Mentoring—The Importance and Necessity of Passing On Skills and Knowledge
When I was a 12-year-old-boy growing up in southern California I spent most of my free time working at the family-owned lumber and hardware store that my grandmother had started in 1920. While my friends were out riding their bikes or heading to the beach to flirt with girls under the warm So-Cal sun, I was driving a forklift unloading trucks and placing the units of lumber in neat stacks one atop the other in our lumber yard, which was about two football fields long. If I wasn’t on a forklift, I was loading the backs of pickup trucks with huge scoops of sand or gravel with a skip loader while contractors stood, elbows on their hoods with their jaws hanging wide open wondering if a 12-year-old boy knew what he was doing. I never dented a truck or dropped a load of lumber and I owe all that to my Dad and the great guys he had working for him. I never felt like a slave to the business. On the contrary, I couldn’t wait to get to the store after school to see what they were willing to let me try next.
Our Other Teachers
To me, these men were the "other" teachers I had growing up. I assumed every kid I knew had two schools; one that taught us reading, writing, and arithmetic, and the other that taught us skills that we could use when we grew up to make a living. Today, I realize that Dad and these other men were my first mentors. They never got agitated when I insistently asked them to teach me something new. Instead, they would actually stop what they were doing, show me once how to do something safely and efficiently, and then watch as I fumbled and made my own mistakes. After a few cuts and bruises they would ask me, "So Kevin, you still want to work in the business?” "Hell yeah!” I would answer enthusiastically; looking quickly around to make sure Mom wasn't around to hear my foul mouth. "Okay then, let’s try again," they would say, helping me up or wrapping my cuts with good old electrical tape… bandages smandages.
I was extremely lucky to have these men in my life. Some don't enjoy that luxury. Perhaps that is why I am so adamant these days that all of us, whether you're a carpenter, a shoemaker, a baker, or a seamstress needs to take the time to teach, coach, and inspire others with fewer or lesser known skills than ourselves. Just think if the caveman never passed on what they knew to younger generations? The human species might have died off with the rest of the dinosaurs.
Mentoring With Stories
Storytelling, a form of mentorship, is embedded in every culture on the planet. It doesn’t matter what religion you are or what country you are from, we have all learned that to continue to thrive as a species, we need to make sure younger, or less informed individuals, hear what we know so that they can take those tidbits of knowledge and use them, build upon them, improve them, tweak them, re-align them so that future generations may prosper and grow without causing harm to themselves or our planet.
The problem I see in today's society is compartmentalization. "I own it and you can't have any" reflects what seems to be a pervasive problem that leads to all sorts of inequity and inequality. This creates deeper and wider chasms between economic and social classes. A few may prosper by this methodology but, as a species, or, if you prefer, as an industry, we will all suffer.
Without the written word, cavemen taught cave boys to hunt and provide shelters for the tribe. This hands-on learning and sharing methodology has lost its luster in our modern, high-tech society. A two-minute YouTube video does not an expert make yet we assume so. At least that's what the younger generation is being led to believe.
Habitat X and Building Performance Centers
A fellow Habitat Xer of mine, Alex Glenn from Advanced Energy, shared with me at this year’s Habitat X national conference in Helena, Montana, that there are studies out there showing that our attention spans are getting shorter and shorter. According to what Alex shared, Baby-boomers—my generation—have an attention span of about 12–15 minutes before they get a little antsy and want to change course or do something different in a classroom setting. Gen-Xers’ last about 7–10 minutes before they’re starting to fade out, and the up and coming Millennials have the attention span of about three minutes. Think about that if you’re a trainer or a training entity. If I need three days to fill someone’s head with new information and my student population starts tuning out every three to ten minutes, I have to be very creative in how I insert that knowledge into their heads.
Call me old fashioned but I still believe, especially for diagnostics and remediation skill sets that hands-on training and mentoring is the only way to go. Organizations that deliver 3–5 days of PowerPoint slides and call that a “certification” are always suspect to me, especially if they’re boasting about their high test-score results. They’re just scratching the surface and delivering only what the student needs to pass the test in my opinion. We all know there’s way too much to know in this industry to bless someone as an “expert” after only a few days of watching slides on a wall.
At the Building Performance Centers, we’re hoping to change all of that. With specific certifications we will provide a bundle of mentoring opportunities so that when a student leaves our facilities they know that they don’t need to weather the storm alone. To do this economically, we are utilizing modern technology to provide a face-to-face experience. I personally know of only a few people in my state (California) that I would trust to answer questions of newly trained HERS Raters and Building Performance professionals. Because that list is so short, we’ll be depending upon modern resources such as Google Hang Outs where we can create “communities” for each class delivery so that students can see and interact with their fellow classmates and the instructors well after they have obtained their certifications. This adds value to our service and provides what we feel is one of the missing links in our industry, how to make it sustainable and cost effective both for the students and the training organization.
At the recent Habitat X national conference (pictured above) put on by the esteemed expert and personal mentor to me, Chris Dorsi, has created an environment where industry aficionados can gather for a few days and learn and feed off of each other. The benefit for me to attend and sponsor Habitat X is that these participants are all my mentors, young and old. I learned as much from the young kid who just got into home performance as I did from experts like Chris Dorsi, Jay West, Ben Cichowski, Ann Edminster, Gary Klein, Colin Genge, Charisse Bartholomew, and Bill Spohn—to name a few who spoke at this year’s event. It is always a unique and fabulous experience at Habitat X and I know that this collaborative learning and sharing atmosphere will add the glue to this shaky business we all love so much.
I shared with my fellow Xers in Helena that the older I get the more I want to turn around and make sure nobody’s fallen off the cart. By that I mean we all, if we’re really serious about creating a sustainable and valuable industry for ourselves, must lean on and trust and learn from one another. Don’t close the door and not share. Swing it open wide, kick the frickin’ thing down. Teach others, take time out of your week and reach back to make sure all your students are doing okay and ask them if they need any support or additional resources to help them grow their businesses.
Oh, and don’t forget a roll of electrical tape. There’s bound to be some cuts and bruises along the way and there may not be any Band-Aids nearby.
Kevin Beck is the COO of the Building Performance Center, Incorporated.
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