Mentoring civil engineers during the period from academic qualification to professional qualification is a challenge and requires a close relationship between the two people. A long-term relationship is needed which often has to overcome short term problems. Here are five challenges that are often experienced by mentors.
1. Who’s in charge?
For mentoring to work, the trainee needs to be leading the relationship. For a recent recruit straight out of further education, this will be daunting and probably unrealistic. The mentor will need to use their skills and experience to guide the early stages of the relationship until the trainee can explain what is needed in terms of guidance and support and hopefully the mentor can then provide it. Mentoring a trainee when that person is a colleague in the same team can sometimes be tricky as the trainee will inevitably be looking at the mentor as a boss, not necessarily someone who’s there to assist with longer term career development.
2. What’s the end goal?
In most professions, trainees are looking to gain a qualification, the letters after the name, the improved job title etc. That should not be seen as the end result of a mentoring relationship. Employers do not recruit trainees merely to get them to a qualification. Many civil engineers gain their professional qualifications in their late 20’s, suggesting that they could remain a further 30-40 years in their careers. Their initial professional development should prepare them for their full career, not just a professional review at the start of it. The attributes sought by the ICE at review mirror those desired by employers so that their engineers can manage the challenges of the future.
3. ‘Sign off my attributes!’
This has been a constant refrain of trainee civil engineers through the ages. Once the sport was chasing signatures for objectives, now attributes are the currency of progression. Managed online for those training under agreement, it is an important process and a challenge for mentors. Allowing unsubstantiated ‘progress’ by agreeing to pleas from your trainee to sign things off prematurely will cause difficulties for both of you and your relationship in the future. Be clear and realistic with your trainee(s), explain in advance what is likely to be needed in terms of substantiation and avoid any element of time-serving as a way of showing progress. Doing x months on site or y months in a commercial role will be meaningless unless something is achieved or learned during that time.
4. ‘I’ve not been on a course for ages’
The world of training, and particularly ‘classroom’ training may have disappeared for some time; remote learning through Zoom, Teams, Connect et al may become the new normal. But going on a training course for its own ends was never justifiable in business or professional terms. ‘I need to develop my ability in…’ is a statement that can then prompt a discussion between mentor and trainee about the various ways in which the gap may be closed. That may indeed be a course but could also be another way of development. The ICE’s guides to initial professional development and continuing professional development support this point. The amount of self-learning material available online has mushroomed during lockdown and much is available for free. Mentors may be encouraged to arrange for other opportunities for the trainee if that trainee has shown initiative and has undertaken some development activity alone.
5. Trainees with a backlog
The ICE’s qualification processes rightly require documentary evidence of a trainee’s progress and a professional review. Trainees under agreement use IPD Online to manage their progress. Those not under agreement can arrange their own document sharing with a mentor. But both categories of trainee run the risk of falling behind with reports and other documents when the ‘day job’ becomes more demanding than normal. Recovering a backlog requires some steering from the mentor to encourage and guide the trainee and some effort from the trainee. The mentor’s involvement should hopefully ensure that the trainee’s efforts are well-guided to the backlog. Ideally, the most recent report should be completed first before worrying about ones that are more overdue.
Want to learn more about mentoring? Mentoring for Civil Engineers is a guide to planning and implementing the training of professional civil engineers that ensures that engineers have the necessary skills, ability, and commitment to the profession. It’s is now available in print and as an eBook.
You might want to move your career forward and become a qualified engineer but it’s not unusual to feel stuck not knowing how or even where to begin. From understanding the professional reviews process to mentoring graduate engineers to hone their skills, Bundle: ICE Professional Development, available in print, offers a full and thorough overview of the ICE’s processes and the civil engineering industry more widely. You can also find the content in eBook format: