Need somebody? Jessica Rolph, of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, explains how mentoring can ease the industry's skills shortage and advance your career
Skills shortages remain a significant problem. The Construction Industry Training Board estimates that to meet its present level of demand the industry needs to recruit and train about 380,000 skilled workers over the next five years, as well as upgrading the skills of an even greater number of its existing workforce.

So, given the constrained training budgets faced by many firms, what can companies do to protect the investment they have made in their staff, while at the same time continuing to develop the skills of those employees?

Mentoring is one way of providing career development without using extra resources. It is a partnership between two people in which the mentor offers support and development opportunities to the mentee; in other words, it allows knowledge to be transmitted within your company – and it is encouraging to see that a growing number of organisations have formal mentoring programmes.

The benefits of mentoring
A forthcoming survey by the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development indicates that mentored employees advance more rapidly within the organisation, report more job satisfaction and have lower turnover rates than their non-mentored counterparts. Learning opportunities such as mentoring schemes rank highly among the concerns of talented employees. Providing support for employee training and development is arguably the strongest weapon that firms can deploy in their struggle to retain the best of their staff.

Mentoring can also help to support the career advancement of minority groups that are traditionally under-represented in construction. A recent CITB report reveals that black and Asian workers make up only 2% of the construction workforce, compared with the 6.7% of the general population. Perhaps mentoring is one intervention that may help organisations to address this by providing ethnic minority employees with role models and support.

What's in it for the mentee?
A successful mentoring relationship is one where the mentee can discuss work-related issues and career development freely. Mentors can share their expertise with less experienced members of the company, showing them the ropes and serving as a sounding-board and adviser. Good mentors can help individuals clarify goals and reach decisions about career issues. They can also offer insights into the way the organisation works and how informal networks operate.

Strategies for effective mentoring The human resources department or manager needs to set the goals of the programme and use these as the basis of the scheme. Care needs to be taken in pairing the employees, setting realistic expectations for both parties and monitoring progress regularly to make sure that the arrangements are working effectively.

Supported by HR, the mentor needs to adopt the following characteristics to improve the chances of success:

  • Understanding of the mentee's role
  • Realistic and clear expectations of mentoring
  • Willingness to challenge and be challenged
  • Ability to take charge over career progression
  • Welcoming of input from the mentee and an openness to receiving feedback.

Those who undergo effective mentoring believe that it helps them to do their jobs better, is motivating, and makes them more productive. There is a lesson here for firms needing skilled employees – and for employees who are keen to progress.