Make room for mentoring

To help close the skills gap, construction industry stakeholders are investing heavily in recruitment and training programs.

But closer to the ground, another type of investment is also taking place: on-the-job mentoring.

Considering that 80 percent of training takes place at the work site, successful on-the-job mentoring is the foundation upon which we will build tomorrow’s workforce.

Last spring the CSC rolled out its Mentorship Program to stakeholders in the Canadian construction industry. This program was developed, in part, in response to earlier research the CSC had conducted that uncovered many good reasons why mentoring is the right tool to address the construction skills shortage.

Demographics

Just as demand for new building is increasing steadily, so is the age of Canada’s workforce – we have the world’s oldest workforce, with 46 percent of Canadians over the age of 50. But almost 50 percent of older workers expect to work past the age of 65, and many see mentoring as an important role, expressing a keen desire to demonstrate their knowledge and skills to younger workers.

Harnessing that desire and the skills and experience of those older workers, and passing them on to the next generation, is key to the industry’s future.

Measurable benefits

Mentoring benefits the industry as a whole through increased productivity, improved quality of work, improved safety and a better overall public image. And it makes especially good sense for smaller companies that do not have access to more formal training programs.

Other lessons

To be effective, however, mentoring must be done properly. A key take-away message from the study is that the best way to transfer skills from one generation to the next is to create a positive mentoring experience for both the tradesperson and the learner.

For example, strong technical skills do not always mean good teaching skills, so journeypersons need support in their role as mentors. As one industry representative interviewed for the study put it, “we train workers to be good tradespeople, but we don’t train them to be good teachers.”

Other study participants reported that the approach to mentoring is “haphazard” and “tends to happen by default rather than by design,” which may explain why some apprentices don’t complete their apprenticeship.

There is a clear need to maximize investment in on-the-job mentoring so it’s a good experience and apprentices go on to become productive workers.

In other words, mentors need support from their employers to effectively pass on their skills. Employers benefit by being able to rotate learners between tasks as they assess how to best use the learner and what skills areas need to be improved. Learners, on the other hand, benefit most when they get feedback on their progress, such as a report card, and when they take responsibility for their training by asking questions. That way they can get exposure to the full scope of work, know what to expect and know what is expected of them.

The construction industry will be losing a lot of skilled and knowledgeable workers through retirements. Now is the time to take advantage of the opportunity to keep those skills on the job site. Setting up mentoring programs in workplaces across the country will go a long way to keeping the industry healthy and prosperous for years to come.

To download the Mentoring Program materials visit the CSC’s website at www.csc-ca.org.

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