With a little help from your friends
Seeking advice is not a sign of weakness. James Tinslay looks at why we need mentors for our apprentices.
The words ‘mentor’ and ‘mentoring’ are thrown around by all industries and occupations with vastly different meanings. In a previous column, I mentioned the importance of mentoring and how as an industry the electrical contracting industry is not doing it particularly well.
The term ‘mentoring’ can sometimes have negative connotations, for example, you need to improve your performance. This could not be more wrong. CEOs of large corporations pay serious money to be mentored and equally those who become new directors seek out experienced company directors to mentor for them in their new role.
In the trades area, many group training schemes and organisations offer mentoring for electrical apprentices. While this can be particularly effective, it is still a hands-off third-party arrangement as the mentor is probably handling apprentices across a range of companies big and small.
Large electrical contracting companies often have internal arrangements in place to ensure supervision and mentoring is an inherent part of the culture of the organisation. What about small companies without those resources?
All electrical contracting businesses need to develop an internal mentoring culture to obtain the best out of their electrical apprentices through that organisational culture. Every company regardless of size should strive to achieve success through a culture that results in productivity, harmony and learning. The business leadership will set that tone.
Mentoring does not mean having a specialist mentor and in the case of smaller companies every electrician supervising an apprentice should have mentoring ability and many do without realising what they do every day.
As part of a national project, NECA has been developing a course targeting tradespeople who assume the role of workplace mentors of apprentices. This course, which is being trialled, aims to enhance the coaching and mentoring role, including efforts to motivate apprentices. The course is not generic, it is focused on the electrical contracting industry and will be made available in both face-to-face and in an online delivery format that is flexible and can be customised.
All electrical contractors have electricians who are either not suited or are not interested in mentoring apprentices. They go to work to do the job but still have responsibility when supervising an apprentice to ensure safe working practices.
Mentoring covers a range of skills, which include competencies such as coaching, communication, pastoral care (typically mental health and financial literacy), bullying and harassment management, diversity, cultural awareness and importantly organisation specific administration including timesheets, performance reviews, etc.
While the electrical contracting industry and especially their group training schemes have remarkable success stories in terms of the graduation rates we can do even better. As a director of a group training scheme it always saddens me to see young people drop out of an apprenticeship. Some of these departures are for good reasons but others will be because no one in the business had the skills to address the issues being faced by the apprentice.
I have heard many people from all walks of life talk about an inspirational boss when they were young who showed them what was possible. We need to instil that spirit in our work teams so that we retain young people who are the future of a business and the industry.