The Value of Reverse Mentoring in Engineering
By Joe Lampinen
Engineering has a long and well-established tradition of mentoring. While some companies facilitate mentorship arrangements for their employees, this is not always the case. That is why many engineers seek mentors in their networks, professional associations, or even in their alumni associations.
The benefits of mentoring young graduates
The reason for the mentoring tradition in engineering is that while a new graduate engineers might possess the theoretical knowledge gained in engineering school, he or she does not yet know the tricks of the trade or possess working knowledge that can only be acquired from years of experience. In other words, a mentor can help a new engineer learn the practical aspects of the job.
Mentoring also helps a young engineer develop professional judgment. While the knowledge gleaned from study materials, projects, and internships forms a solid foundation, it does not provide the context needed to find a solutions for a particular situation or challenge. Seasoned engineers, in contrast, have seen many situations, worked with many materials, and faced many challenges. This provides them with the framework required to make informed decisions in diverse situations. By sharing their knowledge with the younger generation, they help young engineers avoid serious mistakes and teach them how to determine the best solutions.
There is another benefit to mentoring: It keeps a company’s knowledge in-house. This is increasingly important as many Baby Boomers retire from the workforce, taking their industry- and company-specific knowledge with them. In fact, companies that are laying off mature engineers and replacing them with young professionals could very well be causing themselves irreparable harm, as they are losing years of engineering judgment.
Why reverse mentoring is important
Reverse mentoring essentially breaks with convention by placing young engineers in the position of the mentor and mature engineers in the position of the mentee. This can be helpful because while most engineers try to stay abreast of developments in their field throughout their career, they do not necessarily have access to all the latest knowledge, tools, and materials. Engineers who have worked in a small company or who do not have easy access to industry conferences and other professional events can find it challenging to keep their knowledge up to date.
Recent graduates, on the other hand, may have knowledge of the latest theories and research that can be applied to industry today. They may also be trained in the latest trends and tools, such as additive manufacturing and other aspects of advanced digital manufacturing. By entering into a reverse mentorship arrangement—whether that is in the workplace or not—they can help established engineers bring their knowledge up to date. This allows those mature engineers to remain relevant and as a result, stay active in their fields.
Mentoring does not always have to be a one-way, traditional exchange of knowledge. Reverse mentorships and even mentorships in which both parties provide guidance for the other can offer significant benefits for engineers, regardless of where they are in their careers.