Today’s workforce is undergoing a large-scale changing of the generational guard. By one estimate, every day 10,000 Baby Boomers retire in the US, taking with them priceless knowledge and experience. Meanwhile, an equal number of Millennials joins the workforce, needing—but lacking—this same knowledge and experience to succeed in their own careers.
In its over 60 years of existence, STC has amassed a considerable body of specialized knowledge about our profession and its best practices, as well as a membership with world-class expertise. But now, as part of the generational shift, some of our best and brightest are leaving as well. This dissipation of “tribal knowledge” is a loss to the profession, but at the same time an opportunity to help the next generation of practitioners through knowledge transfer. Since the primary function of STC is education, this seems like a natural undertaking.
One of the best ways to transfer knowledge is through mentoring. Mentoring is an informal arrangement where one person directly shares knowledge, skills, and experience to help advance another person’s career. According to “Mentoring Millennials” (Meister and Willyerd, Harvard Business Review, May 2010), among the top five characteristics Millennial employees want in their boss is someone who will help them navigate their career path, mentor them, and coach them. But not every manager has the time or inclination to set up a mentoring program, and in today’s corporate environment, a writer’s manager may know little about writing in the first place.
For technical communicators, mentoring opportunities exist at both the chapter and Society level. STC is running a Mentor Board. Other chapters, including New York Metro, have their own programs as well.
With all this in mind, the New England Chapter started a mentoring program in 2014 to recruit volunteers to help new practitioners break into, or move up in, the field. In its first year, the program connected more than a dozen mentors with mentees (those being mentored). Mentees have joined the Chapter, and some have proven enthusiastic volunteers. In its second year, the goals of the program are to recruit more mentors, reach more practitioners, and make more connections.
The benefits to mentees are obvious. Mentees say that mentoring expands their professional network, fills in knowledge gaps, gives them knowledge and perspective on the workplace, and jump-starts their careers.
But mentoring benefits mentors too. Dan McCarthy, in his Great Leadership blog, says, “Mentoring is a gift and a privilege. To be asked by someone for mentoring means that person sees you as a role model and believes your wisdom can help them grow and be more successful. Mentoring someone has the potential to be one of the most rewarding and satisfying things you’ll ever do in your career.” There are more tangible benefits as well. Mentoring fulfills corporate expectations of senior contributors, and some studies have shown that people who help others at work are more likely to be promoted and earn more.
Last year’s participants were pleased with the results. Juliet Silveri said, “The mentoring experience has been positive and very helpful for me. I am fortunate to have had an outstanding mentor who offered valuable advice and encouragement, and was always prompt in responding.”
Long-time New England Chapter member John Garison worked with several mentees and saw a range of outcomes, “some excellent, some not, some short engagements, some long, overall quite positive. I see new issues, get a better feel for things I haven’t experienced, enjoy meeting new people.” Though he now lives in Vermont, the geographic divide has been easy to bridge with email and video chats. To John, the most important advice for anyone considering mentoring or seeking a mentor is to “be open and honest!”
New Council member Paul Duarte signed up on the STC Mentor Board “to connect with technical communication professionals near UMass Dartmouth.” He found a local mentor and connected by telephone last Christmas. “Our first phone conversation gave me good insight as to what technical communicators really did, and on what I needed to do to apply for certain positions, how to improve my personal website and portfolio so I could present myself in the best possible light to employers.” His mentor eventually served as a reference for his first tech-writing job.
Paul would “definitely” recommend mentoring to his colleagues. “Sometimes, it’s difficult to find the advice one needs to advance in their career, or they don’t have the time or money to take formal classes on learning or improving a certain skill… Here, colleagues can find someone who will volunteer their time to sit down with them [and] figure out what the mentee’s needs are, and the mentor can chart a plan of action for the mentee to follow.”
About Steven Jong
Steve is an Associate Fellow, member of the New England Chapter council, head of the mentoring program, and assistant editor of the STC New England News. He was the first chairman of the STC Certification Commission, a former member of the STC Board of Directors, and a past President of the Boston Chapter.