[the following article is an excerpt from CanSIA's SOLutions magazine]
By Lia Van Baalen
This spring, Emerging Leaders in Solar Energy (ELSE) will launch Canada’s first mentorship program for the solar energy industry.
Targeting students, recent graduates and young professionals less than 35 years of age, the program will match mentees with two experienced industry professionals for one-hour, in-person sessions. The ELSE program was modelled after a successful commercial real estate mentorship program which encourages pairs to develop diverse, casual mentoring relationships with minimal time commitments for mentors.
“My co-chair Lia and I were looking for ways to better serve ELSE members and to truly add value to their professional development efforts,” said outgoing ELSE Co-chair Jonathan Frank. “And on a broader scale, I felt that a mentorship program was a critical step in the maturation of the Canadian solar industry.”
John Gorman, President and CEO of CanSIA, notes that the industry’s reaction to the mentorship program has been overwhelmingly positive. “ELSE continues to design and implement programs and initiatives that are of tremendous value to the industry. Every member of CanSIA’s Board of Directors signed up on the spot,” said Gorman. “It’s another example of the vibrancy of the solar industry as represented by our emerging leaders.”
Mentorship programs provide a valuable connection between current industry practitioners and emerging leaders, said Victoria Alleyne, Project Manager for CSA Group and volunteer with Career Skills Incubator’s mentorship program. Alleyne noted that at solar conferences and events she has seen colleagues of different generations often interacting separately and not mingling with other groups. “Having a mentorship program can bridge the divide,” she said.
Maged Sami Abdelmalek, Project Coordinator at CarbonFree Technology, believes that sharing lessons-learned would benefit everyone in Canada’s still-developing solar industry. “It’s likely to move the whole industry forward,” Abdelmalek said. “In its simplest form, being able to share knowledge from one entity to the other — whether that’s company to company or individual to individual — it spares someone from making the same mistakes, or trying to find a solution when one already exists.”
Personally, Abdelmalek attributes his current solar career path to his undergraduate mentor, the Vice-President of technology at CarbonFree Technology. “I originally thought I’d be a solar designer or something along those lines,” he said. But when his mentor began describing his role and interests, which included analyzing project development risks, forecasting, and financing, Abdelmalek’s interest was piqued. “It clicked that this might be something I would find a lot more engaging than just pure engineering design.”
Now a young professional in a mentee position, Abdelmalek’s goals for his mentoring relationship have changed. “As a student, what I was looking for was more focused: help and guidance honing in on what I would like to be doing and what opportunities existed,” he said. This time, he would like to gain exposure to different areas of the industry and work with a mentor who can help him set goals and create a plan to achieve them. “I would like to get advice from someone who has been through the career path that I have planned for myself. They know what the shortest route to a certain outcome is.”
For Alleyne, a mentor would help shed light on behind-the-scenes industry activity, as solar is only one of the types of renewable energy technologies that she works with. “Everyone knows about the standard aspects of the PV industry,” she said. “It’s really nice to develop a relationship where you can discuss informal things that are very valuable to hear, and learn what lies between the lines of public information.”
Volunteering to be a mentor is more than just a way to give back for Ron Mantay, Vice-President of Engineering and Construction at PowerStream. “The satisfaction of helping the mentee is, for me at least, a big part of it…and the fun, fresh viewpoints from a young person as well,” he said.
Mantay looks at three benefits that anyone, regardless of their stage of life, can take advantage of by participating in a mentorship program: diversity, experience and networks. Mentorship, he said, is a two-way exchange from diverse viewpoints that can lead to better and faster idea generation, innovation and actions. The mentees can also benefit from their mentor’s complementary experience and the increased opportunities that their broader network can provide.
And mentorship meetings can be more than just career discussions. “A mentor and a mentee, when they interact, need to feel that the status quo really should be challenged,” Mantay said. “We often feel that we can’t change things, but I think that we need to believe that they can, and in many cases should, be changed.” To date, more than 70 individuals have pre-registered to become mentors and mentees. To learn more about the program or to sign up, visit