Mentor New Hires to Teach Your Values

James Simmons 2019 Summer

New hires see most Dirty Dozen problems on Day 1.

Such a bold statement for a subtitle of an article. Or is it?

The first impression when a technician is introduced to the hangar floor or work area is one of the most influential times for that new hire. Within the first few hours, he or she receives a strong impression of your organization, including the good, the bad, and the ugly. Unfortunately, some of what they learn may not be what you planned on teaching them. The fact is, several of the Dirty Dozen human factors that lead to aviation maintenance mistakes may be present.

What might that new hire see? Fellow technicians on the floor not following procedure (norms). Confusion over a logbook entry (lack of communication). Wide­spread use of cell phones (distraction). Rushed inspections and sign-offs (complacency). And on and on.

This is not a far-fetched fairy tale that exists in a maintenance area far, far away. It is a reality that affects organizations every day, during every maintenance task and operation. We would all love to say that no Dirty Dozen factors exist in our shop, but in reality, they can show up regularly. (That’s why they’re called human factors—because as humans we are all prone to them.)

How can your organization ensure that a new technician will learn good habits? Is there a way to effectively communicate your organizational values? The solution is simple: a maintenance mentor program.

There may be a significant amount of time between hiring and indoctrination training or orientation within an organization. It is not uncommon for a new-hire technician to feel nervous, intimidated, inexperienced, lost, nonproductive, and more of a liability than an asset. He or she may become confused, surrounded by contradictions of policies versus real-world procedures. They may not stay long with you or worse, they may become the kind of employee you don’t want to keep. Eliminate this unnecessary risk by focusing on the root cause.

Providing a maintenance mentor for new hires gives that new technician an anchor, someone to turn to with questions. Choose a representative who can indoctrinate a new hire into your safety culture starting on Day 1, someone who will lead a new technician toward your organization’s ideal values, policies, and procedures.

Another advantage of a maintenance mentor is that it gives the new technician an assigned point of contact who is available for him or her during the entire shift. This dedicated one-on-one approach opens communication between the new hire and the mentor at the peer level, giving the new technician a feeling of being welcome and the ability to ask questions and get correct procedural answers. No longer feeling lost or uncertain, the technician’s confidence and trust in the organization grows. And in today’s tight labor market, increasing the retention of new employees is an added value.

The maintenance mentor communicates ideal organizational values by demonstrating the right and positive responses to Dirty Dozen situations. The mentor teaches new hires in the best way possible: by modeling desired behaviors and attitudes while tending to actual shop-floor conditions and tasks.

These practical examples endow the new technician with the capacity to assess a current task or operation and the internal compass to understand that it is not OK to submit to external or internal pressures. He or she will recognize potential risk or hazards, communicate by asking questions, and get reassurances that communication is open and received. The mentor assists the technician in mitigating risks or triggering corrective recommendations before work resumes. All this helps the organization to prevent costly mistakes, while also helping the new hire to grow and develop.

Before using maintenance mentors in your organization, make sure you structure it as a program, with clear definitions of how the mentoring is to be done, by whom, when, and using what resources. At a minimum, there should be an outlined objective for the program, providing both the mentor and new technician with a view of the path ahead. To simply assign a mentor with little guidance and no details of the expected outcome is a waste of time. Organizations should also be open to receiving feedback by mentors and mentees and using those comments to improve the program.

A maintenance mentor program is not a replacement for indoctrination or on-the-job training. But it provides organizations with another way to ensure that new hires are learning the right stuff.

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