Why is everyone talking about mentorship?

13 Dec, 2017

Perspective from Canada’s Building Trades Unions Mentorship Alliance

Why is there so much talk these days about workplace mentoring? The fact that the question is being asked so frequently is troubling. After all, for individuals to be effective, efficient and safe employees they need knowledge transfer on the job which is the foundation of mentorship. So, it stands to reason that mentoring in the workplace should be a key business priority for many employers and labour organizations. Sadly, it has been my observation that this is not the case as workplace mentoring is mostly informal and delivered by one or two benevolent co-workers or through a company orientation meeting or video. For most new hires, the first few days and months in a new workplace are extremely stressful with the day to day pressures of job performance and fitting into the company culture. It is a shame, that employers do not take a more proactive role assisting new hires with this critical transitional phase by integrating a mentoring program within their organization.

The average cost of recruiting a new employee who is paid $60,000 is approximately $25,000 and the costs increase based on the level of skills required within the occupation. In the transitioning workforce of 2017 finding the right skills at the right time is challenging enough however retaining them is equally as challenging. Never mind the impact on long time employees who are the key influencers in your new hire’s development and have never had any formal training regarding mentoring best practices and competencies. Another consideration, the Millennial generation born after 1980, make up nearly 50% of the Canadian labour force across all economic sectors. Their values of support and inclusion are influencing employers and labour organizations alike to re-evaluate their recruitment and retention practices because according to Randstand Canada, a major recruitment firm, mentoring is a key driver for Millennials for choosing an ideal employer.

Times have certainly changed in the national labour force, aside from the Baby Boomers who are retiring en masse, there are not as many Canadians available to fill the skills gap particularly in sectors like industrial maintenance construction which have what I call ultra-skilled trades. Welding for example has entered this category as employers and labour organizations seek welders with what are considered exotic tickets to weld alloys. The construction sector relies heavily on the post-secondary option of apprenticeship to develop the next generation of skilled trades workers. The entire system of apprenticeship is fundamentally based on workplace mentorship by Journeypersons, without it, Apprentices will not learn and progress. The reality is the current system of apprenticeship does not engage, enable or support the mentor Journeypersons. Apprenticeship assumes all Journeypersons will want and know how to teach and foster an Apprentice which could be among the reasons that only 50% of Canada’s registered apprentices successfully complete their apprenticeships.

So why is everyone talking about mentorship? Because it is a cost-effective talent support and retention strategy which will provide employers with in-house control of their workforce development options. It engages and inspires valued long-time employees/mentors to pass on their years of industry experience while including their new colleagues/mentees! It’s a common-sense solution to a gap that has long been overlooked!

Kudos to employers and labour organizations which are already touting and implementing Workplace Mentorship strategies such as the Canadian Building Trades Union Mentorship Alliance, the NB Building Trades Unions and the New Brunswick Department of Training, Labour & Population Growth.

Gina OM

Canada’s construction industry is estimated to lose close to 250,000 skilled tradespeople to retirements over the next decade, resulting in unprecedented skilled labour challenges. While this presents advancement opportunities for younger workers, it also gives rise to an increasing demand for rapid, efficient and effective skills development, in both formal technical training and on the job where 80% of learning takes place.

Although one of the biggest challenges facing the industry is how to effectively and efficiently transfer the skills and knowledge of Journeypersons to apprentices entering the industry, an overwhelming majority of employers in the sector recognize this need and report that mentorship is the key to developing a qualified journeyperson. Capturing the very best in productivity and safety practices, and passing those skills on to new workers, is job one.

Practical skills development on the job has been in existence since apprenticeship first began, however, employers report that the quality of mentorship is uneven. While some Journeypersons are well prepared and well suited to take on the mentoring role, many are not. In reality, very few Journeypersons have actually received training or guidance on effective mentoring.

It is in response to this critical need that BuildForce Canada, SkillPlan, and SRDC have partnered to undertake a national initiative funded in part by the Government of Canada’s Adult Learning, Literacy and Essential Skills Program to develop and implement an innovative mentorship training model that will support the efficient and effective knowledge transfer from an experienced and skilled to a new less experienced worker.

Working in four regions across Canada, we will be working to develop, implement and evaluate the impact of mentorship training models that will ultimately lead to best practices in training for use by the construction industry within Canada.

We have currently engaged many labour stakeholders and contractors across Canada who are interested in participating and in implementing a customized mentorship training system that will enhance knowledge transfer, productivity and safety on the job site.

Stay tuned for an upcoming Build Together blog feature that will highlight key mentorship design and delivery features based on our upcoming training needs analysis with participating contractors and labour stakeholders.

Canada’s Building Trades Mentorship Alliance (CBTMA) aims to deliver effective, innovative and inclusive mentorship strategies and education training options to Canada’s Building Trades Unions’ affiliated members, their signatory contractors and other potential clients. For more information visit http://buildtogether.ca/mentorship/

In our next blog post we will feature guest blogger Kate Walsh, Strategic Coordinator with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Kate will discuss the importance of youth engagement and highlight the work she is doing with the IBEW’s NextGen initiative.