In this month’s article, we are going to address a topic that can literally transform your company as well as bring fulfillment to your lifetime of work.


Quite simply, put yourself in a position to mentor others. The sense of fulfillment that comes when seeing others learn what you have learned the hard way is priceless. Our culture is plagued with depression among so many accomplished individuals. I believe there is a direct correlation to the fact that we have been trained to keep our trade secrets close to the vest. According to today’s values, sharing what we have learned with others can result in losing our competitive edge and diminish our personal corporate worth; but this is like a body of water without an input and output – it becomes stale and stagnated.


The true meaning of apprenticeship has been lost in our culture, but things were not always this way. The system of apprenticeship was first developed in the later Middle Ages and came to be supervised by craft guilds and town governments. The Master Craftsman was never fully recognized as a Master until he had trained and apprenticed others. He was entitled to employ young people as an inexpensive form of labor in exchange for providing food, lodging and formal training in the craft. Formal programs existed, but most often the learning took place as the young person worked side-by-side with the seasoned veteran. It was not uncommon to take four to six years for the newcomer to grasp the essentials of the trade from the teacher.


Take an inventory of your company’s training procedures. More importantly look carefully at the pool of talent and experience that resides within your key personnel. Is there a means or method by which that talent is being relayed to younger people? If not, your firm is in future jeopardy when it comes to handling the myriad of details and nuances that make up architectural woodworking. This is one of the few professions where being 98 percent correct in terms of application of dimensions or details in fabrication can result in being 100 percent wrong when it comes to installation or finished product.


Many of us, as owners and senior management people, have learned this business the hard way – a lot of trial and error mixed with costly mistakes that litter our career paths. If you could go back in time twenty to thirty years and start over with what you know now, there is no telling how much more accomplished you and your company would be.


This opportunity to re-wind the clock exists before us in the form of mentoring others. Whether a son or daughter or a promising young leader within your company, begin a purposed and consistent mentorship relationship and program. You didn’t learn your skill sets overnight and it will take years to fully transfer your knowledge to others.


Commit yourself to the principle of mentoring. Set some apprenticeship programs in place in both the plant and the office. Nurture an environment where senior people will share their knowledge and experience with younger people. Put yourself in a position to replace your own position and you will not only see a healthy prospect for the future of your company but you will experience the incomparable sense of knowing you have made a difference in the lives of those around you.


Michael Bell is a 38-year veteran of the woodworking industry. He was deeply involved in the two-year project of melding the AWI/AWMAC Quality Standards Illustrated with the WI Manual of Millwork which resulted in the new Architectural Woodwork Standards. In addition to his work for AWI, he serves as a Woodwork Inspector for the American Arbitration Association. Bell studied Design at Southern Illinois University in the early 1970s under the noted futurist R. Buckminster Fuller. He has conducted numerous seminars for national and regional CSI and AIA meetings on the subject of specifying architectural woodwork and on the Architectural Woodwork Standards. He is also a member of the AWI Speakers Bureau and presents AWI Advanced Estimating Seminars. Bell is Director of Estimating with Allegheny Millwork & Lumber of Lawrence, Pa.

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