Mentoring schemes are springing up all around us – even at the top end

Every so often a new word creeps into the design patois, indicating a shift in direction or consultancy practice. Right now it is ’mentoring’, which is tripping off the tongues of design bodies and individuals as the creative community seeks to rebuild itself post-recession.

Mentoring isn’t new to design. It is at the root of the old atelier system, favoured from the outset by the likes of Pentagram, where acolytes sit at the feet of the master and soak in his or her wisdom. This way of nurturing young talent is the industry’s natural response to the issue of apprenticeships.

We also know that creative players are keen ’to give something back’ through engagement with colleges and organisations such as D&AD and New Designers on programmes to identify fresh talent. Downturn notwithstanding, everyone wants to attract the best graduates.

But mentoring has taken an interesting twist of late. While experienced hands continue to set up broader non-executive directorship deals to pass on their knowledge to managements, individuals are branding themselves as ’mentors’ to people at the top end of their careers.

Since Deborah Szebeko, founder of Think Public, shared her experience of the Creative Business Mentor Network run by the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (Business Insight, DW 11 March) – through which she was paired with John Bartle, co-founder of seminal ad agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty – we have received a steady flow of requests by professional ’mentors’ to make their case in print.

Now, a couple of design organisations have cottoned on. Bristol Media has announced Bristol Media Mentors to support small groups and start-ups in the region (see News, page xx): meanwhile, the Design Business Association is poised to launch a mentoring scheme for consultancy owners at all levels of experience.

One of the great things about design is that people never stop learning and there is no lack of volunteers to share expertise – albeit for a fee. This approach is what makes the industry tick.

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