How mentoring can help you combat industry brain drain and future-proof your business

Mentor

Have you tried to hire a senior employee lately and have found the talent pool extremely limited?

Trying to find senior staff in my industry – interior and architectural design –  can be incredibly difficult. The reason for this stems from the GFC. When it hit, many firms in the design community put the brakes on hiring graduates. So, with no entry level positions available, graduates went into other industries.

Fast forward to today, it’s become so hard to find senior designers we’ve had to think laterally on how we can fill available positions.

We’ve had to accelerate our junior staff by implementing a mentoring program to upskill them so they can make the transition to senior designer much sooner. We also make sure to take on our share of graduates, and provide ample training to make sure we don’t face this lack of senior talent again.

Here are some of the things we’ve learnt by developing our mentoring program which might help you build your future workforce.

Help them flourish – not flounder

In the interior design industry, those graduates lucky enough to gain employment, are often left to their own devices. Often junior staff, without mentoring, develop a false sense of their own ability. They also quickly learn bad habits (without realising it) like not knowing how to document joinery properly or to present a concept to a client.

Regardless of industry, junior employees are especially looking for mentoring and leadership and those who don’t have this in their workplace will seek other positions that do. These graduates often move onto a different career path if their interior design career is unfulfilling and overall the interior design industry loses out on potential amazing talent.

While at times you have to let your staff figure it out for themselves, you still have to invest in them. Training junior staff members is an ongoing process and does take time, yet this time spent will pay off in the long term. From our own experience, and if they are the right cultural fit for your business, you will notice a marked improvement in their quality of work.

Of course, new staff can’t be expected to be performing at a high level in their first week, and you will need to be patient in bringing them up to speed. Employers also need to manage their expectations of all staff, not just juniors. Quite often the senior staff want mentoring and support as well.  At my organisation, we have monthly performance reviews with all staff for the first three months of their employment and after that we do it six monthly. With our junior staff this allows us to see what their strengths are and what they can do well, balanced against the areas they need more support in.

Structure your approach

Don’t just have mentoring at the back of your mind as something you will do in the future, or that you only do every so often. Create a structure where you have dedicated staff and resources to get the mentoring right.

In my business, the top tier of staff each run a block of weekly mentoring sessions for six weeks, usually based on their own area of expertise or focus in the business. These are typically aimed at the more junior and mid-level staff, however everyone is welcome to attend.  Quite often we find that new team members enjoy attending these sessions as it helps them become familiar with the way we do things at Futurespace, as well as hone their existing skills.

Put yourself in their position

It’s easy to forget what it’s like being in your early twenties and fresh out of university. Starting your first ‘grown up’ job can be very daunting for some; after all it is a whole new world! Quite often graduates start out passionate about the career they have chosen, however once they start working there is the realisation that being in their chosen profession is harder than they ever imagined.

Try to remember what you were going through when you were a graduate with little experience. What would you like to have been taught? About your job? About clients? The industry? Even life in general? All of your experience and knowledge is very valuable to your junior staff, even if it was a long time since you yourself graduated from university.

As business leaders, we are responsible for training the workforce of the future. Putting a mentoring program in place is essential to creating better staff for your business, and for your industry.


About the author

Angela FergusonAngela Ferguson is the Managing Director of Futurespace, a interior design and architectural agency that creates intelligent, practical and future-focused physical spaces.