By Sheva Willoughby, AIA; RTA Architects

South_Sheva-WilloughbyThe Emerging Professionals Bootcamp was initially conceived out of conversations and feedback around the current issues members in Southern Colorado were facing. The board heard that there was a struggle to find quality new hires. It wasn’t that the candidates were bad, they were just inexperienced and lacking skill sets that firms felt they used to be givens. One of the reasons this is becoming particularly problematic is because everyone is incredibly busy. While no one is complaining about being busy, it doesn’t allow for the quantity and quality of mentorship and supervision within firms to bring these young professionals up to speed.

The board discussed this issue at length to identify why this was happening and if there was anything we could do to help, both immediately and more long term. A portion of the root problem is the tools and skillsets that these young professionals are leaving school with. More often than not, the studio setting that these students are learning in have no budgets, no (or very minimal) code, very minimal construction sequencing and detailing, etc. This is not to say there is no value in the types of studios and classes universities offer, but they are not adequately preparing these students for the “real world.” Both sides of the spectrum are important and there is obviously a fine line; however, we think universities could be doing a better job of preparing students for real life scenarios.

Another struggle that the board heard from both young professionals and firm leaders was that because of the break-neck pace of work these past few years, the transition between roles within firms has been a bit rocky. The more experienced emerging professionals are getting tasked with more and more responsibilities, which is great, but the current climate of our profession just isn’t allowing for the proper time for quality mentorship. Again, another fine line exists here between mentorship and learning-by-doing.

Obviously, any adjustments in architecture curriculum at the university level is a more long-term goal for AIA, so we brainstormed what we could do to bridge the gap in the meantime. We came up with creating a tool kit for a one-day bootcamp that could be replicated and implemented across the state. There was a lot of emphasis placed on keeping the speakers local to the host city for a few reasons. First, we wanted to create a safe-place where attendees could feel comfortable asking “stupid questions.” The thought being that sometimes emerging professionals are embarrassed to ask questions of their superiors because they feel like they should already know the information and don’t want to look incompetent. Not to say they don’t ask their peers or Google, but it would be nice if we could help remove those barriers. The second reason was to help develop a larger mentorship network. We wanted the attendees to have a collection of local resources they could reach out to long after the class was over.

The overall goal of the bootcamp is not to teach attendees everything in one day, but rather to give them a new set of tools and resources so that they feel more confident moving forward. We wanted to give them enough information to develop their own strategies and questions to tackle a variety of tasks they might be asked to do, like conduct a code study or cartoon out a set. The hope is that by arming them with information and increasing their confidence level, there will be more meaningful and productive two-way mentorship conversations occurring within the local firms.

We are looking forward to kicking off the inaugural Emerging Professionals Bootcamp here in Colorado Springs on September 28th and are hoping for a good tun out!