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Mentoring program a permanent fixture at ITD

Young engineers, fresh out of college and excited to get working on Idaho’s vast transportation system, sometimes find themselves at a loss for direction, no matter how ambitious or well-schooled they might be.

After a successful trial run in 2002, ITD has officially adopted a mentoring program to provide those eager, yet inexperienced, EITs (Engineer in Training) with veteran counterparts to guide them through the system, listen to their concerns, teach them the language and be their friends.

Benefits of a Mentoring Relationship
(Provided by Jackie Lemieux, TechHelp)

For the mentor

  • Broadening of roles and responsibilities
  • Sense of being trusted by the organization
  • Opportunity to 'give something back'
  • The challenge of advising rather than directing
  • The chance to develop someone else
  • Personal fulfillment

For the protégé

  • Opportunity to learn from someone more experienced
  • Opportunity to understand what breeds 'success'
  • A confidential, nonjudgmental sounding board
  • Opportunity to 'dry-run' critical decisions
  • A haven

For the organization
(16 advantages of a mentoring program):

  • To aid recruitment
  • To aid employee retention
  • To overcome learning curves
  • To manage organizational change (e.g. mergers and acquisitions, downsizing)
  • To promote high-flyers
  • To develop under-performers
  • To bridge competency gaps
  • To rejuvenate mid-career managers
  • To convert training to results
  • To facilitate internal hiring and transfers
  • To encourage personal individual growth
  • To increase the representation of minority interests
  • To develop current managers
  • To provide succession and for the development of emerging leaders
  • For new hires
  • To assist employees obtain formal qualification

“EITs might be faced with a certain situation they’re not familiar with,” said District 6 assistant engineer Brent Jennings, who coordinates the mentoring program. “This program gives them the opportunity to go to somebody in a mentoring relationship and ask if they’ve faced this before and how they handled it.”

The mentoring program was spawned from the Securing-Managing-Retaining-Resources-Team (SMRRT), which was charged with devising strategies to retain employees. Mentoring emerged as one of these methods, and in 2001 Jennings, along with then ITD training specialist Jackie Lemieux, began developing the pilot program for implementation in May 2002.

“We realized that informal mentoring is something that goes on all the time – the mentoring program formalizes that,” said Lemieux, who now is a consultant to the program through TechHelp.

The not-for-profit organization operates through the state’s universities to provide technical assistance, training and information to strengthen the competitiveness of Idaho manufactures.

“One of the wonderful things about the program is that there are benefits not only for the protégé, but also for the mentor who comes away with tremendous benefits,” she said.

Mentors from the 2002 pilot program attest to the positive experience pairing with a protégé provides:

District 4 Resident Engineer Walter Burnside found that being a mentor prompted him to think through his processes with more detail to ensure that he was providing his protégé, District 4 EIT Josh Jacobson, with the most useful information and advice.

“It wasn’t a one-way learning situation; it was a two-way learning situation. Knowing what to tell them is the hardest part, and then as you go though that, it tends to make the person that’s doing the mentoring think about the steps you’re going through. ‘What are the points I’m trying to drive home?’ ” Burnside said. “People won’t fall through the cracks now (if they have a natural mentor). It gives EIT’s that opportunity to learn the culture of ITD.”

Jacobson echoes his mentor’s thoughts on understanding the culture, from ITD acronyms to filling out a time sheet. Learning how the ITD world functions differently from a young engineer’s previous experiences proved to be an incredible advantage.

“It’s helpful to have someone guide you through, and it’s good to be able to go to somebody in confidence, somebody to rely on while you get your feet wet,” said Jacobson.

For mentor Kathleen Slinger, ITD’s bridge inspection engineer, and protégé Monica Crider, an EIT working in District 3 right-of-way, the program never really concluded. Although it officially ended in May 2003, the pair continues to meet unofficially on a regular basis.

“Kathleen has been able to help me with personnel and working around different types of personalities, and we became friends because of the partnering,” said Crider. “I talk to her about numerous issues at work and how things have worked for her in similar situations.”

Kimbol Allen, a District 4 engineer and former pilot program protégé, also found great benefit in learning how the ITD system works – the buzzwords, and the internal organization.

But he also gained a unique perspective on the differences between “district” thinking and “Headquarters” thinking after been paired with John Collins, roadway design area engineer, who works out of Headquarters in Boise. Allen worked out of the District 4 office in Shoshone.

“It was good to spend time with someone outside the district and find out about how Headquarters worked,” said Allen. “He helped me with some of my career goals and career path. It helped to understand the difference between the technical side and the management side of ITD.”

Allen and Collins made arrangements to meet about once a month. Collins would head south and take a tour of the construction jobs that Allen was working on, or Allen would take a trip to Boise to gain on-site tips from Collins’ experience.

“The program is helpful from the standpoint that it gives somebody who is relatively new at the department … positive comments from someone who has been around a little bit longer. It can even help to instill a positive vision toward the department and about the career opportunities that are here,” Collins said.

The mentoring program is now in search of more ITD veterans who would like to make a positive difference, not only in the career of an EIT but also in their own career.

Participation details will be forthcoming to engineers who meet the qualifications for mentoring. Those qualifications include length of time with the department and position level. Orientation is scheduled for March 23, 24. For more information, contact Brent Jennings in District 6.