With over 20% of the Canadian working population eligible for retirement within the next five years1, an impending labour shortage may be the least of our problems.
Skills. Know-how. Expertise. Experience. These are the cornerstones of our economy’s collective memory.
Skills. Know-how. Expertise. Experience. These are the cornerstones of our economy’s collective memory. And those are the soft assets companies will begin to lose through the slow, but steady bleeding dry of ability and potential as their most experienced team members hang up their hats one-by-one.
Retiring workers pack up more than their personal belongings when they empty their cubicle, office or locker. Those cornerstones of skill, know-how, expertise, and experience retire with them.
So what? There are manuals. There is no shortage of course material, professional certifications, online instruction, and endless tomes brimming with the hard facts, figures, operational procedures, and case studies. Those are tangible, accessible, and plentiful.
It is precisely the intangible which will be lost as each of those skilled workers retires and carries off with them decades of acquired and accumulated intuitiveness and instinct, a deep understanding of their craft and the complex interconnection of its moving parts and stakeholders, and the professional networks that serve as touchpoints of any lengthy career.
Soft assets cannot readily be passed on without mentorship.
These soft assets cannot readily be passed on without mentorship. And while mentorship is a business concept only now beginning to enjoy a renaissance, its importance is making it a top agenda item at HR conferences around the world.
It's not enough to expect your employer to run an organized mentorship program. Although that’s always a plus – instead, mentorship, like business ethics, transparency, openness, and community involvement are also essential personal responsibilities. Yours, and mine.
Pass it on. Your career’s impact on others is very much a part of your legacy – not only might it help a younger, talented professional, but the act of mentorship is a teaching moment. The likelihood of one who is being mentored becoming in time a mentor themselves is significantly higher.
It also gives back to the mentor. A life well lived also includes a life well worked, and that job isn’t complete, or correct, until the responsibility of mentorship we all carry is fulfilled.
Mentorship once held a much higher place in society. Before the sum of the world’s knowledge became available online, before higher education and trade schools, before on-the-job training – indeed centuries ago – mentorship and the reverse side of that coin, apprenticeship, were how careers were possible. It’s how great buildings were possible – it’s how practical knowledge was passed on.
The ease with which we have access to education and the tendency of society to be more fractured and polarized has weakened our mentorship reflex.
The ease with which we have access to education and the tendency of society to be more fractured and polarized has weakened our mentorship reflex. That’s not necessarily an irreversible, inevitable conclusion, only a symptom of the impact of modernity on human interaction and relationships.
Necessity dictates that mentorship make a bold reappearance now. It’s an idea that can make our young talent more resilient, more prepared, more curious, more creative, and better prepare them for success.
Knowledge is meant to be shared. Your skills, experience, and indeed your entire body-of work-will assume new meaning and relevance in the hands and minds of others.
What seasoned professionals need to do is simple. Pass it on. Share it. Provoke, protect, inspire, and guide the generation in waiting.
Business will profit. But we’ll all benefit.
Here are some valuable mentorship resources that might inspire you:
A Personal Note From The Writer
My mentor was Sister Frances Timmons. Very much a modern nun, she covered my desk and filled my head with books and authors I’d never heard of – science-fiction, historical novels, and obscure works that should have been great. She also encouraged me to write. She avoided correcting my grammar mistakes because she believed that falling was the best way to get up. It was grade 9 and I’d no ambitions to be a writer – science was my destination.
After a circuitous tour through Fine Arts, an Honours Degree in Design, and years as an art director working in large ad agencies, I suddenly, and quite naturally became a writer.
I had the chance to tell Sister Frances of her great influence on me before she passed away in 2013. I don’t know where I’d be today without her presence in my life.