This pair proves that whether you’re the mentor or the mentee, everyone has something to gain from mentoring.
A young engineer can sometimes be daunted in their first days in a job, unsure of how the organisation works, what is expected of them and who they can turn to for assistance. Many organisations have mentoring programs to help guide people through this process. But mentoring isn’t just for new engineers – everyone needs someone to turn to at some time or other.
Melanie Collett is AECOM’s technical practice lead for water resources in the Australian/New Zealand region. Monishaa Prasad is a floodplain engineer with Rockhampton Regional Council, a role that involves developing and expanding the Council’s floodplain management strategy.
“I had followed Melanie’s career trajectory for a number of years,” Prasad said.
“I felt nervous about approaching her as I thought it would be too forward to ask for mentorship, given her expertise and seniority in the water resources sector.
“Luckily for me, Melanie was in Rockhampton for a workshop presentation for a project AECOM completed for Rockhampton Regional Council, so I got to know her and found her to be very easy to talk to.
“After asking her advice on how best to sort through some of the aspects I was struggling with, she gave me a knowing smile and said she could relate and suggested ongoing communication with her. Within that quick five-minute chat after the workshop, I knew I had found my engineering mentor.”
Collett said the fact that she is based in Melbourne and Prasad in Rockhampton means their meetings tend to be somewhat ad hoc.
“I try to catch up for a coffee and a chat when I’m in Rockhampton, which is every few months or so,” she said.
“We have similar technical backgrounds, which is how we met, so if I see an interesting article or an interesting idea, I’ll send it through to her and vice versa. The career chats we have are when we’re one on one. You need to be face to face to have conversations about what it’s like to be a female in the industry, or working in remote areas and the sorts of challenges that she’s faced.”
Prasad said she has gained valuable insights on approaching certain issues within the workplace, such as introducing new processes. But the conversation can go down other paths which can be just as enlightening.
“My mentoring experience with Melanie has been invaluable and transformative,” she said.
“She makes time in her busy schedule to provide me with constructive feedback and sound advice. I also get to bounce ideas and gain clarity from someone who has jumped through all the hoops and reached the pinnacle of my chosen career path.”
Collett said she has been involved in mentoring in some capacity at AECOM since she started there about 10 years ago.
“I think I fell into the role with different situations where people started seeking out advice,” she said.
“Everyone needs mentors. I have a couple of unofficial mentors in the business and I get different things out of the chats I have with each person. I think it’s important to have a range of people that you connect with to give you those different skills rather than just one mentor because no one person can teach you everything that you need to learn.”
Prasad said she is interested in getting into mentoring herself and is currently working with two graduate engineers.
“It is interesting to see them experience similar issues to those I had in my initial years but, with the benefit of experience, I am able to put myself in their shoes and talk them through some of their concerns,” she said.
And for people looking to get advice from a mentor, she said, don’t be afraid to approach your industry hero for advice.
Collett’s advice for mentors is to be willing to listen and find people that you connect with.
“I think you’ve just got to try it and see if it works and don’t force it because if you force it, you’re not going to achieve what you want out of it, which is to learn together,” she said.
And there’s no reason they have to work in the same organisation or even the same state, as she and Prasad have shown.