by Michelle Kraker
Sure, we’re in an era of layoffs and cut-throat competition for jobs. Recent grads are competing with those in the field with 10-15 years of experience under their belts. But companies can’t afford to lose the talent that the next generation has to offer.
Almost every other week, I get a group of students in our offices that are looking for advice, direction and tips on how to find a job in the current economy. Perhaps mostly, they might just be looking for hope. Hope that someone sees their talents and gives them an opportunity. Graduates are taking unpaid internships just to stay in the industry, working at restaurants just to make a buck, hoping their passion for design will sustain them long enough to hold out for their dream job. Many are starting to apply and accept jobs at companies where they will not utilize their Interior Design degrees at all, but they have no choice. If they don’t broaden their horizons, they could be lost to the profession forever.
And of course, it makes sense that companies would focus more on their current employees as opposed to bringing on new talent. Existing employees have built up their repertoire with not only the company itself, but the industry as a whole. So how does a recent graduate compete with the already existing workforce?
The industry is changing, and we all must adapt. Students and companies alike. Students have to learn how to market themselves, how to get to know what companies are looking for, how to find the chance to convince them that they have whatever “it” is. Companies are re-evaluating their budgets, recognizing that this is might not be the year to have a company carnival. As our CEO and Executive Vice President Cheryl Durst pointed out, “most companies are investing in innovation, but a 23 year-old graduate might be more valuable in the long term, they appreciate the new world of design”. Not to mention that it can be good for company morale to have an eager young mind around the office.
Companies should also be nurturing their interns, helping them to get their foot in the door in as many ways as possible. This is the seasoned professionals’ chance to be a mentor to someone who will appreciate it for the rest of their career. After all, they are the next generation of design, and the few good ones will soon be colleagues.
Durst also points out that professionals should not shy away from the concept of “mentoring up” and letting these young people teach them a thing or two about new ways of doing things. Sure, they might be immersed in a visual, digital and social media world. But these students know more about how to connect with people than any other generation before them. They are connectors of ideas and traditions and people.
When the industry picks up and companies are hiring again, we need to keep these emerging designers at the forefront of our minds. Until then, help them out by offering to do mock interviews, or spend 30 minutes with them to paint them a clear picture of what your job looks like on a day to day basis. You’d be surprised at how much you yourself can learn from these young students. They are passionate, they are positively contributing to society, they have strong opinions on world issues and know more about how to build a better tomorrow than many twice their age. They want to get involved, they want to make a difference. They are paradigm shifters and unsullied thinkers. And they need the commitment from today’s professional community to help them reach their full potential.
Speaking of, let me take a moment here to give a special thank you to those of you who took the time to volunteer to be a Mentor in the 2011 Student Mentoring Week. Nearly 1,000 design students we’re paired with professional mentors, making it the most successful year yet!
Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!