Is reverse mentoring the answer to attracting young professionals?

Anthony Browne is sales and marketing director at BW: Workplace Experts

Reverse mentoring is a learning and development concept aimed at connecting different levels of experience across a team. A twist on traditional mentoring, it places the junior team member as the mentor to a senior mentee, who is poised to listen, learn and reflect. This role reversal reveals different perspectives and encourages valuable knowledge sharing that might otherwise be missed. Reverse mentoring also has another purpose – to future-proof our industry.

“The aim should be for the sessions to truly be driven by the junior mentor and for the roles to not become switched”

With the construction industry on a knife edge when it comes to a widening skills gap, the workplace needs to encourage the enthusiasm and ongoing career progression of junior teams.

According to the UK Trade Skills Index, one-third of the current construction industry workforce is aged over 50 and will retire in the next decade. So, while a lot of emphasis is rightly placed on attracting younger talent to help close the gap, senior teams must also commit to keeping the next generation engaged once the role has been filled.

Better decisions

There is also a lot to be said about reverse mentoring as a tool to help make better decisions that represent our society within the workforce. It is no secret that the sector is lagging when it comes to diversity, which is why recreating real-world culture in the workplace is so badly needed in construction. As an example, only 15.8 per cent of the construction workforce is female, according to the Office for National Statistics, which means that the number of women in leadership roles will also be significantly lacking when compared to men.

In such an unbalanced environment, reverse mentoring has huge capacity to share the experiences of less-represented groups. Unless a senior team actively seeks out alternative views and guidance from women, BAME, and LGBTQ+ groups, how will these voices be heard and unconscious biases challenged?

Keeping the end goals and aims of reverse mentoring in mind when developing a programme offers the best chance of success. For contractors, this means selecting a broad range of mentors and mentees from different areas of the business, with different backgrounds and skills. The pairing of a mentor and mentee should be aligned on topics that are important to each. It is also essential to establish ground rules, such as the senior person not cancelling the sessions, and fostering vulnerability on both sides.

As this can be quite a daunting task for a junior person especially, clearly defined meeting outlines and expectations will go a long way to ensure that sessions are productive and mentors feel comfortable leading them. The aim should be for the sessions to truly be driven by the junior mentor and for the roles to not become switched. Respecting the position of the mentor is key.

On the other hand, two-way communication is important, and seniors should be sharing knowledge surrounding how decision-making works, any challenges faced and why. They must be able to talk about times they have failed or things that haven’t worked out as planned. This fosters open communication and draws value from each other’s experiences and viewpoints. Being open for mentors to give a proper critique should also be on the table.

Creating a way to share learnings from reverse mentoring sessions is another important step to generate real business improvements. Not all changes will be large scale, but even micro changes along the way are wins. Reporting on these successes, and the impact and next steps, will demonstrate the value and keep the business accountable.

The future of the workforce is evolving, and learning from the next generation of construction professionals is only going to bring about new perspectives and a more inclusive environment for all. Let’s go to work with the mindset of empowering people across a business by providing a platform and voice to incite change. Reverse mentoring has so much to offer, and the great news is it all starts from within – retaining, encouraging and listening to your team.

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