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It’s National Mentoring Month, and New York IBEW Local Shows How It’s Done

Erin Hill (center, front row) with members of the IBEW Local 3 mentoring program.

January is National Mentoring Month, and our friends at the Berger-Marks Foundation are highlighting the mentoring program that New York City Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 3 shop steward Erin Sullivan helped establish in the 11,000 member local in 2011.

Sullivan used The Next Generation, a formal mentorship training manual funded by the Berger-Marks Foundation and written by the Institute for Women's Policy Research, as the backbone of the Local 3 program, which now serves 960 apprentices.

On the Berger-Marks website, Mariya Strauss writes:

Sullivan said apprentices are matched with a mentor during their first month on the job, and the program is considered a "club" similar to the other three dozen or so extracurricular clubs that Local 3 members can join. Mentors meet regularly with their apprentices, teach them about the "Code of Excellence" and check in about how the job is going.

We give them guidance: how can they get along in this new world that they have?

Mentors also provide support whenever it is needed throughout the week; this is what Sullivan refers to as the "unintentional benefit" of the program. Occasionally, she says, an apprentice might show up with a substance abuse problem or other problem that threatens their well-being and ability to work.

Now you have somebody who is able to be there for them. Without the mentoring program, they would probably fall through the cracks.

Similarly, says Sullivan, the women who make up less than 3% (her estimate) of Local 3's membership have found the mentoring program to be a boon.

Being a female in a male-dominated industry is not always easy. Just the other day, we had an apprentice who went to one of the club events with supers and foremen, and when she walked in she felt very intimidated by all these big shots. She went into the bathroom and called her mentor—and after she spoke to her mentor, she was able to go back in there and have a really good time.

Sullivan said that one of the benefits of the program is that apprentices have become more involved in union activities, clubs and events—and that they want to become mentors one day themselves.

They're taking on a more active role. As the program goes along, it's going to get better and stronger. Now we have a group of people who had good mentors and who are going to sign up as mentors.

Read the full story here and click here to download The Next Generation mentoring handbook from the Berger-Marks Foundation. Learn more about the Berger-Marks Foundation and its mission to help workers—especially women workers—join labor unions.

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