Karen Mosley is managing director of HLM Architects, a Sheffield-based firm of architecture, landscape and interior specialists with offices in London, Sheffield, Glasgow, Cardiff, Belfast and Dublin. The firm has won multiple industry awards, most recently being recognised as one of the Top 25 Businesses to work for in the UK, as well as being crowned Building Magazine’s Architectural Practice of the Year and receiving its People Strategy Award. In December 2020 HLM Architects became an employee ownership trust and in November 2021 Karen was appointed president of Sheffield Chamber of Commerce.
“Our work as architects impacts people on a daily basis. Our passion is about creating places and spaces that improve people’s lives. Our communities are diverse and so it’s essential we view our activities through the widest lens.”
From youth trainee to MD
I’m a born and bred Sheffielder, left school at the age of 17, and joined HLM Architects on a government Youth Training Scheme. My placement with HLM was the first time I actually realised people went to university! I didn’t receive any proper careers advice, a memory that has stuck with me and drives my passion to raise awareness in schools of the career pathways which are available.
I did go back to study later in life and qualified as a Chartered Company Secretary and was provided with some amazing opportunities to move through various roles and became an equal shareholder in 2004 and managing director in 2017, the role I hold today.
Herding cats and providing the glue
In my role at HLM I herd cats and provide the glue! Our mantra at HLM is that Everything is Connected. I love making connections with the present and the future and joining the dots. I’m not an architect so initially my role was focussed on all those important non-architectural aspects around property, insurance, bidding and HR.
As the team grew, I centred my attention on our people strategy and on creating a great place to work to enable everyone to achieve their best and thrive. This involved setting up the HLM Academy which supports individuals on their career journey to reach their full potential.
In 2017 I took up the role of managing director to work with our new chair, Richard O’Neil, in shaping our business structure for the future and developing our succession planning, which has seen six new directors appointed to our board.
With succession planning in place my focus switched to ownership succession and supporting our journey to become an employee ownership trust in December 2020. My role continues to span across all areas of our business, but my focus remains intently on people. I’m passionate about breaking down barriers and equity of opportunity. I’m currently also Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging Board Sponsor and lead our Social Value Outreach strategy.
Stronger together: Support, connection and representation
I was appointed as president of the Sheffield Chamber of Commerce in November 2021. It’s a really exciting time to be part of the Chamber, which is at the centre of an increasingly active network of institutions and individuals committed to making Sheffield the best place to start, grow and run a successful business.
For over 150 years the Chamber has supported, connected and represented businesses of all sizes. We often say that Sheffield is like the biggest village in the world, with strong roots and connections which span across the city. These connections are so important, particularly in times of change and uncertainty, when we know we’re stronger together.
The Chamber not only provides support to our members to develop and grow, but it also encourages insights and opinions so we can lead the debate and feed into national decision-making.
An inclusive workplace and supportive culture drive much deeper and more innovative thinking
Our work as architects impacts people’s lives on a daily basis. Our passion is about creating places and spaces that improve people’s lives. Our communities are diverse and so it’s essential we view our activities through the widest lens.
Diversity of people, perspectives and experiences are essential for the growth of our business and our mindsets, and so I firmly believe an inclusive workplace and supportive culture drives much deeper and more innovative thinking, and a real sense of belonging for everyone.
The evolution of architecture and construction
Whilst we still have a long way to go as a profession and wider industry, there have been some positive shifts in attitudes. Boards are sitting up and realising if they want to attract and retain the best people, be innovative and remain agile, and relevant, they need to challenge their ingrained traditional thinking.
The silver lining of the pandemic has seen more switched-on employers embracing hybrid working for the longer term. At HLM we’ve seen the benefits of this approach for many years. It’s not a silver bullet and requires commitment, upskilling of management and more conscious inclusion, but can break down the stigmas of the past. I just hope we’re not elastic bands and snap back, and we take the best out of what we’ve learned over the last 24 months to maintain the momentum.
We’ve also seen some great collective forums established, most notably the Architecture Race Forum which provides rich resources, support and a safe space to share ideas across our profession. I’m particularly excited about the architectural apprenticeships — we joined 19 other passionate practices as part of a Trailblazer Group which developed two apprenticeship standards. This now opens up our profession to more people through an alternative, more accessible (and free) route.
Speak out, speak up
So many people inspire me. My role models are individuals who speak out, speak up, act as allies, stand by their values and are driving change.
Discovering careers in architecture and construction
If you’re interested in careers in architecture and construction, find out about local businesses in your area and take a look at their websites to learn more about what they do. Get a feel for who they are and what you like about them. Get in touch with their HR team and enquire about any events they might be holding for students or about work experience opportunities.
If you’re in education, speak to your careers advisors about careers days or talks that might be happening in your school, college or university. Hearing from people in the industry can help you discover more about pathways and the different roles which are available. There are so many roles you will never have imagined.
If you are still at school or college, explore if there are universities running the architecture apprenticeship course in your region and get in touch to ask what their entry requirements might be. Sign up with organisations such as Speakers for Schools to find out about their work experience programmes or listen to some of their podcasts and inspirational talks. And if you want to look at developing essential skills for any role, I’d recommend looking at the Skills Builder Framework which more educators and businesses are starting to explore.
Allowing trust and empowerment to lead the way
Following our transition to an employee ownership trust, we developed six strategic objectives together. We’ve empowered everyone to bring these to life. I’m sponsoring our Employer of Choice and Social Value objectives and having some great conversations about new and innovative ways of working.
Our SMARTBlend scheme, which supports everyone to work in ways and in places that suit them the best is maturing. As someone who loved an HR policy, I’m quite happy we’ve ripped up the rule book and allowed trust and empowerment to lead the way. I’m excited about where this is taking us as a business.