Dear Colleagues,

Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.

(Attributed to Benjamin Franklin) is the basis of good mentoring for engineering professionals. Mentoring ranges from someone who wants to share his or her know-how and experiences (the mentor) with someone younger and less experienced. This ranges from helping kids and students to understand what engineering is about to counselling young engineering technicians and engineers of a firm (who are often referred to as ‘mentees’).

Many successful engineering tradespeople will tell you of the enormous benefit they received from a mentor when they were apprentices.

This short note is to encourage everyone in engineering to increase the amount of mentoring – it builds a strong profession. To encourage highly skilled and experienced professionals to act as mentors and for young engineering professionals starting out in their careers to actively seek out a mentor.

Mentors are for Everyone
Having a mentor can play a significant role in your long term success in engineering and your job satisfaction level. No matter whether you are a fitter, electrician, technician or junior engineer. Research shows that engineering professionals who started with mentors end up with higher levels of self-esteem, better professional standards and excellent linkages to engineering resources and people. They also tend to stay longer with their organisation and communicate far better with their peers.

People starting out in their careers can have a lot of anxieties, questions, pressure and stress. A mentor can give a quick answer and short circuit a lot of the angst that could otherwise arise for a young greenhorn employee. Mentoring students could range from giving workshops about writing a better resume, job interviewing strategies and personal suggestions on firms to approach for work.

In an organization, it is important to understand the corporate structure, gain specific skills (such as report writing/troubleshooting equipment/filling in forms and the application of specific standards). Other areas where young professionals can be helped is in tapping into personal networks, setting up professional goals, and in moving outside comfort zones.

Other more contentious areas (for firms) are ensuring a work-life balance and being successful at work while working a standard day. This may require some strategies to intensify your work output and productivity and thus to keep your hours under control. Mentors can help here.

Who is a Good Mentor?
Good mentors listen well, are reliable, have enormous experience which they are keen to pass on, are passionate about their careers and have some understanding about what their mentees are going through. On the other hand, the mentee is able to listen and respect and be committed to the relationship and apply these skills.

Being a Good Mentor can Benefit You As Well
It forces you to think through your experiences and to do a sanity and reality check on best processes and ways of doing things. It gives you a far better understanding of elements of engineering which you previously took for granted. Oddly enough, it also enables you to ventilate some of your frustrations and beliefs with an active and enthusiastic sounding board.

Become a Mentor Now
Anyone can mentor anyone else. There is always someone who is younger than you and who would be keen to listen to your words of wisdom and hard-won experience.

  • If there isn’t a mentoring program in your firm; set it up.
  • Decide how much time you have to commit before you start.
  • Mentoring is not only about a face-to-face encounter but it could be done through email/skype chat/phone call/web conference.
  • At the beginning of the relationship, take some time to agree on the ground rules and goals with your mentee.
  • As with much volunteer work; you will feel good about yourself and your profession.

By becoming a mentor, you will be doing a great service to the engineering profession.

Thanks John R. Platt of the IEEE for an excellent article on STEM mentoring and in providing evidence.

Yours in engineering learning,

Steve