Many professionals working in construction (and frankly, most any industry) feel that finding a good mentor early in their career was instrumental to their later success. A good mentor has enough experience to help guide a mentee through challenges they encounter in their career while offering guidance on what steps they should take to grow as a professional. A mentorship formally set up by a company may also consider bigger picture company goals and not only individual career growth.
Construction firms that formalize their mentorship programs are more successful in training capable young construction professionals. Creating a thoughtful mentorship environment can positively influence your younger professionals, causing them to invest in a career at your firm for a longer time period.
Construction Training: The Reverse Mentoring Solution
Worried about your Baby Boomer employees leaving with their expertise when they retire? Reverse mentoring, as part of construction training, can produce big gains, and what’s more, the method is right at your fingertips. With the right approach, reverse mentoring can be easy to implement.
A lot has been written about how technology has changed the construction industry, as well as the challenges faced by Baby Boomers (Boomers) in dealing with those changes. Likewise, a lot has been written about how the industry is facing a brain drain as Boomers leave the workforce, taking their decades of knowledge with them.
What if Millennials and their legendary technological savvy could be harnessed to stop the brain drain from wreaking havoc on the industry? That’s exactly what reverse mentoring promises to do, and some companies are already reaping the benefits. Here’s everything you need to know to make the most of reverse mentoring in your company.
A Generation Gap
It’s no secret that older construction professionals struggle with the constantly changing technology environment. The problem is that Boomers grew up in a one-button joystick world, while digital technology requires multi-button game console mastery.
Today’s technology requires a high level of comfort with complex digital environments. Instead of a single joystick or button or notepad, technology users must navigate an enormous complexity of visual options in order to understand and manipulate the information contained in a digital format.
For Millennials, this is no problem at all. They grew up with Xbox consoles and web browsers. The complexity of a 3D modeling environment is instantly comprehensible to them, the way that an architectural drawing on a sheet of paper is immediately understood by an experienced construction professional.
Further, Millennials are unafraid to manipulate and make changes in the 3D environment, confident in their ability to mitigate any mistakes they may make, and to discover new capabilities while they’re at it.
As comfortable as they are with technology, Millennials have a different problem. They know how to navigate complex digital environments, but they don’t have the hands-on experience to put it to its best use in a construction environment.
Many spent a good deal of their childhoods online. This familiarity, of course, is part of the reason for their comfort with digital environments. On the downside, however, they missed the experience most Boomers had of making and building things at home. They didn’t grow up with the satisfaction of working with their hands and creating things in the physical world.
In the digital world, almost anything is doable. For kids who grew up playing Minecraft, it may seem like all you need is materials and a vision to make a project come to life. An experienced construction professional, on the other hand, knows perfectly well that just because you can design a building with 8-story columns doesn’t mean you can actually build it.
Left to their own devices, Millennials are very good at building digital versions of things that can never actually be constructed.
How Reverse Mentoring Works
In a reverse mentoring program, an experienced construction professional is paired with a young professional who wants to learn the business. But where traditional mentoring puts the older person in charge of training and the younger person in charge of learning, reverse mentoring frames the relationship the other way around: The young person is charged with teaching the older person to navigate the new technologies.
Why Reverse Mentoring is the Hack You’ve Been Looking For
What makes reverse mentoring so powerful is that it harnesses the strengths of both parties, while offering both individuals a sense of genuine meaning. The young person feels that they have a valuable role in helping the older person navigate the technology, while the older person feels good about offering the young person the benefit of their many years experience in real world construction.
In the process, another remarkable thing happens. Together, they document the older person’s vast industry experience directly inside the software, making it available to the rest of the team and future generations. Knowledge can thus be standardized and applied across the organization.
Reverse Mentoring in Practice
I’ve worked with several companies who have implemented reverse mentoring, and a similar pattern emerges in all of them. Initially, the senior employee feels a little like they’re babysitting, while the young person feels the same thing in reverse.
Within the span of a few projects, however, both participants begin to appreciate the power of the pairing, which ultimately causes ripple effects. The entire older generation of workers becomes less resistant to the technology, while all the young new workers learn from and apply the knowledge that is being encoded.
These companies also see yet another benefit: They find it easier to attract and retain young employees, who rightly see that their skills and abilities are valued and developed by that company.
How to Successfully Implement Your Own Reverse Mentoring Program
A successful reverse mentoring program doesn’t happen by accident. To get yours up and running right, follow these steps:
- Obtain Executive Sponsorship. When the project is driven from the highest levels of the organization, participants are naturally more engaged and determined to make it work.
- Match Senior Professionals with Technology Drivers. To ensure initial success and build momentum, it’s critical that the first mentor/mentee partners involve a senior professional with extensive expertise and a younger person who is driven and knowledgeable about the technology.
- Communicate the Knowledge Gap. Be clear with mentors and mentees about exactly where the gaps are that they are trying to fill. This clarity will guide them in focusing their relationship and ensuring that it is productive.
- Have the Senior Professional Reach out to the Younger. When older professionals reach out to younger, it sets a productive tone for the relationship.
- Set Clear Parameters. The mentor and mentee should know exactly when, how often, where, and for what purpose they will meet. These meetings should be scheduled and consistent.
- Check In. Schedule check-ins with executive leadership to report results, discuss challenges, and address any issues that arise.
- Determine Next Steps. Once the program is running, executive leadership should develop a clear plan for the future of the program, including whether and how far to expand the program.
Mentoring the Future of Construction
Young professionals are the future of the construction industry. Establishing a mentorship program at your company is an important way to be part of that conversation. If you're looking to tap into the knowledge from your peers, join the conversation and community in The Big Room!