When you’re hired into a job or thrown onto a new job site, you need to adapt and learn, seek mentorship and be prepared to grow. Just like with plants, you need a little bit of help along the way. You can’t just toss a seed on the ground and expect a tree to pop up. You need to nurture it, water it, prop it up, give it direction. The same goes with careers.
One of the best ways to create career direction and success is through the use of mentors. From specific skills to developing career goals, mentors can nurture and guide mentees to the benefit of the worker as well as the company. From the newest hire to a hand who has been in the industry for decades, all construction workers can benefit from having a mentor.
The Need for Mentoring in the Construction Industry
Mentoring should be part of all industries and businesses. Asking employees to hit the ground running, with little direction or guidance, can lead to misunderstanding and failure. The need for mentoring may be even greater in construction than it is in other industries, for a number of reasons.
- Inherent Danger: Construction sites can be dangerous places. Construction equipment can be hazardous if used improperly. This isn’t an office job where paper cuts or tripping over cords are the dangers to be avoided. Mentors can help workers to avoid these hazards.
- Skill Variety: Particularly for smaller construction companies, flexibility and versatility is important. Mentors who can provide guidance in a variety of skills can help the mentee to become more flexible, allowing the company to be more agile.
- Different Point of View: Often, mentors can see faults that the mentee can’t. They can see skill gaps or mistakes that the mentee may not want to own up to, or may not even realize are there. They won’t just note them though, they will help provide constructive criticism and help mentees overcome these faults.
- Career Growth: Mentors can help demonstrate where a career can lead, and how a worker can blossom over the years. Often, new construction hires may not see beyond the current job site or current task. Mentors can help them look down the road, give them ways they can create themselves and grow into a position. This can help a worker envision themselves as a site or crew leader, a foreman, or even management, and the mentor can help them understand what they need to reach those goals.
Finding a Mentor
Many of us think that mentors have to fit into a certain mold. When we talk of mentors, you probably think of famous movie mentors – Obi-Wan mentoring Luke Skywalker in the ways of the Force; Mr. Miyagi teaching Daniel to wax on, wax off; Frank Slade giving Charlie his pearls of wisdom; Agent K showing Agent J the bigger picture. All of these mentors are older, with paths the mentee wants to follow, and they grow close.
Well, that’s all wrong, according to business journalist Suzy Welch. A mentor doesn’t have to be all of these things, or even any of them. They simply have to be someone with a skill you value and want to learn. In fact, targeting senior-level employees may even be counterproductive, as they often have busy schedules, and may not have the time to take you under their wing.
A good mentor is simply a person who has skills you desire, and who has the time and ability to teach those skills to you. They could be your age and career level, or even younger than you and at an earlier level. For instance, a welder just out of tech school may still know more about welding than you do as a mason with decades in the field. They would still be worth asking to mentor you though. Experience trumps age or position.
This isn’t just a theory either – Jack Welch, former GE CEO and also husband to Suzy, used this to help GE executives gain insight into struggles and opportunities being faced by new generations. While they called this “Reverse Mentoring,” there really isn’t anything “reversed” about it, unless you solely look at age. The younger mentors had more experiences in the social media fields, working with others in their generation, and evolving technology. This kind of thinking led to Welch being named the Manager of the Century by Fortune magazine.
The Value of Mentoring to Businesses
Mentoring doesn’t just help the individual. Having a mentorship program in place can help to attract and keep construction talent, as United Rentals notes in their blog. As companies seek to replace baby boomers who are retiring, while the latest generation isn’t opting for construction as a profession as often, a construction company needs a program that can give potential hires a path for the future. A mentorship program can do that, but it needs four important elements:
- Constant, top-down support that demonstrates this isn’t an experiment or an ill-fated initiative. This needs to become a fixture, a part of company culture well into the future.
- Fair and understandable criteria, so that people of all skill levels can be involved if they want to be a mentee.
- Accountability for the mentor. While supervisors and instructors may have full plates, they can get distracted or but the mentorship on the back burner. As an owner or manager, you can’t allow them to do that, and need to hold them accountable for their mentee’s success.
- Structure. Lay our realistic expectations, guidelines, and time commitments, with some flexibility.
Knowing that there is a mentorship program in place, that your company is looking out for the individual worker and their career aspirations, may give you the leg up on competing companies for top-end talent.
Mentoring at Higher Levels
Much of what we have discussed focuses on internal mentoring in your business, but as an owner or supervisor, you’re not exempt from being mentored either. In fact, you may even need it more than a new hand. If you are a newer business owner or site foreman, transitioning from years in the field to a managing role, you are being called on to utilize new skills, ones you may not have had time to hone over the years.
At these levels, it may be hard to find a mentor within your business, so consider looking to other businesses or professional organizations. It doesn’t even need to be someone in the construction industry. Someone who owns a landscaping business likely faces some of the same challenges as someone who owns a bricklaying business. A construction foreman may face similar dilemmas or challenges as a shift supervisor in a manufacturing plant.
Here at S.E.H. Excavating Contractors, we see mentoring as an integral part of developing and growing our business, and setting it up for continued long-term success. From on-site teams, to our equipment maintenance shop, to our managerial roles, mentoring helps us to perform as one of the leading excavation companies in the Baltimore region. Consider setting up mentorship within your own business or looking for your own mentor – you’ll create a foundation for the future!