How the ‘Teach to Work’ Mentorship Program is Equipping the Next Generation of Construction Professionals

by Emily Langner

Patty Alper is passionate about the impact of mentoring. After 23 years mentoring young people, the founder of the Teach to Work program, and author of the book, Teach to Work: How a Mentor, a Mentee, and a Project Can Close the Skills Gap in America, has an ambitious goal: to bring experience-based learning to colleges and technical schools all over the country, a model she has trademarked “Project-based Mentoring.”

Alper says that over time, traditional education has begun to focus less on the concrete skills needed to succeed in a particular career, with the primary focus being on in-classroom instruction and testing. She explains, “Students are not taught in school how to get things done.” She says that when students are provided with the necessary skills to survive and thrive in their chosen career path, they can enter the workforce with a sense of confidence and the experience to solve real-world problems, putting them one step closer to becoming the leaders of tomorrow.

Through the Teach to Work program, Alper assists schools in implementing mentorships to enrich their current programs in two ways: as a consultant and as a grantor through the Alper Family Foundation. Schools then partner with outside firms to pair students with a professional in their field, giving them a unique opportunity to lead a project from start to finish with support from their mentor. With the mentor acting as a guide, the student has the opportunity to take ownership of a project and experience real-world scenarios that prepare them for the world they will be entering after graduation.

Alper is currently partnering with six institutions of higher education on pilot programs, including one with Benjamin Franklin Cummings Institute of Technology (commonly known as Franklin Cummings Tech) in Boston. Dr. Eliza Wilson, gift officer at Franklin Cummings Tech, is heading up the second year of the school’s pilot program. “What’s incredible about Patty’s method is that it is a recipe for success – if you’re looking to influence the next generation of learners going to highly-skilled technical fields, you want to give them a breadth and depth of highly-skilled mentoring and training and preparation for these leadership roles, and that’s exactly the aim of Patty’s project-based mentoring approach,” she says. Wilson adds that one of the goals of the pilot program at Franklin Cummings Tech is to increase the network of mentors available to students at the college.

Eliezer Laforest (l) and Sean Kelly-Rand

Through Franklin Cummings Tech’s program, Sean Kelly-Rand, managing partner at RD Advisors, is serving as a mentor for Eliezer Laforest, a construction management major at the college. Kelly-Rand says the greatest advantage of serving as a mentor is to be able to provide students with concrete options for what career paths are available to them. He feels it’s most important to “give students the options, show them the different paths, and give them the steps to get there.”

Laforest, who aspires to be a successful real estate developer, says “RD Advisors taught me that having great communication skills, a positive mind for leadership, and great office-based technical skills will help you succeed in the industry.” He adds, “Since I started at RD Advisors, I’ve been able to sharpen these skills every day, in and out of the office.”

As the architecture, engineering, and construction industries continue to be affected by a significant workforce shortage, the need for knowledgeable and experienced workers entering the industry is important in ensuring vital roles are being filled. For that reason, Alper’s goal is to see mentorships incorporated as a regular part of the educational experience. She says the mentorships are “a win for companies to give back and build their pipeline, a win for retirees who want to share their expertise with the next generation, and a win for the students, who are then better prepared to enter the workforce armed with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed.”

Emily Langner is editor at High-Profile Monthly.