I have some really fine responses on mentoring which are important to publicise – a selection are included below. Thanks so much to all those who went to the trouble to respond. Everyone has supplied full names and addresses but due to being in sensitive positions, I have to use initials for some. I have done light editing. Interesting and inspirational reading….
Yours in engineering learning
From: Kevin Baillie.
I support your comments and approach with the use of mentors, both formal and informal.
I am now 63 years of age. I started studying engineering part-time while working full-time from the age of 15 so I have been connected with the engineering profession for 48 years. I was very fortunate and consider that I have had five informal mentors through my formative and early professional years.
I commenced my career as a cadet engineer as the result of the Managing Director of a then small design and construct engineering works. He took an interest in my well being and future when I moved away from home to find employment. His name was R. G. (Dick) Fry and the company was North Queensland Engineers and Agents in Cairns. The other person from the same organization who took a personal interest and provided guidance to myself was G. M. (Gordon) Clarke. Gordon was a great sounding board and often provided a different point of view to expand my consideration of issues.
After graduation, and some power station design work in Brisbane, I moved to Gladstone, central Queensland to work at the Queensland Alumina Refinery. I held a number of positions at the refinery over the 28 years of employment but my early years at this location were guided by the then Plant Engineering Manager, B. G. (Bruce) Hiskens. Bruce went on to be a Divisional Manager at the refinery. During those years of employment and career development, I was also guided by two other people. These people were R.S. (Bob) Ginn from the U.S.A. who had a background in plant operations and who went on to be the Plant Manager at the refinery, and a process engineer from the U.S.A. by the name of D.J. (Don) Donaldson who is world recognized in alumina production.
None of the above people were formally appointed as a mentor to me but I benefited greatly from their wisdom, and the personal interest, encouragement, guidance and opportunities that they provided.
After a career of applying my engineering knowledge to positions involving design, construction, maintenance, management, research and development, and OSH and environment at QAL, I made a change to take a position leading teams of people to test and commission large industrial plant. During the recent years in this role I have found it to be tremendously rewarding to provide mentoring to younger engineers. I hope that I can be as successful in providing guidance and assistance to the developing engineers as the people who shaped and influenced my life and career. I would like to point out that I have learnt a lot from working with the younger engineers making it a very enjoyable experience for me.
My involvement with the engineering profession has been extremely rewarding and I thank those people who shared their experiences and provided guidance throughout my career. I consider the people above to be my friends and mentors.
From: Gerald Tai
I was lucky enough to have a good mentor, Peter Ball just when I needed it. He said very little but what he said, when I reflected on the words (sometimes a lot later), helped me through my engineering solving skills, my career & life decisions too. I named my son after him & ensured I continued his passion for engineering by passing that on to as many graduate engineers who would listen. Sometimes it is difficult to convince management of the time required to train/mentor engineers; particularly in these times of mobile workers. The message should be we all have a responsibility to strengthen our engineering community as a whole, not always just looking at the bottom line.
I know it borders on preaching to the converted, but this subject is one of my great soapbox passions. I have been pontificating about mentoring in my local church and built a few program documents around it for basically the same reason you mention below. More significantly in my industry the predominance of young uni graduates hitting the streets full of knowledge and qualifications, great new ideas and absolutely brilliant lateral thinking brains is staggering. Software developers and other streams sit all around me and dazzle me with their ability to view the world through young and different eyes. As a service manager I then spend vast amounts of time tearing my hair out of basic procedural and conceptual processes which seems to escape the younger set. The controls for release management, version control and all those other painful delaying strategies have been left out of their programming. The concepts around communicating with clients who pay fortunes for services are another pet hate. There is a trend in the younger set (and maybe others) to think that near enough is good enough and a client paying large sums will have no problem with that concept.
It all screams to me that they need someone to take them under their wing and gently guide them into a space where both worlds exist and do not conflict or restrain their open minded approach to all things. I would consider it a management decision to promote and encourage mentoring to all technical people to effect a good rounding result in their personnel. Thankfully I have read of a number of large organisations who have taken that approach for junior managers and that could then create a flow down effect in later years. As for now, I suspect we are still very much in a “control management” mindset for most organisation where technical people are generally not thought of as customer facing, regardless of reality.
My 2 cents worth.
I have been luckily enough to have had several mentors both technical, accounting and personal.
I found in being mentored was that it was up to me, to want to learn, to take the time to debate and also to challenge my mentors with my ideas.
By doing this found that I found that I always got more form them.
It is hard in these frenetic times to take time out to just talk to people, thanks for the reminder
From: Richard Pond
Totally agree with your blog but I think there is a stage before that to get people especially youngsters inspired to go into engineering. We have to do a major selling job to enthuse the public with the excitement of engineering. The British public have to be shown that engineering is no longer a 'dirty hands' occupation. Maybe it is a new challenge for them but this idea does not seem to apply in the emerging countries like India and China.
I have talked to many engineers about doing a prime time television series to promote our industry but am told it has to be personalised and each hours programme would cost £30,000. Not sure about the personalised bit but if that is the cost then this ought to be found from somewhere. Maybe Tomorrow's World and few more like this should be brought back.
Regarding mentors as I am now in my late 60s there were a couple of guys who helped me along but in my time these were few and far between. But I agree having a rock with which to communicate is enormously helpful. Just hope my work has inspired a few but who can tell?