Recently, our office began implementing a formalized mentor/mentee program that paired younger staff members with licensed architects for the sake of development and making sure that people get proper exposure to architecture. There had been attempts to get efforts like this off the ground before, but nothing to the extent where forms were filled out, meetings were scheduled, and reports filed. As this program was rolled out, I started to realize that some of the people that I went to with questions the most were not licensed and were often no older than I am. I then started to notice that people would come to me often with questions that seemed like they should be directed at people that were much more experienced than I was. After taking a step back and really looking at the situation, something fairly obvious dawned on me: mentorship and learning have nothing to do with age because everyone has the capacity to learn from everybody else.
Obviously, a licensed architect with thirty years of experience has a great wealth of knowledge from decades of practice. That being said, someone that is fresh out of school, while lacking in years of practice, also brings a variety of skills to the table in the form of the most up to date software developments, emerging technologies, and up and coming design trends. While one will be more readily valued in architectural practice that is not to say that the latter would be significant to an architectural firm.
I am not making the argument that we should not seek out those with a wide array of experiences and knowledge. However, I am arguing that we should not be afraid to look for answers in less obvious places. Every person has a set of skills that are unique to them and it is up to the person asking the questions to figure out what those skills are and how best to utilize them. If we only go to a single source to solve all of our problems and answer all our questions, then we will only ever get one type of solution.
Mentorship is a process that never really stops. An architect that has been practicing for decades has an invaluable breadth of knowledge to impart to a younger generation. At the same time, emerging professionals have an obligation to be heard and to be valued. Some of the most vital aspects of mentorship, beyond the obvious of building a relationship and gaining knowledge, is developing the capacity to see value in the skills of others and to be able to maximize their worth. Ultimately, no one knows everything, but we all know a few things and, by recognizing this and working together, we can continue to come up with unique solutions to complex problems.