Critical Mentorship & Tomorrow’s Challenge
“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi
The greatest challenge faced by the construction industry today is the challenge of tomorrow. Between our industry’s demand for trained craft professionals and the generational aging-out of experience in the construction crafts, we are caught in the Skills Gap. The only path to success is to create the missing two million trained craft professionals needed to build our future.
Unfortunately, while Americans can build anything, the tools historically relied on by America’s industries to build our future workforce are not up to the task. There is no management system or methodology in the repertoire of the last few decades, whether Total Quality Management, Six Sigma, LEAN, or just MBWA, that has the surefire solution to making the candidates who can answer the want ad. We’ve all seen that ad:
“Must have reliable transportation. Must have 3-5 min years experience. Must be able to pass a pre-employment physical and drug test. Must be willing to work 50+ hours per week. Must submit resume for consideration. Clean background check is necessary.” (Ad for a pipefitter posted on indeed.com)
Within a prevailing culture in which the burden of training has been borne by others, there was always someone available to answer that call; the industry experience was young enough to get the job done even though the supply of new craft trainees was dwindling. As the skilled professionals who make up industry experience are beginning to retire, though, the supply of candidates for the job ad is also going away. The two are directly connected. Without experienced skilled professionals critically mentoring trainees there is no transfer of knowledge, experience, and values to the next generation.
Critical mentorship is an organization’s commitment to solving the skills gap from within, and requires engagement at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels. It is critical because the future viability of the organization depends on the degree of commitment, and also because it must incorporate the built-in evaluation of both participants and performance to show whether the program is succeeding.
Strategic mentorship is a leadership responsibility. The leadership recognizes training, or the passing of knowledge and skill, to be an investment in tomorrow rather than today’s expense. This is the creation of a culture of mentorship that facilitates and encourages both formal and informal relationships in which this knowledge and skill exchange can happen. Leaders’ commitment to sustainable skill development is manifest in allocating resources for entry-level recruitment, comprehensive training programs, and especially establishment of career pathways involving partnership with formal education. Construction Workforce Development Professional, a new credentialed curriculum and certification offered by NCCER, can provide the training and tools necessary to create and maintain a culture of strategic mentorship.
Operational mentorship is about the organized and methodical application of mentorship tools. The mentorship program is developed to support the organization’s culture at this level, and the details are specified in the way that best fits the organization’s medium-term goals. NCCER’s accreditation programs are a great example of the systematic approach to organizing and methodically applying a standardized craft training program within an organization. The greatest operational benefits of NCCER accreditation are the supporting NCCER staff, instructor materials, and the ability to track progress of all trainees through the NCCER Registry System.
Tactical mentorship is where the organization’s mentorship culture and the tools provided to mentors come together in the personal interaction between experienced craft professionals and trainees. An entry-level craft worker is taught the knowledge and skill of the craft profession by an experienced craft professional in a personal exchange, and the values of the organization are passed along through the mentor’s personal example. When leaders create a strategic mentorship culture, and the organization’s management implements operational mentorship through a standardized training system, the tools and situational framework are in place to set up the mentor-to-protégé relationship for success. In addition to the extensive curriculum of construction industry craft training, NCCER offers tools like Mentoring for Craft Professionals that prepare a skilled professional with the knowledge and skill of mentoring itself.
When effective mentors are designated and prepared with proper training, then paired with craft trainees coming from an education-to-industry career pathway, the training framework works within the mentorship culture to effectively prepare the next generation of craft professionals. These new professionals offer return-on-investment through higher productivity, higher quality work, and significantly better safety records in a dangerous industry. They are more committed to the mission and goals of the organization, and they show it with reduced absenteeism and longer employee retention. Most of all, the personal bond created between the mentor and protégé is the best way to give life to the values of the organization and to ensure those values are passed on to the next generation of leaders.
As one of my mentors put it, “skilled labor isn’t cheap, cheap labor isn’t skilled, but there’s nothing more expensive than cheap unskilled labor.” Critical mentorship is a long-term leadership solution to America’s industry skills gap, and is the best investment we can make in tomorrow’s workforce of safe, effective, and sustainable workforce of craft professionals.