At this year's World of Concrete Artistry in Decorative Concrete demonstrations, I was surprised when several concrete contractors mentioned having a mentor. I didn't think this tradition was viable in our fast-paced, time-is-money world. But people are still setting examples for others and sharing their vision of where to go and how to get there. When a person's knowledge and desire to teach and support others come together, he or she becomes a mentor.
Homer's Odyssey first mentions Mentor, who was entrusted with the household of Odysseus, King of Ithaca, during the Trojan War. Mentor responsibly cared for and educated Odysseus' son, Telemachus. Since then, “mentoring” has come to mean a process where an experienced person acts as a father (or mother) figure helping to guide or to teach.
“People who do not take what experienced people offer are foolish. Early pioneers in our industry did not have the opportunity. Take advantage of it. It grows you,” said Dominick Cardone, Concrete Impressionists, Brooklyn. Cardone said that his mentor is Bob Harris of the Decorative Concrete Institute. “Your work reflects your mentor; it's where you were bred, and the decorative style of that art continues. Of course you manicure those styles to your own personal expression,” said Cardone. Cardone keeps in regular touch with Harris, and sometimes teaches classes, extending himself to new learners.
Levi Susoev, River Alloy Designs, Kerman, Calif., talks about Gary Jones of Colormaker Floors, Vancouver, coming to spend a day working with him. “Gary enjoys what he does. He manufactures, trains others, installs work, and is willing to help with a job. Yes, it cost me something to bring him here, but Jones was willing. He could choose to stay at his plant and not help newer guys, but he chooses to be helpful to others and work side by side. It was worth doing,” says Susoev, who notes that he is planning to pay it forward. “I'll make a trip to Louisiana soon to help someone else.”
“Finding and keeping good people from workers to managers challenges our industry,” says Mike Schneider, vice president of Northern Operations, Baker Construction, and president of the American Society of Concrete Contractors. The Monroe, Ohio, concrete construction company has a formal mentoring plan that works at two levels: pairing workers at the jobsite and providing a management-mentoring tree. For instance, Schneider mentors someone in senior management, who then mentors a project manager, who in turn mentors a superintendent, who helps a foreman. The process educates and aids people in their career paths. It keeps the doors of communication open and defuses job problems. Mentoring helps retain capable workers. When jobs are over and assignments change, those mentoring partners often stay in touch and continue to support one another. “Pent-up problems do not build up to a point where a worker walks in and says, ‘I quit,'” says Schneider.
Whether it is a trainer, friend, or a formal business program, mentoring offers unique support. Cardone says it begins to be a brotherhood. And I would add—a family.