ITP Award Winners - Sally Wells Associates / Arup
Can you tell us about your career background?
My first experience as an engineer was a gap year placement at Arup in 1992 between A-Levels and University. Following my degree in Electrical & Electronic Engineering at the University of Bath I rejoined Arup as a Graduate IT & Communications Consultant in September 1997.
During my early career I designed IT and telecommunications systems for projects ranging from arts venues to corporate headquarters buildings. Since the mid 2000s my career has been focused on transport and more specifically rail projects. I am currently the leader of a team of rail telecoms engineers based in London.
Were you ever mentored?
Yes. Mentoring is well established at Arup as part of development towards professional qualifications. I was assigned a formal mentor when I joined to support me through my early career development and with my application for Chartered Engineer (CEng) with the Institution of Engineering & Technology (IET).
I found this very helpful so at various stages of my career I have sought out mentors to provide me with developmental help and advice. The best mentors have created a supportive and challenging environment through which I’ve been able to explore and develop my potential. They have provided counsel and advice, shared wisdom gained through their own experiences and provided a different perspective on issues I’ve been facing.
What drove you to become a mentor?
Giving back to the organisation and seeking to be of help to your colleagues is part of Arup’s DNA. Mentoring achieves both of these goals. For me, once I had become Chartered myself it was a natural step to become a mentor to junior staff and help them on their early career journeys.
How long have you been mentoring?
I think I took on my first formal mentee in 2005. Since then I have mentored many junior staff through their early career development, to professional qualification and beyond. I have also mentored other colleagues, in some cases older than me, who have wanted support in gaining professional qualifications such as Incorporated or Chartered Engineer (IEng/CEng).
What do you get from it?
Being a mentor has given me the opportunity to share my experience and in doing so has increased my confidence about my own knowledge. It has helped me to develop skills and understanding as part of my own personal and professional development and offered me new perspectives and personal challenge. It has helped me to understand the aspiration of others and widen my professional and personal networks. There is a sense of personal satisfaction when you see people you work with doing well and stretching themselves. I am also proud to see some of my mentees become mentors themselves.
Do you ever experience reverse mentoring (where you are receiving as much value from the experience as the mentee is?)
I would definitely say that there have been times I have benefited from a reverse mentoring effect. Whether it has been around learning new digital skills from my mentees or gaining an appreciation of the pressures and challenges facing millennials and being able to use this knowledge to adapt my approach to those I line manage. The confidential nature of a mentor/mentee relationship has allowed honest sharing of experiences and feedback and this works both ways.
How do you see mentoring helping young professionals?
I see mentoring as allowing young professionals to improve their communication skills, practise accepting feedback and learn how to maintain a professional relationship with someone. Mentoring is not passive and it won’t provide all the answers. But it should provide an alternative view and help mentees see themselves through a different lens and explore their options in a safe environment.
What advice would you give your peers who may be considering mentoring?
My advice would be that if you are genuinely interested then go for it! Many employers run their own mentoring schemes and are often looking for more volunteers. Alternatively contact your professional institution such as the ITP or the IET or organisations such as AfBE-UK or the Social Mobility Foundation who can link up mentors and mentees (and often offer free training and support).
My other bit of advice would be that it is important that the relationship works well and so don’t be afraid to call the end to a mentoring relationship if it is not working or has run its course and it is time for a change.
How did you feel about winning the ITP Mentor of the Year Award?
When I read the nominations from my mentees Rashmi Narayanan-Kannankutty and Victoria Aviomoh I felt incredibly humbled. I am not sure I had realised that my impact had been wider than just as mentor – but that I have a role as friend, confidant, and role-model providing both support and challenge, professionally and personally. Winning the award made me reflect and feel grateful for those who have mentored me on my journey and it has inspired me to continue as a mentor. In addition Rashmi and I enjoyed attending the awards evening and networking with the rest of the industry.
What would you say to others considering entering the ITP Awards? Did you find the process easy and what do your employers think about your success?
I would encourage people to nominate colleagues for ITP Awards if they meet the criteria. The entry process was simple – with a relatively short and straight forward form to complete when compared with some other awards! Sue Langridge and her team prepared the finalists well for the awards evening which allowed us to relax and enjoy the event with minimal anxiety about what would be happening next. And the ITP were kind enough to provide banners to finalists and winners to add to our email signatures. My employer and colleagues have been incredibly supportive and keen to congratulate me publicly.