two person practices – can and do get involved by mentoring architectural students alongside other micro practices and those within larger practices who are looking for an external mentor.
How mentoring with schools works at Clay Architecture
We also work with local secondary schools to provide work experience for 6th form students. This is monitored by the schools, who come to our studio to conduct a health and safety check beforehand. Typically, we take one student on at a time for a couple of days to a week, depending on circumstances and workload. The students help with admin and filing, shadow us on site and in meetings and then we give them a small project to do involving surveying, drawings, modelling and design. They present their design and then we give them some broad advice about applying to architecture schools and about architecture as a career.
The benefits of our involvement in mentoring
1. Being a mentor develops our skills. As the teacher in the relationship, we need good communications skills and emotional intelligence. These are learnt skills, on the whole, and being a mentor sharpens them up.
2. Mentoring fits into our networking strategy. Networking is something we all do, but seldom relish. Being a mentor builds a really strong network over time. The architects we mentor often go on to take senior positions in other practices or start their own. There will be opportunities for collaboration, knowledge sharing, etc.
3. We are helping the next generation of architects. We use mentoring to increase expertise and capacity within the architectural profession and this helps to build the next generation of leaders.
We are also interested in other forms or mentoring and other types of mentees and we continue to develop our mentoring capacity and programme.
Tips and advice for mentees
1. Remember your mentor is volunteering their time to help you
2. Make sure you take responsibility for your own input, effort and commitment to the process
3. Trust your mentor as they have your best interests at heart
4. Be open and flexible to new way of thinking and new experiences
5. Be realistic about your expectations
6. Communicate clearly at all times as this helps your mentor to help you