Mentorship is a key component of learning the trades, but not until recently have industry figures made an effort to formalize the process.
Andy Cleven from the Electrical Joint Training Committee (EJTC) and Kyle Downie of SkillPlan co-presented a session entitled Cultivating a Win-Win for Mentors and Mentees/Apprentices at the Vancouver Regional Construction Association Construction Learning Forum held recently in Whistler, B.C.
“We have always mentored. That’s what we’ve done for hundreds of years and that’s how trades are passed on,” Cleven said.
But while there has been learning based on tradition, there isn’t much formal mentoring either in the construction industry or in educational institutions, he said.
“Mentorship matters, because 80 per cent of a trade is taught on the jobsite, but there isn’t a system to pass that knowledge forward,” he added. Downie agreed.
“I don’t think the industry has really looked at what is the most efficient and effective way of transferring that knowledge from the skilled worker to an unskilled one,” he said.
He added that mentorship brings a competitive edge as it can improve workplace wellness, safety and productivity.
The EJTC and SkillPlan worked through the unionized electrical construction industry within the jurisdiction of Local 213 International Brotherhod of Electrical Workers to create a mentorship system.
Building the system took three years and for the last 15 months members have had mandatory weekend training for apprentices.
“More than 300 apprentices have gone through the system,” Cleven said.
Journeypersons are also being trained on a voluntary basis through standard training programs.
“We can train the journeypersons, who want to be mentors, but unfortunately we can’t train those who don’t think mentoring matters,” he said.
Downie said there are six steps to being an apprentice, which are effective communication, active listening, receiving feedback, asking questions, learning styles and setting goals.
He stressed the importance of active listening.
“Hear, interpret, reflect and respond are the four steps of active listening,” he said.
Active listening involves apprentices interacting positively with mentors, understanding and responding to instructions, and realizing that good listening equals positive relationships, Downie added.
Mentors also have a set of responsibilities to bring to the relationship.
“As a mentor, you are a teacher,” he said, but a mentor is also coaching and motivating an apprentice at the same time.
The system put in place by Cleven and Downie teaches six steps to becoming a mentor.
Those steps are identifying the point of the lesson, linking the lesson, demonstrating the skill, providing opportunity for practice, giving feedback and then assessing progress.
Mentors also have to challenge apprentices, Downie said, a concept that has received some push back.
“Senior staff didn’t want to train an apprentice only to move them to a new task they wouldn’t be as skilled at,” Downie said.
Cleven believes it’s worth the effort.
“This is not a simple task. We’ve been at it for three years, but it will make a difference to our jobsites,” he said.
Downie said he would like to see the program integrated into Red Seal certification as a learning outcome, as well as greater engagement with employers and industry. Research into the difference mentorship teaching has in the workplace would also be beneficial.
“I know the results will be positive, but actually having valid data could push the idea of mentorships so more people are engaged,” Downie said.