Mentoring the next generation is a hot topic in the industry, as many are asking what needs to happen for the electronics industry to maintain young talent. How do we close the tribal knowledge gap that persists across several generations? One way to better understand the needs of up-and-coming engineers is through mentorship programs. According to the Mentor Coach Foundation, 79% of millennials report mentorship as being crucial to their career success. Further, one of the top reasons millennials leave their current position is due to “lack of learning and development opportunities.” Creating an active environment for young professionals to learn and grow professionally throughout their career can drastically affect retention in these positions.
Benefits of Mentorship
Mentorships are not just valuable to the mentee. Rather, they are mutually beneficial to each party. Mentees are given the opportunity to learn from those who have come before them. They have an opportunity to learn from the mistakes of their mentors and gain an advantage on their peers. In turn, mentors receive a sense of fulfillment in teaching their successors. They can improve their leadership skills and are given recognition for their contributions. In most mentor/mentee relationships, I would argue that the mentor has as much to gain and learn from the partnership as the mentee.
What I’ve Learned
In my professional career, I’ve had several incredible engineering and business mentors whom I credit for my early career success. Each mentor helped me refine different skills that have been proven essential to my first full-time job. One of my first mentors worked on my technical writing skills while another focused on expanding my professional network. I’ve had mentors who focused on more of my day-to-day activities and how they might go about a project I am facing, while others have focused on the bigger picture. Each mentor, whether officially defined as a mentor, was very valuable to me. Over the past couple years, I have learned that the regularly scheduled meetings allow me to ask questions and receive feedback in an open environment. If my mentor was unsure of an answer, they were always able to introduce me to someone who could help me. This allowed me to expand my professional network and meet professionals in other disciplines besides my own.
However, the most important aspect of each of my mentorships was that they held me accountable to my goals. I am always grateful to share in my celebration with them with the completion of each goal, no matter how small. One of my dearest mentors, Dr. Chris Middlebrook, has provided me with endless support. During my second year of college, he who encouraged me to apply for IPC’s Student Board Member position. He read through my application and provided a letter of recommendation. During the rest of my college career, Dr. Middlebrook held a weekly “Coffee Chat” session for us to work on career development. When it was time to choose a full-time career, he provided a listening ear and a sounding board for my thoughts. He made sure to allow space for me to make my own decision while providing his input. Although we don’t talk as much as we used to, I still love to hear about his endeavors as much as he does mine.
What I’ve Given Back
Recently, I’ve been able to participate on the other side of this relationship in an informal way. My mentee is passionate about the industry and brings a new perspective. She has helped me expand my leadership skills while getting me out of my comfort zone. The energy she brings to the table each time we meet is contagious. It’s been very rewarding to watch her progress into a young professional and I can’t wait to cheer her on as she transitions into a full-time career.
About the Opportunity
The opportunities to mentor up-and-coming professionals are endless. Some companies have created internal mentorship programs for both potential mentees and mentors to get involved in. Other opportunities happen more organically. Several of my mentorships have happened from natural relationships that have progressed into them becoming an “unofficial” mentor. Another opportunity geared toward industry is IPC’s Emerging Engineer Program. This program aims to introduce engineers to varying sectors of the electronics industry as well as the standards that regulate it. Engineers in their first five years in industry can join the program as a mentee. They will then be assigned a mentor who has participated in the industry for at least 10 years.
Mentorship is one of the best ways to grow and retain your employees. Creating these relationships within a company or within the industry can be essential to decreasing the generational divide. All parties win in these relationships. Regardless of whether you’ve mentored in the past, I highly recommend giving it a try. After all, we grow by helping each other.
This column originally appeared in the May 2022 issue of PCB007 Magazine.