Business Tips

The why and how of construction mentorships

Boeing, the aerospace giant, has a renowned mentorship culture. Caterpillar, a major construction vendor, is known for its robust professional development program. Neither of those are construction businesses, of course. And construction has internships and apprenticeships—does it really need mentorships?

Most industry experts would say yes. In fact, mentorships are already used regularly by local and national organizations to help groom interested youth and new entrants to the field for great careers in construction.

ACE (Architecture, Construction and Engineering) Mentor Program of America matches up about 9,000 high school students each year with mentors from major firms such as AECOM and Clark Construction. The Construction Management Association of America (CMAA) requires managers in training to participate in a mentor-protegée relationship.

And for those seeking guidance from the helms of their companies, the Construction Employers Association of Cleveland offers a mentor program that allows minority contractors who are trying to break into the field to shadow and work with established contractors.

With the current labor shortfall, mentoring in construction is needed more than ever. And advertising the existence of mentorships to young people considering construction represents the promise of a warm introduction to the field coupled with the message that they matter, as do their futures. This could attract the right kind of up-and-comers to your business to stay.

Becoming a construction mentor

A mentorship involves someone with a genuine interest in a field or in career advancement shadowing or sitting down with a person with more experience and wisdom or knowledge to share (and the willingness to share it).

You can’t do too much to boost the industry these days—and one of the things you can do is become a mentor. As the ACE program states, “Who better to inspire a new generation of young people to start careers in an industry than the professionals currently shaping it?”

You don’t need special training or certification to be a mentor. Just watching you go through your day to day can give a young mentee some good knowledge to work from. But before you start, you should decide on a) who you’re willing to mentor (i.e. rising employees, trade school students or graduates, kids in the community interested in construction?) and b) at least a loose plan for the schedule.

How much time you give to a mentorship is your choice, but you will want to figure it out in advance—an hour or two every week or twice a month for three or six months are good places to start. The key is to decide on a schedule and make sure both parties are committed to showing up, or let each other know in advance if they need to reschedule.

Mentorships are sorely needed in the trades, too. But nudging your best carpenter or welder or a great concrete sub you work with to be a mentor is a different ballgame from signing yourself up. But you could offer some perks, the first one being that you’ll host the kick-off lunch or other mentorship event. You could offer for guidelines the schedule and even the agenda. And if you’ve been a mentor, you could tell them what a great experience it was. Be sure to remind them that there were people who helped them get where they are today (even if they weren’t being formally mentored).

Taking a cue from women in construction

One group that embraces the power of construction mentorships is women. You’ll see it all over the web if you Google “mentorships in construction”. The College of Carpenters and Allied Trades in Ontario, Canada offers a mentorship program for women, for example. The National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) has a long-standing voluntary mentorship program that is offered through some local NAWIC chapters, with guidance from the top levels.

NAWIC publishes guidelines for their mentoring program which offer advice for the approaches and attitudes that tend to create successful mentorships. “Mentoring has become vital in our chapters in helping each other to connect and grow in the industry by being a reciprocal and self-directed learning relationship between two individuals who share a common bond,” says Angela Highland of NAWIC.

And that’s one of the keys to successful mentorships: that both parties see a benefit in it for themselves. Senior employees, managers and owners can sometimes gain insights while explaining the how and why of their processes. You can learn and grow from hearing the perspectives of newcomers and outsiders, too.