The Benefits of a Reverse Mentoring Program

When most people think of mentoring, they imagine a seasoned worker imparting wisdom to a younger, greener employee. This kind of traditional mentoring program can help you attract and keep younger talent. But reverse mentoring turns the tables, allowing younger employees to share knowledge — about new technology in particular — with older workers.

“If you're in the construction industry today, technology changes around you daily," said Greg Sizemore, vice president of environment, health, safety and workforce development for Associated Builders and Contractors. “What you see more and more is that estimating and scheduling [programs] are using a new high-tech version, a new platform that will work better. [Millennials] are working with this stuff as they come out of college.” 

Employees fresh out of school are also working with engineering applications, with 3-D modeling and building information modeling (BIM) and with computer-aided drafting, Sizemore said, and they can pass along this knowledge. "They need to bridge the gap” for older workers, he noted.

A reverse mentoring program functions much as any other mentoring program does: An organization pairs two individuals — one more experienced in a subject— and a trained supervisor helps set expectations and goals and makes sure they are working together according to the chosen parameters. It could be a very formal relationship with structured sessions on certain days of the week or a more informal setup, with the two parties setting a schedule of their convenience.

A bruised ego on the part of the older worker shouldn’t be an issue.  

"I don't believe the more seasoned worker is going to look at it as a putdown to have a millennial as their mentor," Sizemore said. "It's all about leadership and how it's sold." To that end, Sizemore said, the company's top management needs to show its involvement and ensure participants know that the purpose of their engagement has one goal: the transfer of important knowledge.

"There is so much to be gained if we think of mentoring as an opportunity to engage one another," said Sizemore.

Reverse mentoring is a win-win for both parties. The older worker can learn technology he or she might be struggling with or avoiding, and the millennial feels valuable and valued—which could translate to a longer stay with the company.

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Kim Slowey is a writer who has been active in the construction industry for 25 years and is licensed as a certified general contractor in Florida. She received her BA in Mass Communications/Journalism from the University of South Florida and has experience in both commercial and residential construction.