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Grant Lipelt
Grant Lipelt

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The Extinction of Mentorship

Perhaps 'extinction' is a bit strong, but I certainly feel it's on the endangered species list. I have a sincere hope that I'm way off and mentorship is alive, well and booming.

When I was a wee lad, growing up in fly-over land USA, my father was building and finishing our family house. My older brother was extraordinarily skilled in many things, sheet-rocking would be but one of them. He and my father would hang sheet-rock and finish it with a proficiency that truly amazed as we younger kids looked on. My father, in time, took pity on me as it was clear I wanted to try and he handed the sheet-rocking screw gun. Properly sunk screwheads were replaced with over-sunk, under-sunk and cockeyed counterparts. Clearly, this rookie was adding additional work to a proficient, efficient team.
The entire 2200 sq foot house required sheet-rocking, weeks of work I continued to assist, gaining proficiency along the way. To this day I'm convinced that my participation only slowed the entire process. The goal of apprenticeship is to exchange skills with the overall goal of eventually having a larger skilled staff. To be a financial win this means recouping the training costs with improved efficiency of the new staff. It's playing the long game, investing in your team with expected future gains.

Certainly there are other goals of mentorship, apprenticeship or training journeymen, but if you focus on it purely financially there are new challenges to the current world than that of the years past. Loyalty to company and loyalty to employees have taken a big hit these past decades so investing in apprenticeships has risk of net-loss. Like my sheet-rocking activity, the progress of our house was worsened by my participation; simply couldn't recoup the cost over a few weeks.

Active mentoring an apprentice takes time, likely a lot of time. I'm not talking an weekly meetup with a mentee with some inspirational quotes of a bit of advice. I'm talking daily involved monitoring and guiding an engineer in all aspects of the field.

I'm the engineer I am today because I was lucky enough to have a few mentors early in my career. Sadly, I've not witnessed real mentorship since, 14 years and counting, because all the teams I've been part of since have been senior-leveled experience.

So, where do young engineers go for advice? Reddit, slack, Twitter,...?

I'm looking for reassurance that mentorship is still alive and well.


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