The future green workforce: Career mentoring

Published on: 
16 Jul 2021
Jenny Wiedower

Feature image photo credit: goodluz—Fotolia from Adobe Stock.

Green building companies and their employees have immense opportunities to support K–12 schools, teachers and students that produce future workers. By engaging students who want jobs that support a more sustainable future, companies can actively shape a local emerging workforce that is prepared for green building job openings.

A personal connection to student success

In addition to providing students with opportunities for work-based learning at your company, another way green building professionals can support students’ job aspirations is through career-oriented mentoring. Enrolling in a program that connects professionals with students for career exploration is a quick-start option for making an impact in a young person’s life.

According to MENTOR: the National Mentoring Partnership, students who are mentored are 55% less likely than their peers to skip a day of school, and 130% more likely to hold leadership positions. This means that mentoring connects a young person to personal growth and development, as well as social and economic opportunity.

USGBC Florida volunteer leader Ashantae Green’s story is a testament to the impact of mentorship in a green building career journey. While a student at Jacksonville’s Randolph Academies of Technology, Green participated in the Northeast Florida affiliate of the national ACE Mentor program for multiple years. She graduated high school with four years of construction trades education and multiple professional certifications, but only through her experience as an ACE mentee did she encounter an architect who looked like her.

“There were two black female architects, and three other women who were passionate about sustainability, and not just green construction, but green communities," says Green. "Seeing professionals in a space I wanted to be in take time out of their busy day to come mentor me meant a lot.”

Green was inspired to continue her green building professional journey, and today she practices green architectural design, is an elected official on the Duval Soil and Water Conservation District Board of Supervisors, and is a mentor with ACE. “Having someone pour into me at a very young age was really inspirational. Knowledge is a resource that we have to pass on,” she says.

Steph Leonard, associate director in the West North Central region of USGBC, coaches mentors who work with students to benchmark their school buildings as part of the Green Students Mentoring Program. She encourages mentors to use their project management skills to help students stay on track, and to use their sustainable design thinking to provide a larger context. Students learn and communicate differently than professionals, so being flexible and open to trying new ways of doing things will result in a mentor/mentee relationship that is mutually beneficial. A mentee isn’t the only person changed as a result of mentorship.

Match your talents with local needs

Here are a few examples of mentoring opportunities for green building professionals:

Green operations and maintenance mentoring

Put your green building know-how to good use by helping K–12 students measure the sustainability performance of their own school buildings and take action to improve it. Mentors lend their technical expertise to helping students benchmark and analyze sustainability indicators such as water, energy and waste, and in doing so, demonstrate the role of their occupation in making buildings greener. Reach out to a local school to offer your services, or use the Building Learners program, which pairs professionals with a local class that is using a data-driven approach to understanding and improving the impact of buildings on the environment, human health and equity.

AEC industry mentoring

Join other professionals in the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC; or sometimes, ACE) industries in your community to mentor high school students in free, career-oriented after-school programming. In more than 70 regions across the U.S., ACE Mentors design and support structured school year–long experiences wherein groups of mentees emulate design teams, gaining valuable knowledge and skills directly from their industry mentors. Green building is a growing component of the ACE experience for mentors and mentees. ACE Mentor’s Southeast regional director, Tzu Chen, says “all of the final ACE presentations I watched this year had sustainability as part of the projects.”

STEM career mentoring

Connect with your local STEM network to see if they offer a structured mentoring program. Mentoring students in middle or early high school can be a powerful experience, as that’s when they are developing their sense of which subjects they enjoy and when they feel most confident in pursuing further study and experiences. According to MENTOR, “mentors can be important for all types of students, regardless of their STEM abilities or current level of future STEM planning. Mentoring relationships seem to be valuable…especially when deployed in an effort to maximize the long-term engagement of groups that have traditionally struggled to show interest or persist in STEM fields.”

Take action

First, determine your own preferences, so you can best communicate what you have to offer as a mentor. How much time each month do you have to contribute? Would you prefer a one-on-one pairing, being part of a small group or working with many students on a project? Which professional knowledge and skills do you want to share with students?

Check in with your local school district’s career technical education (CTE) office to see if they already offer mentorship opportunities with students in their building science, energy or sustainability programs. If you work for a company, don’t forget to check with your human resources department to see if they are already engaged in a structured mentorship program.

This is the second in a series of six articles that will explore how green building businesses and green building professionals can support the future green building workforce. We’ll also cover:

  • Work-based learning opportunities
  • Supporting secondary-level educators (grades 6–12)
  • Industry certifications for teachers and students
  • Industry advisory councils for CTE
  • Classroom engagement

Have a story to share about how you’ve supported middle and high schools in building a green building career pipeline? We’d love to know! Email Jenny Wiedower with your story.

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