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Importance of mentoring

Sept. 5, 2014
The stories of these two people are about life-changers — people who drift into your life unexpectedly and cause your thinking to do a 180-degree turn. They don’t just add knowledge; they impart passion and direction. They make you think, “Hey, maybe I can do that!” 

It was the first day of junior high school. I was on my way to my third-period class, History of the Civil War. Yet another year of history and another year of studying a war fought 150 years ago. “Who cares,” I thought. I was already bored, and I hadn’t even sat down in my chair.

When the bell rang to start class, I sat down, put my head in my hands and waited to be bored to death. One minute went by. No teacher. Two minutes … three minutes, still no teacher. “Great,” I thought. “Even the teacher doesn’t want to be here.”

Then all of a sudden, the classroom door flew open and in came a fully dressed Confederate soldier! With a gun slung over his shoulder and heavily bandaged, he looked like he’d been shot. He staggered across the classroom and collapsed on the floor.

He dragged himself over to the desk leaving a trail of what looked to me like blood. He drew himself up on the desk and moaned in agony. He then began to tell a class of bewildered seventh graders all about his day: how he got shot, where he was, what the day was like, how his young wife didn’t know he was in trouble, how scared he was. He told us about life in the Confederate army — how there was no food and they were running out of ammunition. You could hear a pin drop as he paused to collect his thoughts.

Fifty minutes later, the bell rang ending the class. The teacher stood up and said, “See you tomorrow” and walked out the door. There was a collective groan from the class. “What do you mean, it’s over?!”

The next day, I ran to the class. The same thing happened. Five minutes went by and no teacher. Again the door flew open. But this time, it was a Union doctor. He told us of his day treating dysentery and amputating legs, and how he hadn’t seen his family in four years and that two of his brothers were dead.

The next day the teacher was a bugler. And I was hooked. I loved history from that moment on and even decades later, I still can’t get enough of it!

Positive contagious

So how did I get into the HVACR industry as opposed to teaching history? Well, after high school and a tour of duty in the military, I was trying to figure out what to do with my life. I took a job at an apartment complex as a maintenance technician and my boss told me I had to attend a class at a local vocational school to get a state boilers license, so I could legally operate the boiler in our apartment complex.

“This should be as exciting as watching paint dry,” I thought.

That’s where I met Bill, the instructor at the vocational school. But he didn’t just teach boilers; he was passionate about boilers! He didn’t just teach about what part was what; he taught you why. He was so excited about steam heating and hydronic heating, it was positively contagious. He even took a couple of us on tours of boiler rooms on the weekends and coached us on tricks of the trade. The inside dope! I was hooked.

Now, 43 years later, I am just as passionate about hydronics as Bill was. And, I’ve spent 15 years teaching the State of Minnesota Boilers License class, among other things.

My whole adult life was changed thanks to Bill and the passion that he transferred into my life. Bill was not just a teacher, he was a mentor.

Hey, maybe I can do that!

The stories of these two people are about life-changers — people who drift into your life unexpectedly and cause your thinking to do a 180-degree turn. They don’t just add knowledge; they impart passion and direction.

They make you think, “Hey, maybe I can do that!” And, not only can I do that, but I might like to do that. They don’t stuff your ears with words; rather they open your eyes to possibilities. These are the mentors in your life. Without them, you wouldn’t be the same person. With them, you end up with a whole new purpose in life.

Many of us know and have experienced a life-changer. One minute you might be going one way and the next minute the doorway opens to a brand new set of possibilities.

Today’s youth are no different. They also need life-changers — especially in the plumbing and HVAC world. We are headed for a tremendous shortage of technicians in the next few years due to an expanding economy and a shrinking interest in anything that is not computer-related.

Many are already feeling the pinch as they look to find people to fill jobs or even pass the baton of the business they have built up over 30 years. The trades are being the hardest hit as junior high and high schools shift their students’ interest from anything “hands-on” to more “academic pursuits.” Classes in shop or industrial arts are disappearing at an alarming rate. There is a skilled-labor crunch coming.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, during the next 10 years, the country will experience a projected 11% growth in jobs across the board. But the HVACR and plumbing industries are expected to grow by 21%.

Source: U.S. Department of Labor and Statistics

he HVACR industry is expected to need an additional 55,900 trained technicians; the plumbing industry, an additional 82,300. Where will they come from?

Be a mentor

This is where you come in: If you’re in the trades already, you might be the key to unlocking a young person’s full potential. According to a survey done by RIDGID tool in 2009, 77% of high school students would consider a career in the skilled trades once they have had exposure to what goes on in the trades. That compares to 53% of the same students who say that working in the trades “just doesn’t interest them.”

The fact is, trade jobs just aren’t on their radar screens! But we can change that.

In the second article of this two-part series, I am going to explore the different ways we can impact someone’s life and introduce him or her to the trades. I will talk about five surefire methods that can help launch a young person’s life into a whole new orbit — and also help the plumbing and HVACR industry thrive into the future.

Steve Swanson is the customer trainer at Uponor Academy in Apple Valley, Minn. He can be reached at [email protected].

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