Show and Tell: Sharing lessons through mentorship

E lectrical contractors are known for having robust apprenticeship programs for people entering the trade—but what about mentoring up-and-coming professionals for future executive positions? Industry experts share various ways contractors can shepherd promising individuals to new heights within their careers, which in turn benefits the entire industry.

Developing an effective mentoring program

Over the years, Rosendin Electric Inc. has offered mentoring programs internally—some formal and others informal—with senior executives working with promising employees either on a weekly or monthly basis, said Mike Greenawalt, CEO of the San Jose, Calif.-based company.

On the craft side, Rosendin has journey-level workers teaching apprentices, and on the office side, the company has senior executives training up-and-coming professionals on tasks such as how to read a contract, how to price change orders and how to negotiate a fair settlement in disputes, Greenawalt said.

“These are skills they can’t get in college or anywhere else to help them progress in their careers,” he said.

For a mentee, it’s good to have someone that they can go to when they’re experiencing challenges, and someone who will let them know what they’ve done when faced with similar challenges.

“Not tell them what to do, but someone who will ask them questions to help them strategize through situations,” Greenawalt said.

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Mike Greenawalt, Rosendin

For a mentor, it is personally very rewarding to share their experiences in different tasks and scopes of work and really engage with a mentee, he said.

“We may have paired them, but they go on to develop true relationships, and true mentors never go away. I’ve got a couple of mentors in my life who are now in their late 70s that I still call and talk to about work and life in general,” Greenawalt said.

Mentoring also benefits the company, as people will stay because of the experiences and relationships they build, he said.

“The ability to retain the right people comes from the heart,” Greenawalt said. “It’s really fulfilling knowing that you belong, almost like a family-type feeling. It’s also good for the firm knowing that somewhere within our rank and file, our next CEO is here. We’re not going to have to go to the outside to find our next leaders.”

Setting up a mentorship program

Mentoring consultant Julie Silard Kantor spent 30 years in workforce development and realized that “while so many American corporations may have good intentions, there still is a whole lot of confusion about what mentoring actually means.”

Kantor founded Twomentor LLC, a Boca Raton, Fla.-based company that offers managed mentoring services and training. The firm’s consultants help companies implement mentoring initiatives and sponsors initiatives.

“[A mentor] is someone who advises you. They share their experiences, skills and knowledge and they help you make your own decisions so you can advance your career trajectory with knowledge,” she said. “A sponsor is someone who champions you behind closed doors, taking action on your behalf to get you a promotion. A mentor speaks with you, while a sponsor speaks about you behind closed doors.”

When Twomentor’s consultants work with companies, they start with the organization’s “pain points”—are they losing younger people who are getting disillusioned and leaving the industry? Are they losing women in a male-dominated industry? Do they need more diversity and inclusion? Are their current leaders about to retire soon and are they worried about who is going to take over and whether they are adequately planning for succession?

“Succession planning in particular has become really important in mentoring and sponsorship initiatives—making sure you are transferring knowledge and relationships to build up people to take on leadership positions in the future,” Kantor said.

The consultants then help companies develop a strategy to meet their pain points, which involves a customized mentor action guide for either a six- or nine-month initiative. They also train people on how to be good mentors and work with mentees on how to build a great relationship with their mentor.

“A lot of mentoring relationships break up because they can’t get together. Either mentees wrongfully wait for mentors to schedule a time or mentors keep canceling on them,” Kantor said. “We tell mentees that they really need to be the ones responsible for their career trajectory, so they need to be the ones responsible for scheduling.”

A good mentor has to be available and committed to meeting for an hour or two each month. The consultants ensure that the mentors commit to availability; otherwise, they aren’t allowed in the initiative. If they are not available, the consultants will pair the mentee with a new mentor.

“A good mentor should not tell their mentees how to do things—instead, they really need to listen and ask good questions to help the mentee handle certain situations,” Kantor said. “A good mentor also needs to understand what the mentee’s goals are, so they can strategically help them over the course of the relationship.”

Mentoring high school students

Companies can also mentor high school students in programs such as the ACE Mentor Program of America, a free, after-school program designed to attract high school students into pursuing careers in the architecture, construction and engineering industries, including skilled trades. ACE is a Philadelphia-based federation of more than 70 chapters operating in 37 states.

“ACE is a phenomenally structured program to help offset the shortage of skilled people coming into the construction business,” Greenawalt said.

A number of Rosendin’s employees serve as mentors at the local level, and executives are also involved on boards at the local and the national level.

“Firms get involved with mentoring because they believe it’s the right thing to do for their community, schools and students,” said Diana T. Eidenshink, ACE’s president.

Mentors are mostly young associates at firms who are able to dedicate the necessary hours a year needed to be a mentor, Eidenshink said.

“Participation not only be benefits the students, but also the mentors,” she said. “Mentors are able to develop the soft skills needed to be a future leader. The program also gives the mentors the opportunity to network with their peers in the industry.”

While ACE’s program is structured around a group mentoring format, students develop relationships with the mentors, who often stay in touch with them after the program, Eidenshink said.

“Many students look to their mentors to give them career, education and general life advice,” she said. “A lot of times, students get internships with the mentors’ firms, and sometimes end up getting hired for permanent positions.”

ACE also offers college and trade school scholarships to students, and the organization is establishing a support program for students in college or trade school, to ensure sure the organization is “setting students up for success,” Eidenshink said. “If they are struggling, we will have someone in place who can help them out.”

The future success of the industry as a whole relies heavily on developing highly skilled young people. It can happen through contributions, sponsorships, events, direct outreach and more.

More than at any other time, young people have numerous options when it comes to determining the next steps in their education and career. Students with a broad range of skills and interests have the opportunity to pursue a variety of great career options.

It is important to build awareness of the options available while establishing a support network to help students who may be considering skilled trade programs or an industry-related college degree.

Mentoring women in the construction industry

The National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC), Fort Worth, Texas, offers mentoring programs for women in the industry, said Anne Pfleger, NAWIC’s national president and estimating, safety and HR administrator at Charles Construction Services in Findlay, Ohio.

“Mentoring rejuvenates their career, improves personal productivity, strengthens leadership skills, increases career satisfaction, encourages sharing of information, develops a loyal support group and encourages women to achieve their full potential,” Pfleger said.

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Anne Pfleger, NAWIC

NAWIC’s program is for women new to the construction industry and experienced women who want to continue to grow and learn.

“Having a mentor at any time can be beneficial, not just at the onset of one’s career,” she said.

For example, someone who is currently in the project administrator role for their company may have the passion to pursue a career in estimating, Pfleger said. Through NAWIC, such individuals have the opportunity to find a mentoring program to help them move into that role within the industry.

At the local, regional and national levels, NAWIC provides opportunities to connect with mentors through monthly chapter meetings, regional and national conferences, industry councils, task forces, committees, interactive webinars, certifications, professional development programs and leadership roles within NAWIC.

“Not only are women being mentored by other women, but we are also encouraged by the men who have expressed interest in our program to mentor women to continue to grow in their chosen careers,” she said.

“Men are seeing the benefit of helping women succeed in this industry, particularly as the current workforce is retiring,” Pfleger said. “With the potential of a construction worker shortage, an opportunity for more women to be hired to replace the retired workforce is more adamant.”

Currently, NAWIC’s mentoring program is mainly conducted through its 118 local chapters across the country. Participating chapters provide questionnaires to mentors and mentees, and then they are paired up with chapters keeping track of their progress and seeing additionally where they can help them succeed.

In addition to the chapter mentoring programs, together the NAWIC National Emerging Professionals and Professional Development and Education committees this year are launching a national mentoring program to pair up mentees with mentors across the country.

“Technology advancements are providing the opportunity for women to be a part of the mentoring program by connecting virtually from anywhere,” Pfleger said.

Women and men working in all facets of the construction industry who would like to participate on either the local or national level can contact the NAWIC national office at nawic@nawic.org or email Pfleger at president@nawic.org.

About the Author

Katie Kuehner-Hebert

Katie Kuehner-Hebert has more than three decades of experience writing about the construction industry, and her articles have been featured in the Associated General Contractor’s Constructor magazine, the American Fence Association’s Fencepost, the...

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