Mentorship opportunities abound for business professionals of all ages and experience levels around southeastern Michigan. The post-COVID landscape has made it easier to set up remote mentoring opportunities, although many employers still see the value of in-person relationship building.
As those remote technologies have become more readily available, more employers are using an informal process for its mentoring, assigning two people to collaborate over a set period of time. Often, those relationships last much longer ― as do the rewards for both parties. Mentoring programs today are designed to increase job satisfaction, improve transparency and generate valuable ideas that can be easily implemented.
Sage.com reports that 97 percent of professionals with a mentor say they are valuable and 55 percent believe mentoring can help them succeed. However, 85 percent currently do not have a mentor.
“The need and demand for mentoring is there,” said Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights Council Business Representative John Perkins, who established the council’s Apprenticeship Mentor Committee as a peer-to-peer mentoring program in 2018.
Perkins saw the need then because of how difficult the transition can be for first- and second-year carpentry apprentices. He recognized that many of these individuals had questions about how best to build a career and how to interact with colleagues, which could help support the technical aspects of their job.
“I wanted these to be informal conversations, because no one wants to admit that they need help,” Perkins said. “It was important to put some structure to the idea.”
That structure included third- and fourth-year apprentices serving as mentors to their first- and second-year colleagues. Around 80 mentees and mentors are involved in the program this year, which has been formalized in certain areas with the help of Statewide Manager of Community Relations Leah Gordon. She and Perkins work together to market the mentoring opportunities internally and find solutions to the barriers that young apprentices face.
“I felt I had a sense of duty and was inspired by what (Perkins) stated,” Gordon said. The colleagues assign mentees and mentors in a way that emphasizes diversity and introduces industry colleagues to others they have not worked with or known personally.
Michigan Works! developed its Next Young Professional mentorship program, supported at the county level, where resources are available. The Oakland County program launched in 2020 with the help of Workforce Development Specialist Brooklyn Frontiera.
She oversees a program that will attract anywhere from 30 to 50 employers per year, targeting young adults ages 18-24. Many of these young adults went through alternative high school or have come from disadvantaged backgrounds that would otherwise make finding a long-term career more difficult, Frontiera said.
Employers such as Barton Malow, Troy Beaumont Hospital and Guest Athletics are among the numerous employers involved in the program. Support from large corporations and smaller, locally owned businesses is needed. Young adult participation has grown from 116 in 2020 to 261 in 2022. The Oakland County mentorship program is on track to hit well over 300 this year, Frontiera said.
“It’s a great opportunity for employers to take a chance on a young adult who otherwise might face some employment barriers,” Frontiera said.
A top-down approach to mentoring
Michigan-based CMS Energy has taken a different approach to its mentoring program with its “reverse mentoring” approach, where less-experienced professionals take on the role of the mentor for their more-experienced, and often older peers.
A big reason for this approach is to close the gap between employees in the millennial generation and their older counterparts, said CMS Energy Director of Technology Rajan Ranqanathan, who helps to run the program. Another was to increase the amount of corporate transparency, which is a need for many millennial professionals.
Any CMS associate is eligible to partake in the reverse mentoring program in this process of information sharing. It was created as a one-year commitment to give associates the chance to have open, candid conversations.
Many great ideas have been generated from the (less experienced) mentors that have been implemented,” Ranqanathan said. “It really has helped to uncover some A-HA moments.” That includes providing better customer service, improved internal communications and more.
CMS Energy officers have become involved as well, with up to 25 of those senior executives serving the role of a mentee with a younger associate. The benefits to CMS Energy are not just the improved internal communications and transparency or idea generation, but the increase in job satisfaction and retention for the next generation of company leaders who are serving in a mentorship role.
While the program commitment is for one year, many of these mentor/mentee relationships continue informally for multiple years, and/or associates maintain long-term professional relationships.
The senior-level mentees can often gain information about what customers are telling their younger cohorts, while both parties share information on technological and industry trends pertinent to their roles, said Ranqanathan.
He has noticed many of the mentors may have come into the reverse mentoring arrangement as more of an introvert, but as their confidence increases over the course of the program, they become more proactive and self-assured.
The CMS Energy program was started a few years before the COVID pandemic, but increased remote capabilities have made it even easier for associates to participate at a time that is convenient for their schedules. Up to 120 CMS Energy employees below the officer level are involved annually.
“We encourage (mentors and mentees) to meet up in person when they can, but we don’t need to pair two people who work in the same office,” said Ranqanathan.
Transitioning to a “working” phase of life
J.P. Morgan Chase has a formal mentorship program in place for its associates and senior team to work with new lending hires, who are referred to as “analysts.”
Executive Director Mary McCoy volunteered to be a mentor in the program three years ago, when she was paired with Alec Palmer, an analyst and December 2019 graduate from Albion College.
During the first year, the two team members met in person at the West Bloomfield office bi-weekly to discuss Palmer’s transition to the company and his role, which at the time included a rotational schedule to various departments.
The goal, McCoy said, was to help create a foundation for Palmer where he felt valued and happy.
“In many ways my role was to be a (senior) resource for Alec beyond his direct supervisor,” McCoy said. “We have found that this type of mentorship program often allows (analysts) to be a better steward for the firm.”
For Palmer, the transition to his first full-time job was not just one about the job itself, but the social transition as well from a college student to working with clients in a large organization. COVID was in its early stages when he became McCoy’s mentee, so many of the initial bi-weekly conversations weren’t even job related.
These were Palmer’s professional foundational years and having the opportunity to chat with someone who had been in his shoes and faced many of the same challenges gave him comfort in knowing he wasn’t alone in his career path.
At the start, the program is set up to be rather formal, but (the conversations) grew to be much more organic in nature,” Palmer said. He was promoted and moved to Colorado in late 2022, long after the formal part of the mentorship with McCoy had ended, but the two still talk as part of a monthly scheduled informal meeting, even as McCoy remains in southeastern Michigan.
Both Perkins and Gordon found that one of the biggest needs for young carpentry apprentices was to understand the nature of the business, that often includes significant “ebb and flow,” based on demand. Perkins said many come to understand that their chosen careers may not always come with set hours, so they need to budget their finances accordingly.
“It’s different than 9 to 5 work, because you may have a different project in a different part of the state each month,” said the Detroit native. “You need to have a mindset change and really understand the value of networking.”
One surprise for Gordon was how in-demand general knowledge about finances and using a bank was for many new apprentices. She said a consistent message from mentors to their less experienced apprentices was to “learn how to live below their means.”
Benefits for entrepreneurs
Aspiring entrepreneurs benefit from mentors as well, says Maria DeLorenzo, Director of Communications for Endeavor, an organization that supports the entrepreneurship movement. Endeavor Detroit is one of eight offices around the country designed to help aspiring entrepreneurs realize their dream of owning a business.
As part of its on-boarding program for professionals, Endeavor offers two types of mentorship programs. One is a peer-to-peer mentoring network that is more informal in nature and allows professionals to ask questions and gain advice from a group of peers who have already formed their own business. The second is more of a one-on-one mentorship arrangement that can be customized to fit the needs of the mentor and mentee.
“We work with many (entrepreneurs) who have developed close relationships with their mentors in ways that help them many years after they formed their own business,” DeLorenzo says. “It’s a needs-based program and we connect (aspiring) entrepreneurs to mentors in a mutually-agreed upon way.”
Doug Collier is a board member for several companies and an early-stage investor who is involved with Endeavor in Michigan. The St. Joseph resident and former corporate executive is a board observer and former board member for direct-to-consumer furniture company Floyd and board member for Ann Arbor-based Shoptelligence, among other roles.
He “retired” from the corporate world in 2019 to focus on his interest in entrepreneurship and has taken that time to interact with aspiring entrepreneurs and founders of early-stage companies, serving as an angel investor, consultant, and mentor. He’s mentored entrepreneurs through Endeavor since mid-2017.
Collier has found that while some conversations as a mentor focus on marketing and leadership, the majority of his time is spent with a mentee on how to think differently about a challenge they are facing, from funding to staffing.
“These are very smart, driven people who are spending every waking hour on their business and therefore know 1,000 times more about it than I do,” Collier said. “So, taking a prescriptive approach with them just doesn’t make sense most of the time.”
What Collier gets out of the role of mentoring is the ability to interact with many entrepreneurs and connections at the University of Manitoba and University of Toronto. He estimates spending 10-20 hours a month mentoring and advising in various ways.
“It’s tremendously fulfilling and energizing to get to engage with such smart people while they are passionately building their businesses,” Collier said. The ways he helps mentees may seem small, from connecting them with the right person at the right time with the right information or challenging them to think outside of their comfort zone.
Either way, the experience is “hugely rewarding,” which has allowed him to keep in touch with many of the professionals he has worked with through Endeavor or elsewhere.
“I even invested in one of my mentees after six months of (developing a relationship),” Collier says. “Many of them have become very good friends.”
Palmer has begun to mentor interns at J.P. Morgan Chase and is an advocate for the mentorship model.
“I feel lucky to work at a place that invests in the development of its junior (professionals),” Palmer said. “Mary will always be a tremendous resource for me and now I want to pay it forward.”