Mentoring team talk

Why every engineer should be a mentor

Image credit: Fizkes/Dreamstime

Six good reasons why mentoring isn’t something you only benefit from in the early years of your professional career.

One of the greatest issues facing women who have the talent, ambition and skills to be top engineers is that they simply don’t believe they can be. According to EngineeringUK, only 60 per cent of girls aged between 11 and 14 think they could become an engineer if they wanted to, compared to 72 per cent of boys. This drops to 53 per cent in the 16-19 age range, where only a quarter of girls say they would ever consider a career in engineering.

There are similar issues for all under-represented groups in the sector. If people don’t have the advice, support and role models they need to encourage them into engineering, they are less likely to consider it a viable option. And while these are in part societal issues, there is more the sector can do to make itself accessible to all.

Mentoring, in our experience, is one of the most beneficial ways of opening up the profession, and is something that all engineers should be engaging in. While we both participate in very different forms of mentoring, we’ve found the experience to be rewarding and enriching, with overlapping benefits no matter what form of mentoring takes place. These are the six reasons we would encourage every engineer to get involved:

There are opportunities for everyone

Whether you’re at the start of your career and need some support, or a senior engineer looking to give back, mentoring can and should take place at all stages of your career. The move to remote and hybrid forms of meeting means that mentoring is now more accessible and flexible than ever before, and can easily be built around your schedule.

There are plenty of opportunities, but if the right one isn’t available engineers should take the initiative and create it. Whether that means contacting your old school or university, or speaking to your employer, there’s a strong chance that if the right mentoring opportunity doesn’t already exist, the door will be open for you to create it.

It helps to open up the industry

Engineering is not as diverse as it could be, which will have to change if the sector is going to address a growing skills shortage and high demand for workers. Talented people are not entering the industry because of a lack of understanding, confidence or contacts, but this is exactly the sort of issue that mentoring directly addresses. If more engineers become mentors, the whole industry will improve as it gains access to a wider range of talent.

The work you do has a broader impact

Every conversation you have is likely to have a much bigger impact than you realise. As well as directly receiving inspiration and encouragement, mentees acquire the confidence to share the insights and knowledge they gain with their networks and peers, demystifying the sector for many more people. Meanwhile, mentors will have a better understanding of what puts off potential applicants, and how they can improve their workplaces to attract the best talent. People who benefit from mentoring are more likely to go on to be mentors themselves, using the interpersonal and networking skills they’ve acquired from their experiences to benefit others.

Mentoring is a two-way street

The idea of mentoring being like a student-teacher relationship, where knowledge is imparted in only one direction, is outdated. While in some cases, such as Sumaiyah’s, the reciprocal element of mentoring is more formalised, the reality is that all mentoring is reciprocal, and that everyone learns something new as people contribute their experiences. Mentoring, for all who participate, is a great opportunity to broaden your network, learn more about your industry, and pick up new ways of working. Mentoring can help people become more efficient, as well as adaptable as the workplace changes. While remote working has led to concerns from some that younger people are losing out on valuable experiences, mentoring can help reduce this issue by increasing their exposure to more experienced colleagues.

Improve your communication skills

You gain a variety of skills and experiences from mentoring – in particular communication skills. Mentoring promotes active listening in a safe, supportive environment that increases the confidence of mentees to speak their minds and outline their own ideas. This is a great opportunity for people to practise their presentational and communication skills and gives people the confidence to set out their vision. This can play an important role in making workplaces better for those who already work there, and more appealing for those considering applying.

Mentor throughout your career

There is a place for mentoring at every stage of your career. Whether you’re just starting out in your career, or leading a business, there is always a benefit to learning, improving your communication skills and broadening your network. As mentoring will be a positive tool throughout your career, why not start today?

Mentoring is often thought about in terms of what the mentor is doing for the mentee, without enough focus on the mutual benefits for both parties. We’re often told about the benefits of being mentored – and doubtless there are many – but we have found mentoring to be an equally positive and educational experience for mentors. It will help to create a profession where confidence and positivity is encouraged.

Sumaiyah Sareshwala joined Burns & McDonnell in September 2020 as an apprentice engineer, and participates in reciprocal mentoring with Jonathan Chapman, managing director of Burns & McDonnell UK. This involves regular, informal meetings to discuss the company and its culture.

Siddharth Thite, a senior design and project manager, is a mentor as part of the University of Nottingham’s Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) mentorship programme. He provides one-on-one mentoring to students interested in the STEM fields.

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