What it Takes to be a Strong Mentor

Passion, personality and availability all count.

In the construction industry, lessons learned from a book can take an employee only so far. Most skills are honed on the job over time. Learning from a mentor can speed the process. Being a mentor also has its advantages. Mentors learn new things from their mentees, develop their leadership skills and also enjoy the knowledge that they’ve given back to their company and industry.

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Whether you’re looking to add new mentors to your company’s mentoring program or become a mentor yourself, you might be wondering what makes a good one.

“Some people are built to be mentors,” said Jerry Wilkins, executive vice president of general construction for Kimmel & Associates, a staffing and recruiting company based in Asheville, North Carolina. “I talk to contractors every day, and you can tell when someone wants to give back and leave their mark on the industry. Those are the people who truly want to help the next generation learn so they don’t have to make the same mistakes as the people who came before them.”

They are the folks management should seek out when looking internally for mentors.

A strong mentor is also well-versed in how the company runs. Sometimes, the biggest struggle for a new employee isn’t understanding the details of their job but navigating the company’s policies and systems. Having a mentor who openly shares key information can help employees spend less time adapting to a new environment and more time delivering results.

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A mentor should also be someone who is respected by his or her colleagues. “Finding a mentor who has proven themselves in a company means that they can help disseminate the culture and philosophies of the company to the people they are mentoring,” said Wilkins.

Sometimes a “good” mentor is the one who’s the right fit for the mentee. While new employees should be assigned a mentor once they are hired, Wilkins said it’s okay to make a change a few months in if you know a different mentor would be a better fit.

On top of matching personalities, finding a mentor who’s available to meet and communicate regularly is a must. Wilkins believes that at the beginning of the mentorship, meetings or conversations should happen at least once a week. Since construction employees are often spread out across jobsites, Wilkins suggests pairing a mentee with a mentor who is on the same jobsite or can make it to that jobsite at least once a week.

The mentor doesn’t have to be in the exact same role as their mentee. In fact, having a mentor with a different background can provide mentees with a broader perspective and allow them to learn skills they otherwise might not be exposed to. Try pairing a project executive with an assistant superintendent or a senior superintendent with a project engineer, for example.

Having a mentor program that encourages growth among employees ultimately creates a more well-rounded team. “Some companies just have mentor programs to be able to claim they have one,” said Wilkins. “However, if done well, a program with strong mentors can be a win for the mentor, mentee, and ultimately, the company.”

 

Donna Puglisi is a communications and marketing professional specializing in the construction industry.