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Mentorship is key to transferring knowledge

Training the next generation of skilled workers must start now
Friday, August 7, 2015
by Kyle Downie

The construction industry is forecasted to lose 250,000 skilled tradespeople to retirement over the next decade: an unprecedented level of skilled labour challenge. More than 46 per cent of Canada’s workforce is now over the age of 50. While this means advancement opportunities for young workers, it also means a huge demand for rapid skills development. One of the biggest challenges will be to transfer the skills and knowledge of journeypersons to apprentices entering the industry. Efforts to train the next generation of skilled workers must start now to meet these demands.

Mentorship has long been recognized as an effective means of knowledge transfer. It’s a way to pass on skills to the next generation, and to produce productive, highly skilled and safe workers. Every journeyperson owes their trade skills to experienced journeypersons who mentored them along the way. Mentors not only pass on their knowledge and experience, they also have the responsibility of planning and guiding the learning process for apprentices. This places pressure on employers, unions, current supervisors and journeypersons who are largely responsible for skills development in apprentices.

On average, 80 per cent of training in the skilled trades takes place on-the-job through mentoring relationships. In a recent study by BuildForce Canada, a majority of employers reported mentorship as key to developing a qualified journeyperson. The results also pointed out that there is a great deal of variability in how mentoring actually takes place, for example, long-term relationships vs. many different mentors.

While some journeypersons are well prepared and well suited to take on the mentoring role, many are not. A report on effective mentoring from the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum states that very few journeypersons have actually taken training or received any guidance on how to be an effective mentor. A structured mentorship program will assist the journeyperson and produce more highly skilled and productive apprentices at the workplace.

What makes a good mentor? A quote from a journeyperson of 22 years: “Somebody that’s got experience with the task but also an ability to communicate and understand what the learner is able to do and not able to do.”

Effective mentoring relies on strong essential skills with an emphasis on thinking skills, working with others, oral communication and continuous learning. Apprentices need essential skills and the capacity to learn to ensure they get the most out of being mentored, and mentors need essential skills to effectively pass on their knowledge.

SkillPlan and the Electrical Joint Training Committee (EJTC) have developed Mentorship Matters, a program that maximizes the effectiveness of communication and skills transfer between the mentor and apprentice. The program has trained thousands of apprentices and journeypersons, as well as various contractors across Canada. The impacts that it has, on changing workplace culture and bringing best practices to skill and safety transfer into the workplace, are showing.

Mentorship Matters prepares journeypersons for the mentoring role and prepares apprentices to be mentored. The program includes train-the-trainer sessions and mentorship training sessions for both apprentices and journeypersons. The program uses materials contextualized to the trade and includes video, written material, and interactive educational aids.

The program is divided into two courses. The first, targeted at apprentices, teaches the importance of clear and collaborative communication to maximize learning opportunities, and how to implement goal setting techniques to enhance training. The second course targets mentors, who learn the six-step approach for teaching skills that includes techniques for demonstrating, evaluating and providing feedback for the apprentice. Mentors also learn how to create a safe environment for apprentices to practice skills.

 

Kyle Downie is CEO of SkillPlan, which partners with employers, technical training institutions, and Aboriginal groups to provide tailored training solutions and customized curriculum that meet the goals of the workplace. For more information, visit www.skillplan.ca/construction/mentorship-program

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