On the Importance of Mentoring in Geomatics
I guess I was lucky. It seems to me that I always wanted to be a civil engineer, but if asked I think we all have someone that we can identify as a mentor. The role of a mentor is critically important to the development of a young person’s professional career as well as their personal development. For a lot of us, including me, a professor was a mentor.
Unfortunately, as digital technology takes over much of the hands on, and yes I do mean this literally, training that mentors and teachers used to provide is being “lost in the GUI”. This is where we spend most of our time these days, especially early on in one’s career. How many of us have just “taught ourselves” how to use a software application, or heard from someone more experienced that, “you just have to jump in and learn it”. The GUI is impersonal, or even worse “anti-personal”.
There just does not seem to be any time these days for mentoring, or what some might call grooming. You have to get lucky. Someone has to decide to take the time to explain things and to pass on the hard lessons they have learned. They have to take an interest in you as a person.
Maybe that isn’t any different than it was BD – Before Digital, but it seems to me that in the digital world there is less chance of this happening, and if it does it is often not one-on-one; it is more likely via a seminar or webinar – not very personal.
At the same time there are a couple of examples of formal programs that have been established to encourage mentoring. Engineers Canada has established a variety of mentoring programs. These include career and project mentoring as well as online resources which include best practices and lessons learned.
The Canadian Youth Business Foundation has also established a formal mentoring program which is part of their Entrepeer program to encourage entrepreneurs, mentors and business champions across Canada.
I would like to see a formal program where as 3D geospatial/geodetic professionals we could act as mentors at our local high schools. This is where I think we could do the most good. High school students in North America are falling behind the rest of the world in science and math, while at the same time many of the geomatics professionals are getting ready to retire. There is no question there is going to be a shortage of trained and experienced engineers and scientists.
A great model for this could be Dean Kamen’s program known as FIRST. This highly successful, high school age program is focused on robotics. Teams at high schools are paired with technical people from local industry to build and then compete with their robots. I have attended these competitions. It makes a local high school football game seem reserved.
As the Chair of the USIBD – United States Institute of Building Documentation education committee we are also interested in developing a mentoring program. As my father used to say, “There are two kinds of people in the world – talkers and doers”. I think the time has come for doing. Please let me know if you have any thoughts on the idea.