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National guideline on mentoring programs

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Date: 
April, 2013

Notice

Disclaimer

Engineers Canada’s national guidelines, model guides, and white papers were developed by engineers in collaboration with the provincial and territorial engineering regulators. They are intended to promote consistent practices across the country. They are not regulations or rules; they seek to define or explain discrete topics related to the practice and regulation of professional engineering in Canada.

The national guidelines, model guides, and white papers do not establish a legal standard of care or conduct, and they do not include or constitute legal or professional advice.   

In Canada, engineering is regulated under provincial and territorial law by the engineering regulators. The recommendations contained in the national guidelines, model guides and white papers may be adopted by the engineering regulators in whole, in part, or not at all. The ultimate authority regarding the propriety of any specific practice or course of conduct lies with the engineering regulator in the province or territory where the engineer works, or intends to work.  

About this Guideline

This national guideline was prepared by the Qualifications Board (QB) and provides guidance to regulators in consultation with them. Readers are encouraged to consult their regulators’ related engineering acts, regulations and bylaws in conjunction with this guideline.

About Engineers Canada

Engineers Canada is the national organization of the provincial and territorial associations that regulate the practice of engineering in Canada and license the country's 290,000 members of the engineering profession.

About the Qualifications Board

QB is a committee of the Engineers Canada Board and is a volunteer-based organization that provides national leadership and recommendations to regulators on the practice of engineering in Canada by:

  • developing new national guidelines, model guides, and white papers on admission, training, practice and new areas of practice in Canada as well as maintaining the existing national guidelines and model guides;
  • developing and maintaining syllabi for the assessment of international engineering graduates;
  • organizing national events where professionals in similar areas of work can share information on similar issues as well as best practices; and
  • conducting research, monitoring and providing advice on key issues and trends for Engineers Canada and regulators.

1 Introduction

Within the engineering profession, the term “mentor” has several possible meanings:

  1. An individual who takes technical responsibility for the work of an engineer-in-training when that engineer-in-training does not have a P.Eng.;
  2. An individual who guides an engineer-in-training towards licensure during their formation period;
  3. An experienced individual who supports the professional and personal growth of a less-experienced individual (the mentee).

This guideline considers the third and most general definition, in acknowledgement of the fact that mentoring can provide benefits at any point in an engineering career, not only during the engineer-in-training period.

Mentoring is most often defined as a professional relationship in which one experienced individual (the mentor) helps another less-experienced individual (the mentee) develop specific skills and knowledge that will enhance the less-experienced person’s professional and personal growth.

There are two types of mentoring relationships – formal ones and informal ones. This guideline focuses on formal mentoring relationships, those that are structured and include written records of goals, objectives and achievements. The guideline includes information on how to establish, monitor and terminate the relationship, and the roles of both the mentor and the mentee within the relationship.

1.1 Benefits of mentoring programs

Mentoring assists the mentee in developing skills that would otherwise be learned through trial and error. This provides benefits to many parties including the mentee, their employer, the mentor and the engineering regulator.

The mentee learns how to avoid pitfalls and how to tackle challenges. They gain a trusted advisor who can smooth their transition to professional life, and help them gain specific skills and knowledge.

The mentor gets an opportunity to give something back. Mentors also often report that the relationship provided them with a valuable opportunity to reflect on their own career, development and future goals. For both mentor and mentee the relationship also provides an opportunity for more diverse networking, and can be a fun and positive undertaking.

Employers gain in terms of personnel development. Their mentee will develop in a guided fashion while their mentors will be more attuned to the needs and desires of younger employers. In the case where the mentee and mentor have the same employer, mentoring relationships can also serve to enhance and improve continuity planning.

For the regulator, the mentoring relationship provides an opportunity for the mentee to learn about the association and its role. In addition, the mentee learns the value and benefit of volunteerism within the engineering profession.

Lastly, the mentoring program helps with the mentee’s integration into the practice of engineering. This has benefits for both the employer and for the regulator in that mentees will have someone to guide them through this phase of their career.

Within the context of professional licensure, in the case where the mentee is an engineer-in-training, the mentoring relationship can also be a place where the mentee learns about the real-life application of professional ethics and the role of the engineer at work and in society. Further, the mentor can provide guidance to the mentee on obtaining and reporting on acceptable engineering work experience, as defined in the National guideline on Assessment of Engineering Work Experience.

It is important to note, however, that mentoring is not about a job search. The relationship between mentor and mentee is about personal development, and the mentor should not be expected or even asked to act as an advocate or to provide employment for the mentee.

1.2 Mentoring styles

The mentor-mentee relationship can take a variety of forms. A mentor may provide career guidance, introduce the mentee to networks and contacts, offer suggestions or directions on work-related issues, provide feedback on the mentee's work, help with educational resources, help with management skills, or work with the mentee in other ways agreed upon by both parties.

Most mentoring programs are based on relationships with one mentor and one mentee. However, if the objectives of the relationship are well-defined and limited in scope, it is also possible for experienced mentors to engage with more than one mentee.

The relationship itself can be informal or formal. Formal programs, with defined objectives, set meeting dates, structured reporting, clear measurements and of defined duration, are more likely to deliver on the goals.

The relationship can also be maintained in a number of ways including via videoconferencing, email, phone, in person – at work, away from work, etc. Any method that both participants agree will work for them is acceptable.

1.3 Critical mentoring abilities

Mentors provide support, guidance, friendship, role modeling, assistance, and an attentive ear. This helps to develop a supportive relationship where the mentee can receive encouragement towards raised aspirations, positive reinforcement for the achievement of goals, and guidance when obstacles make goal achievement difficult.

Mentoring relationships are most effective when both the mentor and the mentee bring the following abilities to the table:

  • Confidentiality. Both parties must be able to trust the other so that valuable information is shared, not withheld.
  • Commitment. Both parties must make a commitment to the relationship for the duration of the program. This requires both time and a willingness to “be there” for the other party.
  • Follow-up. A relationship that goes no further than verbal discussions will not result in significant progress for the mentee. Both parties must be able to act on what has been discussed during the meetings. For example: mentees should act on the advice given, mentors should provide information as promised, and both should report on the results of their actions.
  • Active listening involves being fully present during all discussions. Both parties must be able to listen without criticizing, and must remain attentive to the needs and advice expressed. Active listening includes asking clarifying questions and showing interest and support for what is said.
  • Respect is the foundation of the relationship. Without a mutually respectful relationship, neither party will fully benefit from the program.

2 Pre-program activities

2.1 Mentees self-assessment

Prior to entering into a mentoring relationship, it is critical that mentees define, for themselves, what they would like to gain from the relationship. Setting goals and objectives is one way for mentees to do a self-assessment, and define what they want from life and where they want to go professionally. Having this knowledge will help with finding a mentor who can help.

Goals are the long-term vision that defines what the mentee would like to work on in the next several years. It may take years to achieve goals, and they may not be easily measured. Objectives, on the other hand, are the shorter steps that will be taken in order to achieve the goal. Objectives should be specific and measurable. Each goal that is defined will have several objectives – the small steps that will get the mentee from here to there.

The mentee should do a self assessment and consider – what are their strengths and weaknesses? Knowing this, where do they want to be in five to ten years time? This will help to generate a list of goals. This list of strengths, weaknesses and goals make up a proposed development plan that will help with finding a mentor. A sample Self-Assessment Form for mentees is included in Appendix A.

2.2 Finding a mentor

Mentors can be found in the workplace, from academia, through personal or family connections, or through the regulators. In formal mentoring programs the regulator would normally match mentees and mentors. For these purposes, it is helpful if both the mentor and the mentee complete a Bio-Sketch, as shown in Appendix A. This provides enough information to allow the regulator to create a list of possible matches.

Experience has shown that it is not necessary for the mentor and the mentee to be in the same field of engineering practice. Instead, proximity and the ability to easily coordinate meetings are much more important factors. In fact, studies show that mentees get the most out of a relationship when they are able to pick their mentor. For this reason, it may be beneficial for the regulator to provide several possible matches to the mentee, making initial suggestions but allowing the mentee to make the final choice.

Although it is possible for the mentor to be the mentee’s supervisor, this is discouraged. A supervisor’s primary responsibility is to an employer, whereas a mentor’s primary responsibility within a mentoring relationship is to the mentee. Supervisor who act as mentors can therefore find themselves with conflicting responsibilities,

Mentees

The mentee should establish not only what they would like to get out of the mentoring relationship (goals, as defined through the Self-Assessment Form) but also who they would like to work with. Mentees should clearly state their preferences and criteria for a mentor, considering:

  • gender;
  • field of practice;
  • type of organization (large, small, private, public);
  • educational background;
  • experience;
  • family situation; and
  • frequency, duration and type (phone, online, face-to-face) of meetings.

A sample Mentor Criteria List form is included in Appendix A.

Mentors

Before starting a mentoring relationship, the mentor should seriously assess the required time and the seriousness of the relationship for the mentee. Whereas the mentee will need to drive the relationship, since it has been established for their benefit, the mentor should consider the following questions before agreeing to be a mentor.

  • How much time can I offer, and can I commit that time consistently?
  • What experiences can I share openly and honestly?
  • What strengths can I bring to help the mentee?
  • Can I be open to feedback from my mentee, and learn from them?
  • What boundaries do I need to set for the relationship?

The mentor should consider what will be required of them and whether they feel that they can do the following:

  • act as a coach, motivator and supporter;
  • be a role model, advocate and friend;
  • provide advice and constructive feedback;
  • share networks and resources; and
  • challenging the mentee.

Finally, there are certain qualities that will allow a mentor to have successful relationships. This includes:

  • confidentiality;
  • the desire to help another;
  • an ability to listen actively;
  • empathy for the mentee;
  • flexibility and openness to approaches that may be new or unfamiliar to them; and
  • an ability to brainstorm viable solutions and opportunities.

Individuals who feel that they can provide some or all of these activities and qualities are in the best position to act as mentors.

3 The mentoring program

3.1 Program structure

Once the mentor and mentee have been matched they should jointly clarify:

  • How much time will be required?
  • Where and how often they will meet?
  • How long will the relationship last?
  • Will mentoring be done via email, phone, in person, etc.?

In a formal program, many of these decisions may have been made by the regulators. The mentee and mentor should still review them and ensure that they are both in agreement on the structure of the program, so that they can move to next step. All of these details should all be documented in an Agreement Letter so that both parties have a clear and common understanding of the agreed-upon structure.

See Appendix A for a sample Agreement Letter.

3.2 First meeting

The mentee is responsible to prepare materials for the first meeting. In this meeting the pair will re-confirm the format for their mentoring relationship and begin to establish Goals and Objectives for the relationship.

At this meeting, the mentee should bring their Self-Assessment Form and be prepared to share this information with the mentor. Revealing personal strengths and weaknesses is an exercise in trust. It is helpful if the mentor is also willing to share some of their personal background including career history and the progress of their own strengths and weaknesses.

3.3 Developing goals and objectives

With help from the mentor, the goals which the mentee developed through the Self-Assessment Form can be refined and then broken down into specific objectives to be addressed in the mentoring relationship. These objectives will form the basis for the mentoring relationship. They should be both measurable and achievable, and should include target dates for completion, and interim steps, if necessary. The simpler the objectives are, the easier it will be to achieve progress towards the goals.

The mentee should record the goals in a Statement of Goals and Objectives. To formalize the commitment the mentor-mentee pair should both sign the Statement, indicating their willingness to work together to achieve them.

A sample Statement of Goals and Objectives is included in Appendix A.

Mentees should use the Objectives to set assignments or activities to complete and report on at the next meeting.

3.4 Monitoring the relationship

To be successful, the mentoring relationship must track progress on the established Goals and Objectives. In a formal mentoring program, the regulator may provide forms and specific timing for this monitoring, and require that reports be provided to them. At the very least, the pair should dedicate some time after each meeting to reflect and record the following points:

Mentees

  • What is going well?
  • Progress on goals and objectives.
  • Potential areas for improvement.

Mentors

  • What is going well?
  • Additional ways to contribute to the mentee’s growth.
  • Potential areas for improvement.

At the mid-point in the relationship, the mentor and mentee should both complete Interim Reporting Forms. These reports are an opportunity to assess both the relationship and the progress on the Goals and Objectives. The reports can also be shared with the regulator, if required.

A sample Interim Reporting Form is included in Appendix A.

3.5 Potential pitfalls

There are some common pitfalls to be aware of in every mentoring relationship. The first is that any relationship may need to be terminated due to factors beyond the control of the mentor or mentee, such as moving or being relocated. In this case, it is appropriate to inform both the regulator and the mentoring partner. The regulator can help coordinate finding new mentoring partners.

The mentor may or may not be in a position to act as a reference for the mentee in their application for professional licensure. The situation will vary in each jurisdiction, but mentees should be assured that what they disclose to the mentor is confidential and will not be revealed to the regulator, even if their mentor acts as a reference. Conversely, mentees should understand that not all mentors are in a position to provide a reference related to engineering work experience, as they may not have observed those activities.

Mentees

  • Relying on the mentor to develop your career for you – a mentor is there to ask the right questions and guide the mentee to appropriate resources, but only the mentee can shape their own career.
  • Expecting the mentor to give you all the answers – the mentor can show the mentee where to look, but answers come from the mentee, not the mentor.
  • Asking your mentor to do your work for you – the mentor is a support for the mentee, not a crutch.
  • Expecting immediate results – self-improvement and career development take time. Even with a mentor’s support, changes will not occur overnight.
  • Looking to the mentor for promotions or jobs – again, the mentor can guide and provide you access to networks and opportunities, but it’s up to the mentee to find and secure advancements.
  • Cancelling meetings at the last minute – respect your mentor’s valuable time!

Mentors

  • Lack of time
  • Personal problems / over-stepping the relationship boundaries
  • Unrealistic expectations
  • Dependence / doing the mentee’s work for them
  • Mentor complaining about their own problems

4 Conclusion

Having an established duration will make it easier to conclude any mentoring relationship. At the end of the established time period, the pair should review progress on all goals and complete a final report, reviewing what went well and developing plans for future on the Goals and Objectives.

A sample Final Report is included in Appendix A.

The pair can also jointly agree to continue the relationship, if it has been productive, and both are willing. It is important to still establish milestones where the renewed relationship will be reviewed and a decision will be made on continuing or not. A mentor-mentee pair who is a perfect fit in the early career of the mentee may not be the best fit two or three years later. Acknowledging this and finding better relationships is an important component of getting the most out of mentoring.

If the pair decides to renew the relationship, the goals and objectives should be reviewed. Some may have been achieved, some can be renewed, and new ones should also be established.

5 Definitions

Formal mentoring relationship: A structured relationship with set meeting times, expectations, and written records of goals and achievements.

Goal: The long-term vision of what an individual would like to accomplish. Each goal consists of several objectives that are the smaller steps required to achieve a goal.

Mentee: A less-experienced individual who benefits from the guidance of a more-experienced mentor.

Mentor: A more experienced guide, counsellor or coach who fosters the development of a mentee. In the engineering profession, mentors are engineers.

Objective: The small steps required to achieve a goal. They should be specific and measurable.

Appendix A

Example forms for a mentoring program