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The Power of Mentoring

June 8, 2020
The author learned in her career that mentoring is a “must-have,” not just a “nice-to-have.”

By Kathy Jo Van

In his book, Good to Great, John Maxwell states, “More than four out of five of all leaders you ever meet will have emerged as leaders because of the impact made on them by established leaders who mentored them.”

Mentoring is defined as a professional relationship in which an experienced person (the mentor) assists another (the mentee) in developing specific skills and knowledge that will enhance the less-experienced person’s professional and personal growth. 

Mentoring can help remedy two pressing issues our industry is facing as it relates to the workforce shortage: knowledge transfer and retention.

Our industry is facing a labor shortage that will continue to escalate. Ten thousand people turn 65 every day, and by 2030 all baby boomers will be over 65. By 2025, Millennials will make up 75% of the workforce.

In 2019, the electrical construction industry needed an additional 13,800 workers (6,900 to support growth in construction and 6,900 to replace workers leaving/retiring).  And by 2024, we will need 15,200 additional workers.

Meanwhile, the overwhelming majority of the electrical industry is white, male, Baby Boomers who will reach retirement age within the next 10 years.  Knowing this, you must answer this question: What is your plan to capture and transfer the valuable knowledge that these retiring workers have?

According to a study by Electri International, a research foundation established by the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA), women and minorities represent a solid solution to the workforce shortage in the electrical industry.  Millennials, too, are a substantial solution since they will represent a vast majority of the workforce. You must also answer this question: What are you doing to recruit and retain members of these labor pools within your company?

The impact of mentoring. Mentoring is a proven method of transferring knowledge, developing talent and retaining employees. Following are some findings on mentoring from various research studies.

  • In a recent Gartner study, mentoring provided a 72% increase in retention rates.   
  • Employees who received mentoring were promoted five times more often than people who didn’t have mentors, according to a Sun Microsystems study, and people who served as mentors were promoted six times more often.
  • Close to 50% of young people and Boomers wished their employers provided more mentoring.
  • 67% of women rate mentorship as highly important in helping to advance their careers.
  • 35% of people who don’t receive regular mentoring plan to look for another job within 12 months.
  • In the construction industry, mentoring shortens the time from new-hire to actual productivity, fosters a loyal and stable workforce, and promotes a positive image of our industry.     
  • In the construction industry, mentoring shortens the time from new-hire to actual productivity, fosters a loyal and stable workforce, and promotes a positive image of our industry.

I share these statistics so you see the value of mentoring as a must-have in your development toolkit, whether it’s in your company’s employee development plan or part of your own personal-professional development plan.

So why don’t we see more mentoring? One industry study revealed that 87% of companies surveyed do not have a mentoring program, yet 83% are interested in starting one.

Do you know the top two challenges that prevent companies from utilizing mentoring as a development tool?

Time. We all have full-time jobs and don’t have time to set up and run a “program.”  One survey respondent said, “It (mentoring) takes a back burner when critical issues come up that need to be resolved.”

Where to start. Whether you’re a big company or small company, the 83% that want a mentoring program don’t know where to start.

Mentoring relationships can range from very casual (someone you chat with once a year or call when you need some advice) to formal programs (as a structured part of a company or organization with guidelines).

How to get going. During my  30-year electrical career, I had some amazing mentors who helped me become the person and the leader that I am today.  But I lucked into it.  If I had known then what I know now, I would’ve been much more deliberate and intentional about seeking out and finding mentors and then building mentoring relationships to capitalize on the value that mentors can bring both personally and professionally.

I encourage you to start now.  Here is my call to action:

Spread the word.  It takes a village to help our industry recruit and retain talent in our industry.  Mentoring is a solid solution that may not be top of mind, and many may think of mentoring as merely a “nice to have” development tool.  Share the facts and the opportunity to leverage mentoring for your industry, your company, your employees and yourself.

Find a mentor.  Whether you are new to this industry or have been in it for decades, you can benefit from mentoring.  Learn a new perspective, hone your skills or build your network.  When I retired almost three years ago, I sought out mentors to help me navigate the next phase of my life and career.  They challenged me to try things I never would have thought of on my own.  If you’re trying to figure out how to understand Millennials, consider asking a Millennial to be your mentor.

Be a mentor. A mentor leaves a living legacy behind in the people who have benefited from their life experiences. You don’t need to have all the answers, possess a PhD or be the CEO of a Fortune 100 company. You should, however, have a genuine interest in sharing your life experience and expertise to help someone succeed in our industry and help keep them in it.  It doesn’t have to be a formal mentorship — maybe just grabbing a cup of coffee.  The important thing is to give back to our industry as a mentor. 

Mentoring enhances leadership skills, accelerates careers and provides many additional benefits for both mentee and mentor.  That’s why mentoring is a must-have — not just a nice-to-have.


Kathy Jo (KJ) Van is a former senior VP at Southwire with more than 30 years of industry experience and a reputation for giving back to the business. Following her retirement in 2017, KJ started another chapter of her life with a focus on giving back to an industry that has meant so much to her and her family. KJ helps companies and individuals harness mentoring and use it to define a path that capitalizes on its benefits. 

A graduate from The University of Notre Dame, KJ earned her graduate degree from Northwestern University’s JL Kellogg Graduate School of Management. KJ is an avid Cubs fan and enjoys splitting her time between Arizona and Chicago with her husband Ron, three children, a granddaughter and her puppy Addison. You can reach her at [email protected].