Process manufacturing: Mentoring programs benefit more than company

Senior Editor Diane Dierking says that mentoring programs are good for everyone involved.

By Diane Dierking

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Early in your career, I’m sure an operator asked you or a friend to go to the store room to get a 50-lb nitrogen blanket. The practical joker probably even told you or your friend to take a cart to help carry the blanket.

About this time, it probably occurred to you or your friend that you needed a mentor. Such a person could show you the ropes and keep you out of trouble with the local pranksters. A mentor would help you transition into your corporate surroundings, making life much easier.

The need for mentoring doesn’t end once you lose your newbie status; every lateral or upward move brings with it new challenges and a new set of rules for getting things done.

But few companies embrace mentoring. A successful program requires resources, which necessitates buy-in from upper management, a champion with clout, or both.

DuPont, Wilmington, Del., has always had some form of mentoring available to its employees during its 203-year history. The company is about to upgrade its program, which has the support of DuPont leadership, says Sandra H.W. Graves, PHR, diversity and work-life consultant for the company.

Graves says the new mentoring module in its personnel development system will be launched globally and targets three groups:

• New employees. DuPont hopes to attract candidates by being recognized as a learning organization.
• Established employees. Mentoring will increase employee engagement and facilitate career development, helping the company retain valuable personnel.
• Corporate promotables. The program will enable employees who have been identified as having potential to develop the skills they need to be successful as they move up in the organization.

New hires are assigned a mentor with whom they have something in common, such as degree or alma mater, Graves says. The relationship is meant to last about a year. “This will benefit the new employee by helping him adapt more quickly, understand the written and unwritten rules, and teach him where to get things,” she says. “People will feel engaged from the beginning of their careers.”

The program will aid established employees by teaching them how to attain their long-term goals. “If someone wants to make a lateral move, a mentor (who is not the supervisor) can advise him about how to accomplish this,” Graves says.

About six months ago, Graves helped roll out the mentoring program for corporate promotables at a site in Mexico. The program initially focuses on women to help them gain the exposure they need to advance. “We find that the mentees are meeting their short-term goals and are on track with their long-term goals,” Graves says.

Although the program is mentee-driven, Graves says, a Web-based tool helps remind the pair to meet at regular intervals.

If your company doesn’t have a program, you can mentor an emerging engineer or scientist by registering with MentorNet, San José, Calif. Carol Muller, president and CEO, founded the nonprofit online community as a way to promote gender equity in engineering and related sciences. “Mentoring is a key component to retaining engineering students,” she says. “Many drop out not because of a lack of ability, but because they don’t have mentors.”

 MentorNet benefits from participation from 82 universities across the country, as well as corporate sponsorship (IBM and 3M lead the effort in recruiting mentors).

The online community has matched more than 1,700 protégés with mentors for the 2004-2005 academic year to-date. About 87% of the protégés are female, whereas nearly 70% of the mentors are women.

Muller says the mentor and protégé receive an e-mail every week or two with suggested discussion topics or activities that guide the relationship. The e-mails also serve as a friendly reminder to the pair to keep in contact.

“Our evaluations show that protégés benefit from the encouragement and advice they receive by becoming more confident,” Muller says. “The mentors enjoy the satisfaction of having helped advance the next generation. Many say the relationship has caused them to reflect on their own careers and consider their next step.”

If mentoring is such a win-win situation, why aren’t more companies promoting it? If a mentor has helped you in some way, e-mail us and tell us about it.
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