Mentoring has been a critical and foundational component in the electrical sector since its beginning. The basic tenants of electrical tradesperson apprenticeships and electrical engineers in training has always been coaching and mentoring by those with the interpersonal skills, relevant expertise, and knowledge to be able to pass it on.
The electrical sector has always taken particularly great pride in emphasizing and teaching the safety requirements involved in electrical work. The overall probability of serious electrical incidents across all sectors is generally low, but the physical consequences of shock, electrocution, and/or arc-flash incidents can be staggeringly high. The social, morale, and economic costs are all potentially very high as well.
RESEARCH AND STATISTICS
A 2010 study by Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety found:
A study by a major insurance underwriter reported that the second most expensive workers’ compensation claim was due to electrical injuries.
In 2022 and going forward, electrical sector demographics will continue to change rapidly. The baby boomer generation will be leaving the workforce in droves by the end of the current decade — and it’s already started.
In the United States, the Bureau of Labor Statistics states in its Employment Projections — 2020-2030 Summary:
The labor force is expected to increase by 8.9 million, from 160.7 million in 2020 to 169.6 million in 2030. The labor force participation rate is projected to decline, from 61.7 percent in 2020 to 60.4 percent in 2030. The decline in labor force participation is due to the aging of the baby-boom generation, a continuation of the declining trend in men’s participation, and a slight decline in women’s participation. By 2030, all baby boomers will be at least 65 years old.
More specifically, the BLS Employment Outlook Handbook notes:
Employment of electricians is projected to grow 9 percent from 2020 to 2030, about as fast as the average for all occupations. About 84,700 openings for electricians are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.
And in Canada, the Province of Ontario is offering free training and paid apprenticeships for electricians. The news release states:
Data suggest the need to replace retiring workers is elevated in the skilled trades. In 2016, nearly 1 in 3 journeypersons were aged 55 years or older. Between July 2021 and September 2021, there were 338,835 job vacancies (unfilled jobs) in Ontario. About 8% (25,495) of all vacancies in Ontario were in the construction sector.
PASSING ON THE EXPERIENCE
It is extraordinarily clear that the continuing electrification of society is essential for ongoing prosperity and success for all concerned. Highly skilled electrical sector tradespeople, technicians, technologists, and engineers have been and will continue to be required. With so many of these extremely skilled people soon to leave the workforce in the next few years, it is essential that the culture of electrical safety and high-end technical excellence is passed on to the outstanding workforce that is already in place or starting out.
But time to do so is definitely running out. Leaders in the electrical sector must step up to ensure that their existing safety and technical best practices are sustainable and will be in place even after they move on. Ensuring sustainability for best practices after present leadership is gone is indicative of the very finest management qualities. Outstanding formal mentoring programs within the electrical sector need to be developed and executed in an accountable and due-diligent manner. The costs to the electrical safety culture and, in fact, to the electrical infrastructure if great mentoring programs are not put in place will be very difficult to recover from.
Those with decades of experience are generally no smarter than those who are just starting out. It is most obvious that the only way to gain experience is to put in the time and effort that experience facilitates — there is no other way. Passing on the hard-won wisdom that was realized over the course of their working life by those willing to share is one of the main goals.
What are the requirements to be an exceptional mentor? The mentor needs to be an expert and someone who has walked the talk. Ideally, they will not be too far removed from the current thinking of those they would work with. It is imperative to understand the potential differences between age groups and demographics to ensure there is a potential fit. Mentors need to be enthusiastic and, in particular, bring real clarity to the interactions they will have. The antonyms to clarity are murkiness and vagueness. Mentors who bring anything other than authentic clarity to the discussions will not bring value.
These are professional relationships that need to be respectful, honest, truthful, and caring. No one has ever erected a monument to a critic, and mentors must be able to listen with real understanding. They must also be willing to not impose their own beliefs too strongly. They must be able to relate to the person they are working with and put themselves in that person’s shoes.
Mentors need to enjoy and be invested in the success of others. In particular, along with great listening skills, they must be exceptionally good at receiving and giving feedback. Ideally, a great mentor was a mentee themselves at one time. The absolute best coaches in the sporting world will tell you that their coaching style is a compilation of a few great coaches that they played for themselves. Those experiences along with their own unique styles and mannerisms will make for a terrific mentoring foundation.
A mentor is a person who provides the means, counseling, help, and feedback you need to flourish in your career, so it is very important for the mentor to select people to work with who are genuinely interested in accessing his or her experience and knowledge.
W. Edwards Deming said: “If you do not know how to ask the right question, you discover nothing.”
Insightful questions should be used by mentors to obtain successful outcomes with those they work with. Asking exploratory questions in a respectful and caring manner at the beginning of the potential and ongoing relationship can put the mentee at ease and let them know you are there to help, guide, and assist. Mentor questions can explore why the person is doing what they’re doing:
- What do you really want to do and be in the electrical sector? What is it that drives your passion? Do you want to be a leader in the electrical sector and, if so, what would you like to be known for?
- Do you have a goal in mind regarding where you want to go? How and when are you going to get there? Are you curious to be a lifelong learner and to try things that you initially are not good at, or do you prefer to do things you’re already good at?
- What are you really good at and consider to be some of your primary strengths to get to your goals? What have you always been outstanding at that made you stand out from the rest?
- What are you currently not doing well that is blocking you from getting to your objectives? If you were to do a critical assessment of yourself, what three things are barriers, vulnerabilities, or roadblocks to you in the electrical sector? What is it that has been slowing you down — or is slowing you down presently? Have you had constructive feedback from others regarding some of these barriers in school or personally and, if so, what was it?
- What outstanding qualities, characteristics, and attributes do you bring specifically to the electrical sector?
- Are you a great listener? Are you empathetic? Are you a good communicator? Do you have an outstanding work ethic? What is the one thing you do better than anybody else and why?
- What are you going to do to constantly improve on your journey through the electrical sector? What are your priorities? Do you believe these are the right priorities?
- Is electrical safety in particular embedded in your DNA?
- Very important: How can I support you and where do you think you need the most assistance?
It is also critical for the mentee to ask great questions of the mentor, and it is up to the mentor to facilitate and guide those questions if necessary to ensure they have a good match.
- What led you to the education you currently have? Was it well-planned or did it just happen? What was the most important thing you learned at school?
- If you could have done anything differently in your education, what would it have been?
- What was your very first job as a student, and what was your very first full-time job after your formal education was done?
- Who are the three most impactful people you have worked with and why? Who are the three most impactful managers you have worked with?
- How long has electrical safety been a vital part of your personal culture? Who has had the most influence on the things you believe specifically about electrical safety? Have you had or do you know of any significant electrical incidents during your working career? How has that impacted you?
- When did you first hear about NFPA 70E or CSA Z462? How about NESC (IEEE C2) or CAN/ULC–S801? What do you believe is the single most important concept in these standards?
- How will this mentoring relationship be a benefit to me going forward?
- Did you have mentors yourself, and what did you learn? How have they inspired you?
- What’s the very best advice you can give me?
- What is your own individual style?
- What are the three specific values you believe are the most important within the electrical sector?
- Are you an exceptional listener?
- What are three or four of your favorite books and why?
- If you could only tell me one electrical safety story, what would it be?
Mentoring is intended to be extremely beneficial to both parties. It should be equal parts insight, motivation, and inspiration. To be successful, the mentor and the mentee must be sounding boards for each other. To ensure a great relationship, they must honestly listen to each other’s concerns and be able to brainstorm any suggestions with tremendous clarity.
Mentors must continue to ask thought-provoking questions, steer the relationship, and ensure successful outcomes. One of the most valuable things a mentor can provide is exceptional networking opportunities. After many years in the electrical sector, they will typically have many connections that can be invaluable to those starting out. Mentors characteristically are highly respected, and when they recommend a mentee to an important connection, the possibilities can be remarkable. In fact, as we all know, networking usually has far more to do with career success than many other things. Great mentors can ensure great networking prospects.
It is important for mentees to let the mentor know what it is they require. It is also critical to be on time, be prepared, and be truly professional. They must follow up with ideas, recommendations, action items, and corrective action plans.
Mentoring in the electrical sector will be critical for the rest of this decade in particular. It will build skills, decrease employee turnover, and certainly increase loyalty. High-end formal mentoring programs can also significantly improve retention rates for high-quality electricians, technicians, technologists, and engineers by building stronger company loyalty, safety, and technical excellence.
 “Work Related Electrical Injuries: Study Sparks New Insights,” Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety, Vol. 13, No. 3, Winter 2010.
 Bureau of Labor Statistics. Employment Projections —2020-2030 Summary. Available at www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/ecopro.pdf.
 Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. Occupational Outlook Handbook, Electricians. Available at www.bls.gov/ooh/construction-and-extraction/electricians.htm.
 Ontario Newsroom. “Ontario Invests in Electrical Training and Apprenticeships Programs Across Province.” Available at https://news.ontario.ca/en/release/1001770/ontario-invests-in-electrical-training-and-apprenticeships-programs-across-province.
Mike Doherty is an independent Electrical Safety Consultant and training contractor for e-Hazard and is President/Owner of Blue Arc Electrical Safety Technologies Inc. Mike has over 47 years of industrial and electrical utility experience as an instrumentation technician, licensed electrician, training professional, electrical utility safety professional, and electrical safety consultant. He is a Senior Member of IEEE and IEEE (PCIC) Emeritus; Chair of ULC CAN/ULC-S801-14, Standard on Electric Utility Workplace Electrical Safety for Generation, Transmission and Distribution; and Past Chair of the Association of Electrical Utility Safety Professionals (AEUSP) in 2018 and 2019. He was Chair of CSA Z462 Technical Committee Workplace Electrical Safety Canada from March 2006–December 2018 and continues to serve as a Z462 Technical Committee voting member on the current edition. Mike was the 2013 recipient of the IEEE IAS Petroleum and Chemical Industry Committee (PCIC) Electrical Safety Excellence Award, the 2017 Best of Electrical Safety Technical Presentation Award at NETA’s PowerTest Conference, and the 2019 IEEE Electrical Safety Workshops Outstanding Service Award.