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Brandon Shima, an engineer for Kiewit Building Group Inc., met at a Kaiser Medical Center construction site with superintendent Bronson Pai. "The knowledge that (Kiewit has) shared has made me confident that I can perform well even in the stressful construction industry," Shima said. "I wake up happy to go to work."
More businesses in Hawaii mentoring younger workers
With a tight job market, more Hawaii businesses are turning to senior employees to train junior workers
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While mentoring relationships have always existed on some level in Hawaii's labor market, more island businesses have started making them official by formalizing in-house programs or hiring consultants to build them.
Hawaii's severe labor shortage, coupled with the coming retirement of many baby boomers in key senior positions, have made it more important for island employers to provide on-the-job-training and career development for employees.
Mentorship programs help junior employees develop skills that they didn't learn in college and reach the executive level faster. However, they also ensure that Hawaii companies have a succession plan in place to fill key positions. And younger workers can pass on knowledge of the newest trends in technology and offer a fresh perspective that can help their more senior counterparts.
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DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
"For a young budding architect, there is not a better situation. There's a lot to learn here."
He said he's privileged to work as a designer-drafter at an established firm like Architects Hawaii. Previously, Lambert had a background in commercial real estate before going to architecture school. He also benefited his new employer by bringing it a new contract.
Brandon Shima, a 24-year-old engineer for Kiewit Building Group Inc., interned his way into a job with the company.
"I graduated on a Sunday and they hired me on a Monday," Shima said.
But he considers his education far from over. Like many Hawaii employees, Shima is continuing his education on the job courtesy of senior workers who have volunteered to serve as mentors for him.
"I've learned a lot from them," Shima said. "Their dedication has kept me focused, and the knowledge that they've shared has made me confident that I can perform well even in the stressful construction industry. I wake up happy to go to work."
Shima's experience with mentoring is becoming more of the norm at Hawaii's businesses, especially those that are coping with severe labor shortages at a time when many industries are in the midst of economic expansion. Mentoring has proven to be a good way for many employers to provide on-the-job training and career development for their employees.
The unprecedented growth of Hawaii's construction industry, combined with the state's tight labor market, has made it difficult for employers to find and retain a solid work force, said Lance Wilhelm, senior vice president at Kiewit.
Improved economic times have begun to bring local talent back to Hawaii after the mass exodus of talent in the 1990s, but despite the turnaround, many expanding island businesses must struggle to find the staffing to grow in a small market, Wilhelm said.
"We've put more focus on mentoring than other companies," said Wilhelm, who got his start with Kiewit in accounting and learned the engineering side of the business from company mentors.
"Our philosophy is baptism by fire," he said, adding that in the nearly 20 years that he has been with Kiewit, the company has always strived to provide young people with leadership and development opportunities. Mentors ease the transition, he said.
Nationwide, companies are finding that it is cheaper to keep employees happy than it is to hire new ones, and that's especially true in Hawaii, where the tight labor market has made recruitment tough and forced employers to hire and train inexperienced workers.
"We've put more of a focus on mentoring than many other companies because our labor market is so tight," Wilhelm said. "We used to focus on civil engineers and construction graduates, but the labor pool is so small that we've begun hiring mechanical and electrical engineers and training them for the job."
Other industries in Hawaii have been similarly challenged and inclined. Employers are now routinely offering workers higher wages, better benefits and greater flexibility, but companies that want an extra edge also are searching for ways to keep all of their workers engaged, said Judy Bishop, president of Bishop & Co., a Hawaii-based staffing firm.
"Employees used to stay in jobs because they had nowhere else to go, but now they are being recruited from all sides," Bishop said. "Employers have to pay attention to what their employees want, and in many instances, what they want most is an opportunity for growth."
For companies that are short-staffed and can't spare employees for outside training, mentoring also provides a way to help employees gain new skills in-house.
In addition, it's a great way for smaller companies to offer employees a chance for career development even when there isn't any room to move them up, Bishop said.
"I can't always promote my employees into a new job, but I can teach them new skills through mentoring which might enable them to take on more responsibility and earn higher pay," she said.
Mentoring relationships propel both employers and employees forward, said Christine Ing, owner of Ingage Inc., a consultancy company that connects Hawaii workers with mentors from other companies in Hawaii and on the mainland.
Mentorship programs help junior employees develop skills that they didn't learn in college and reach the executive level faster, Ing said. It also ensures that Hawaii companies, who are losing senior employees as the baby boomer market begins retiring, have a succession plan in place to fill key positions, she said.
"There's a lot of interest out there in mentoring and it's primarily related to the development of succession plans to deal with the large amount of baby boomers that are getting ready to retire," Ing said. "Many companies will feel the loss of these employees, and if they have not tapped them to share their knowledge, it will retire with them."
While interest is high among Hawaii employers to run mentorship programs, few companies have a formal program in place, said Ing, who launched her business in 2006 to fill what she perceived to be a growing need in the Hawaii market.
"Most companies realize that Gen X and Gen Y employees need mentors to help develop their skills, but it's really hard for them to establish a formal mentorship program in-house when everyone is so short-staffed," Ing said.
However some companies, especially those in the construction industries like Kiewit and Architects Hawaii Ltd., have taken the initiative to establish successful mentorship programs. And, they've discovered that when it comes to mentoring, the benefits flow both ways.
"Young engineers bring their enthusiasm and their youth, and the new ways and programs that they've used help us change our process as technology evolves," said Dee Oswald, a project executive for Kiewit. "We instill our values and traditions and fundamentals. Mentoring is part of our company's strategic plan."
Senior employees, who serve as mentors, gain satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment from passing on their knowledge and wisdom and energy to junior workers. They get the opportunity to improve their own communication and leadership skills and build stronger relationships with other associations. By working with young people, they also get exposed to the newest trends in technology and information.
But Oswald said that junior workers bring unexpected benefits to the job. In some cases, the student even becomes the teacher, she said.
Shima showed senior executives how to use the newest edition of Microsoft Access to streamline their project estimates and has helped perform basic information technology functions for the company whose main technical support is on the mainland.
"Coming out of school, we are geared to use computer-based programs," Shima said. "These programs help organize different parts of the job that would otherwise be very tedious."
Architects Hawaii (AHL) believes so strongly in the value of mentoring that the company capped off its 60th anniversary celebration with a $60,000 donation to support mentorship programs at the University of Hawaii School of Architecture, said Lloyd T. Arakaki, principal and chief operating officer at AHL.
The fund supports students who are in the practicum program where they spend one semester working with a firm in Asia or on the U.S. mainland and another semester with a Hawaii firm, such as AHL.
About 15 or 20 senior managers at AHL have mentored students, Arakaki said.
"The master-apprentice relationship has always existed in this industry," he said. "The exchange of information is vital to the creative process. Some people are of the opinion that an architect does not mature until about 50 because there is just so much to learn. What they teach you in school does not cover the practical aspects of architecture as a business."
Ryan Lambert, who was recently hired by AHL as a designer-drafter and had a background in commercial real estate before going to architecture school, said that he has been privileged to work at and be mentored by such a well-established Hawaii firm.
"For a young budding architect, there is not a better situation," Lambert said. "There's a lot to learn here."
But, the company has benefited from Lambert's experience as well, Arakaki said. The firm is designing a surf hotel in Samoa courtesy of a contact that Lambert brought to them.
"It's not often that a student brings us clients," he said. "He's brought fresh energy to the firm."
Lambert said that he would not have had the experience to develop the surf hotel on his own. Mentoring broadened his abilities, he said.
"I have a fresh set of eyes, and when paired with someone who has lots of experience, we can do new and exciting projects," he said.