Mentoring our Younger Workforce

Mentoring our Younger WorkforceSteve Coscia
Contributing Writer
Coscia Communications

Ask any seasoned technician about how they got started in HVAC, plumbing or electrical work and you will likely hear an interesting (and funny) story about youth, curiosity and mentoring.  It is my belief that young workers need a mentor. 

When I travel and teach soft skills at community colleges and trade schools, the mentoring role is usually handled by an instructor.  But does mentoring occur prior to a college classroom?

Keep reading to find out..

I recently interviewed Rick Picard, from Andy Rodenhiser Plumbing & Heating, Inc., about his teenage mentoring experience.  Keep in mind that Rick was only 14 when his curiosity got the best of him.

Back then, Picard worked part-time job at Lakeview Beverages, a soda company that bottled, sold and home-delivered carbonated soft drinks in Webster, Massachusetts.  He was a high school student with no particular career aspirations.

A plumbing and heating contractor maintained Lakeview Beverages’ boiler and refrigerating units and everyone called him “Refrigerator Joe.”

Joe Pawalczyk was an elderly gentleman with a rough tone-of-voice and a gentle demeanor.  Picard encountered Pawalczyk on Wednesdays and Fridays at Lakeview Beverages, when the soda bottles were sanitized, refilled and refrigerated.

Curious about the mechanical work, Picard looked over Pawalczyk’s shoulder and asked numerous questions about the equipment and the tools.  The barrage of questions from this youngster tried the elder plumber’s patience.

Picard’s relentless inquiries and interruptions to Pawalczyk’s work came to a climax one day.  Realizing that the impetuous teenager wasn’t going to stop, Pawalczyk decided to take action.  “If you’re going to keep bothering me, you might as well do some work,” said Pawalczyk.  “Hey kid, go to my truck and get the white bucket with the tools.”

Excited about the prospect of being the elder’s helper, Picard threw himself into the schlepping.

And thus began Pawalczyk’s role as a mentor and Picard’s mechanical apprenticeship.  Subsequent vocational high school enrollment and continued work with Pawalczyk burgeoned into Picard’s successful career.

Upon reflection, Picard remembers, “Everyone in Webster, Massachusetts loved Joe because he was always available to his customers.  They would call him day and night” says Picard.  “The mentoring lesson that I learned was that Joe enjoyed helping people.  It made him happy.”

Does Picard’s experience sound familiar?

Air-conditioning contractors who I meet throughout North America, convey their dissatisfaction with today’s younger workforce.  I have heard all the stereotypical anecdotes about teenagers being glued to their smartphones and lacking social etiquette.  Are these stories true?  You bet.  But not 100% of the time.

Yes, it is more difficult to find teenagers who may not want a four-year university degree.  They’d rather work with their hands and do something mechanical.  Difficult, not impossible.

And these younger workers need the guidance and persuasion of a mentor.  Where do you go to find these mechanically-inclined youngsters?

They are in your midst.  They’re in your neighborhood and in your high schools.  That teenager who delivers your pizza may be a prime candidate to learn a new mechanical career.

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) 20% of all jobs require a Bachelor’s degree or higher, which means if we do the math 80% don’t! The BLS reports that 67% of all jobs require some kind of post-secondary technical training, like plumbing and heating.

Pawalczyk’s choice about giving Picard “something to do,” in an effort to learn about the youngster’s competency, resulted in a mutually beneficial, long-term relationship in which everybody wins.

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