A number of times in his career, Roy Higgs, CEO of Design Development Group, has received lucky breaks allowing him to advance his architecture career. Now it's his turn to provide the breaks.

DDG provides internship opportunities to promising architects and architecture students from Indonesia, South Africa and Columbia.

The interns are placed on a design team in DDG's Baltimore headquarters and learn practical design and project skills, as well as one-on-one business training on issues such as business development, contract writing, and billing. A mentor also works with interns to uncover their professional interests and then figures out how to develop them. After a two-year stint, many return to their home countries and get jobs and teach others what they've learned or continue their education.

In addition, the firm takes some of the profits from its design jobs in South Africa to fund a scholarship program that supports local architecture students who want to pursue their education at home or in the United States. “We're contributing to developing the human resources and generating opportunities for them in these countries,” says Higgs. This approach generates goodwill in countries where DDG works. And it helps DDG avoid the stereotype of being an American firm that goes abroad, profits from cream-of-the-crop projects, and then beats a hasty retreat.

Several years ago, DDG hosted then-South African Deputy President Thabo Mbeki and then-U.S. Vice President Al Gore under the auspices of the Maryland-South Africa Roundtable, a non-profit group co-chaired by Higgs that promotes trade and cultural relationships between the United States and South Africa.

Later, at a World Trade Center panel discussion, Mbeki offered public kudos to DDG for its contribution in developing South Africa's base of human talent.

Elyse Umlauf-Garneau is a Chicago-based writer.

5 creative retention and recruitment ideas

  1. Solicit feedback — ideas and gripes alike — from employees. Address concerns immediately.

  2. Conduct exit interviews. If there's an endemic problem, it's better to know about it sooner rather than later.

  3. Ask employees to refer college chums or people from other industries who would be good fits with the company. Provide a small referral fee — say $500 — for every successful placement.

  4. Establish partnerships and internship programs with local schools to woo the smartest students. Also, recruit at college job fairs.

  5. Provide ongoing financial incentives rather than offering signing bonuses, the benefits of which end the minute a person cashes the check. Tie incentives to quantifiable issues — reducing energy costs, reaching a leasing goal or completing a project early.