Mentoring Young Talent

July 1, 2001 · by George Takoudes

Recognizing the need to fill the gap between the college and the firm studio, George Takoudes recognized the importance of assisting young designers in the process of understanding what professional practice is all about.

One of the widest gaps that exists is that between what a young architect actually knows when they leave the university—and what they need to know. Recognizing the need to fill the gap between the college and the firm studio, George Takoudes, an award-winning architect at Boston-based Payette Associates, recognized the importance of assisting young designers in the process of understanding what professional practice was all about as well as specifically preparing them for the registration exam. Two young designers in the firm were also enthusiastic about the idea of forming a group that would meet regularly to share information and experience focused on the new professional. Realizing that there was a wealth of information and knowledge with the 35-year-old firm, they approached Takoudes with the idea of sponsoring an organized effort. Thus, the Young Designers Core was born.

The Young Designers Core (YDC) is a voluntary group that was formed through an initiative of the Human Resources Advisory Group. While the Human Resources Department administers the program, its daily operations and on-going organization is the responsibility of two volunteer employee co-chairs, recently-registered Jon Kanda and Intern Jeff DeGregorio.

The YDC’s target audience is the design staff who are in the early stages of their professional careers. However, it does not exclude any individual in the firm from participating in its programs and events. In fact, it encourages everyone in the firm to participate who is interested.

With regards to senior staff, the firm expects staff to commit to active participation which means attending the majority of events, engaging speakers and presenters in meaningful dialogue and providing suggestions to improve and enrich the program.

The YDC co-chairs are asked to make a state-of-the-program presentation at least annually to the principals, associate principals and department directors. This report highlights previous activities, staff members participating, status of IDP participants, objectives accomplished, objectives for the coming year and what additional support the principals might be able to provide to help the program be even more effective.

Takoudes feels that programs like the YDC in design firms are a long time coming. “My wife is a doctor,” he reflects, “and I learned that they have this fantastic way at teaching hospitals where they get the book learning but apply it right on the spot. That’s the type of mentality we wanted to achieve with this program—an organization that continually educates itself. One of the reasons we wanted to set this up is to create the culture of a teaching office—a mentality of sharing information—of training and teaching—which will only make the entire staff stronger. I’m really proud that Payette took this on.

Early feedback from major recruiting venues such as the Harvard Graduate School of Design and Syracuse was that it would be a great recruiting tool. According to Sarah Sachs, a 2000 graduate of Syracuse University who selected Payette from a host of firms, “This program has been extremely informative. It brings a lot of the issues we talk about firmwide down to a level we can really grasp.”

Says firm COO Bob Mattox, “The program works because both Jon and Jeff are tenacious about making it happen. There are 35-40 young designers who are eager to participate on a weekly basis and the firm recognizes the program’s value and responds through participation and encouragement.”

This firm participation is reflected through such areas as maintaining the IDP Competency Tracking form for all participants, providing the use of office resources for programs and events; ensuring an adequate supply of study materials in the office library for registration exams; providing financial support to bring in outside speakers and fund occasional travel to project sites.

Where will the program go in the future? Takoudes says, “Now that the program is up and running, we want to know what we can do next. Payette has always been a great place to be trained as complete architects. We need to better formalize and institutionalize the program throughout all levels of the firm to ensure everyone keeps up with the changes in technology.

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