Mentoring isn't a new concept. We have all had a teacher, coach or family member who took on the role of a mentor and guided us with their wise counsel. But mentoring can work in the electrical business, too. Veteran employees, retired electrical professionals, electrical distributors or other companies in your local business community can be mentors for you or your employees.

At least one mentoring program in the electrical construction business is flourishing. Since 1997, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 48 in Portland, Ore., has had its first-year apprentices work with IBEW apprentices who have finished their third year of training. Last year, Local 48 had 89 first-year students and more than enough volunteers to be mentors.

Mentoring can mean more than just working with younger employees. If you or anyone on the office side of your company needs assistance in accounting, bookkeeping, market development, planning, personnel development or other business issues, resources exist in your local community. For example, one Florida electrical distributor had a retired college business professor on staff to act as free consultant for electrical contractors who needed advice on running their business more profitably.

You can also get business advice from retired business executives who want to do something more than just hit golf balls. A retiree from the electrical construction industry in your area may be looking for a way to give back to the industry that provided him or her with a good living, and volunteering as a consultant for an electrical contractor for a few hours a week could satisfy this desire. If this concept sounds interesting, check out the SCORE Association (Service Corps of Retired Executives) at www.score.org. The group's mission is to help small businesses flourish, and it's sponsored by the federal government's Small Business Administration (SBA).

Mentoring takes many forms. If you want to become a mentor for students with an interest in the electrical field, contact your local vocational-technical schools. Vo-tech schools are always trying to expose their students to businesses in their local communities. Along with providing the next generation of electricians with some much-needed real-world perspective, you may find a great employee for your company.

Some visionary leaders in the design and construction community have taken the concept of student mentoring to an even higher level with their 8-year-old ACE Mentor program (www.acementor.org). Through local ACE chapters, managers at design/construction firms are now introducing 1,400 teenagers to their industry. Volunteers mentor students by introducing them to the various design professionals, taking them on tours of active construction sites and their offices, and working with them on problem-solving model construction projects.

If training is an important need for company, look into mentoring. You may be surprised what you and your employees learn.