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Preparing the Next Generation: Approaches to leaving safety in good hands

By Chuck Kelly | May 15, 2023
Getty images / vectornation

When looking toward the future, consider whether safety will still be a priority. Have we filled open positions with well-qualified individuals that will carry on our mission?

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When looking toward the future, consider whether safety will still be a priority. Have we filled open positions with well-qualified individuals that will carry on our mission? I can say from my observations that the answer is yes.

An influx of young and seasoned safety professionals have entered the construction and utility industries from varied backgrounds and risen up through the ranks. Their experience levels vary, but the numbers are up, which is a good sign. It is important to ensure that those following us are positioned to succeed. Preparing the next generation can be achieved through multiple approaches, and I suggest using a combination of all of the following.

Shadowing: Pairing a new person with a seasoned professional demonstrates to the new employee what it takes to get the job done through learning specific skills and different approaches to completing the objective. It also helps to serve as an indirect reward to the teacher. Sometimes the old school professionals fail to see the value of the new, college-­educated person coming into a leadership role without paying their dues. Giving the experienced person a mentoring role helps to break down that bias, while also showing appreciation and confidence in the teacher’s skills and training abilities.

Compliance training: While a new staffer may be familiar with various regulations, it may be necessary to cover the specific rules that govern a certain industry. In electrical contracting, it is essential for staff to be familiar with 1926 Subpart V, 1910.269 and the various other 1926 construction standards. 

Workers need to understand the words and intent of these rules. A good majority of the standards governing our work are written in performance language, which gives the organization flexibility to attain compliance that fits their operations while still maintaining the intent of the rules. That understanding is essential for success and safety.

Leadership training: One of the biggest mistakes organizations make when promoting employees into management or leadership positions is assuming that they can lead. Understanding how to manage various personalities is, in my opinion, an art form crafted over time and experience. Having new staff attend leadership training is one step in the process people often forget. The particular training can include interactive activities (role play) that cover scenarios likely to come up in the workplace. This allows for discussion on what does and does not work in certain situations.

Mentoring, coaching and on-the-job training (OJT): I group these three approaches together because I believe they present the best methods for preparing staff to succeed. When you mentor the new staff member, you impart your knowledge to help them become confident in their skill base. As a mentor, you become a sounding board for the staff member to bounce ideas off of. Your feedback assists them in achieving their growth potential. 

Coaching, on the other hand, while very similar, allows you to focus on specifics. It is generally more short-term and helps the staff member understand and meet the job’s specific needs. In the coaching arena, you give the staff member guidance and direction on a specific topic while letting them work through the particulars of the issue. 

This is also very similar to OJT, which allows the staff member to work on specific tasks and learn from doing them. For this method to be successful, it is imperative to have someone who is experienced in the tasks present to assist if needed and help guide a successful outcome.

These are just a few of the ways to prepare our future workforce for success. If we do these and create an atmosphere where knowledge and guidance is available for all, we should be able to step into the future knowing that safety is in good hands.

Header image: Getty images / vectornation

About The Author

KELLY, president of Kelly Consulting & Mediation Services, has worked with utility industry leaders on safety, labor relations and human resources for more than 30 years. Reach him at 540-686-0118 or [email protected].

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