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Where to find a mentor

Where to find a mentor

Where to find a mentor

Good day,

I'm about to get my Professional Engineer designation in Canada and thinking of opening structural engineering consulting firm. I have only 2 years of structural design experience but looking at work of other engineers I feel pretty confident about my skills. I do realize I luck the experience and therefore I was thinking of hiring a mentor who could review my work once in a while and who can point me in right direction when needed. One thing I'm not sure is where to find him/her. I guess the perfect mentor would be a recently retired engineer who wouldn't mind spending few hours here and there. This website doesn't allow recruitment posts so I can't post my ad here. Does anyone have any ideas where I can try to find a mentor?


RE: Where to find a mentor

Hello; welcome to Eng-Tips.

I think you're missing something obvious: You are getting your PE without ever reading your province's PE website? There's a link to mentoring. On all 10. Probably on the homepage.

You may have some reluctance to accept just "any" engineering mentor, and you may have your reasons, but allow me to say this: You may want business advice, career advice, legal advice, technical advice, or something else from this mentor, but it's not fair to expect all of the above from any, even the "best" candidate you might find. How long do you want to delay your career plans while you search for that ideal mentor?

Something else nags at me about the role you expect your mentor to play. Took me a while to figure it out... Are you sure you aren't looking for a "Partner"?
If, for example, you approached me to be your mentor, I think I might turn you down, given the responsibilities you just described. Part of the problem is the money you are offering. As soon as I accept money for my technical service, I stop being a mentor, I become a consultant. Now I have legal responsibility and liability. My interaction with you then needs to be formal.
I might be more likely to consider your offer, however, if I could get some skin in the game, or a share of the proceeds from the work that corresponds to the burden.


RE: Where to find a mentor

If you feel you need a mentor to review your work specifically then I would have a hard time believing you are ready to work on your own. Every individual is different of course so not judging. If you are after someone to review your work for correctness, that's not really mentoring in my opinion, its something else as SparWeb eluded to.

Its just I think most engineers would have a lot more experience under their belt and have been around the block once or twice (so to speak) before even considering opening their own business. As an employee of a company as proposed, I think people would struggle with the potential inexperience of those further up the food chain. I guess it would be quite a unique dynamic.

Did you do something before the two years structural, or just 2 years experience straight out of college/university as 2 years to get PE sounds kind of short?

Like another discipline for example? Someone you worked with previously for example (even if in a different field) might be suitable for the career/business advice side of mentoring. Do you know anyone like that perhaps that you could approach?

RE: Where to find a mentor

Not to rain on your parade, but I hope you already have some serious clients lined up. If you don't, I'd seriously reconsider branching out on your own this early. It's really hard to drum up work in general, nearly impossible when you've got such little experience to sell.

Being a better engineer than someone with more experience is one thing. Actually bringing in work is totally different.

RE: Where to find a mentor

Perhaps some cold water in the face, but...

I would ask about years of experience before handing someone a project, particularly one that needs seals... and if someone told me they had only two years, I would politely thank them, collect my things, and get out as fast as possible. Two years experience isn't even close to knowing enough to do it on your own, and certainly not with a more experienced person who has skin in the game looking it over.

Dan - Owner

RE: Where to find a mentor

Thank you everyone for your replies - they made me think of things I haven't considered before. Ideally I'm looking for more experienced partner but I doubt it's possible for me to find one at this stage. Important thing is I need someone to look at my work and tell me if my details and design solutions are in alignment with industry practice and someone who I can bounce the ideas off of. Also, everyone makes mistakes so it would be nice to have someone do a peer review of my design. Based on my experience, I haven't done any big mistakes but it's better to be safe than sorry. Mentoring would be limited to technical areas only. I realize it would be hard to find someone like that to do that kind of work for free and that's why I would be willing to pay for such services. As per SparWeb, maybe I should be looking for a consultant who would be willing to do that kind of work - this creates question if I can find one and where.

To answer some of your questions, in addition to my 2 years of structural design experience, I have around 4-5 years of project management / field engineering experience from contractor's, owner's, property developer's and consultant's perspectives. I am well familiar with construction project completion mechanics in Canada. Regarding the clients, I have an opportunity to work for an architect as PM who would also feed me with structural work. If that doesn't work out, I would start with residential and small commercial jobs, shop drawings certification etc. I understand it will take time but I'm not in a hurry.

RE: Where to find a mentor

This reminds me of that xzibit meme. "Yo Dawg, we heard you like consultants so we got your consultant a consultant."

RE: Where to find a mentor

drongomaster, perhaps check the regulations in the Province you wish to work. I could be wrong, however I believe that you need 5 years experience as a certified P.Eng. before being allowed to apply for a Certificate of Authorization, which you will need to legally open your engineering company. You will need even more experience to add the 'Consulting' designation.

RE: Where to find a mentor

You might try to find an older engineer who is planning to retire, work for him/her and buy the business out. Then keep the retired engineer on retainer to the extent possible to review your work for a few more years. This way you could have several more years of experience. I think working for a bigger firm for a while (more than 2 years) would probably be better for you in the long term in getting project exposure and see the inner workings of established best practices(both engineering and business). Good luck whichever way you go.

RE: Where to find a mentor

I'll go against the grain here and offer my own opinion.

Without knowing the depth of your expertise, or what you work in, from your comments I think you might be well suited to venture out on your own. You sound like you are a bit scared of your own stamp, which is a good thing. I have met way too many engineers who "know it all"

Suggest working on projects that are small and limited risk in nature. There are plenty of items that need sign off structurally that are low risk: secondary structural elements comes to mind. I know a few engineers that do nothing except for sign off on seismic restraint of hot water tanks/ HVAC units/ T bar ceilings. Not rocket science.

Know your limits, and don't sign off on things you aren't familiar with. Even the things you are familiar with, have someone give them a second look. especially to start, you will need lots of peer review. Don't try to cheap out on expertise if you are lacking it.

Too many engineers are too conservative about going on their own. You can always hire knowledge. hell, I know a few structural engineering companies in my area that are owned by non-engineers. No reason you couldn't do the same.

RE: Where to find a mentor

Quote (drongomaster)

Based on my experience, I haven't done any big mistakes but it's better to be safe than sorry.
Without deep experience, how would you know if you had made any mistakes? This sounds a bit too cart-leading-horse scenario. Your cautiousness is a good attitude, but you also seem to be throwing it to the wind. Experience may come from doing, but if no one else is looking, it's only experience when what you've done fails... probably not a position you want to find yourself in (or put someone else in).

Dan - Owner

RE: Where to find a mentor

How do you know if you make a mistake even if you have deep experience, lol? It is the nature of mistakes that we don't know we are making them...when we are making them.

I would also caution that taking on smaller jobs does not necessarily mean less risk. Possibly less risk in terms of life-heath-safety, but the sandbox with small homeowner projects, for example, is far more littered with lawsuits than the sandbox with commercial projects. A homeowner is far more likely to be sensitive to little flaws in design/construction than commercial building owners and their tenants. Small projects also run a higher risk of having unqualified contractors or other parties involved. While the lawsuits may not be as significant in the smaller projects, RELATIVE to bigger projects, they can still wipe your business out.

RE: Where to find a mentor

Thank you for all your replies once again. This topic wasn't about whether I should start a firm or not. I have made my decision before coming here. I am also an adult human being and understand all the risks and responsibilities associated with this endaevour.

I will keep looking for a mentor as was discussed previously. If anyone knows where to find one, I would appreaciate you letting me know.

Have a nice day!

RE: Where to find a mentor

Okay, then back to my first suggestion: have you tried your local province's professional engineering organization?
I do not know why you haven't responded to this suggestion. The reason is probably a good one, may illuminate the rest of us to your needs.
Have you approached them? What was their response?

If I may go out on a limb, I think you have tried but were refused, which is not a surprise. The typical "mentorship" offered by these organizations is NOT remunerated and NEVER technically specific. So I don't believe that what you're looking for is a mentor at all. Until you determine what the real relationship you're looking for actually is, and how it will be beneficial to both parties, you won't get far with this idea.


RE: Where to find a mentor

I'm in a similar position as OP. I'm just about to get my P.Eng. I work at a manufacturing plant's in-house design firm. Once I do become a P.Eng, my manager (not a P.Eng) has expressed that he'd like to start offering engineering services to our client and potentially outside clients as well. This seems a little overwhelming to me, which is why I thought getting a mentor would be good.

I've looked into it a little... PEO doesn't have a formal mentorship program. OSPE (Ontario Society of Professional Engineers) has a mentorship program but it looks like it's for women only. So I'm pretty sure it's left up to the individual PEO chapters. I'm considering getting involved in my local chapter to network and what not.

RE: Where to find a mentor

If you're seeking out a mentor the best way to find one is likely through networking. Get involved with the local ACI MB chapter and attend the dinner meetings. There's a wide range of professionals there that may know someone who is recently retired and looking for an opportunity to help someone in your position. I imagine there are other technical groups that meet in the city as well. You may also be able to talk to the local plans examiners or city engineers to see who typically see stamped drawings from smaller design firms (1-2 person companies). I guess you would technically be their competition but maybe they know of some people who could help you.

RE: Where to find a mentor

The licensing board in my state maintains a website listing all licensees and their contact information. There is a class of license designated as "retired." If your board maintains something similar, it might be a good place to look.

Regarding the comments about striking out on your own with your admitted lack of experience, I would like to point out that if you are allowed by law to do this and you are truly not ready, there is a severe problem with how your province discerns the qualifications for licensure. You are asking for a mentor, but I guarantee there are those out there not doing the soul searching you are and that is pretty scary.

On the other hand, maybe you are underestimating yourself and underselling your experience. If you have been designated a professional engineer by an objective evaluation of your qualifications you should have the confidence that you are ready; not by your own evaluation, but by a regulating board. In light of this, maybe you could approach the issue as seeking peer review, which is commendable no matter how much experience you may have.

Aside from the technical, I have seen a lot of positive advice about seeking a mentor on the business side of things.

I used to count sand. Now I don't count at all.

RE: Where to find a mentor


If you are where I think you're from, central prairies, specifically Winnipeg, I must caution you that without a fair amount of clients lined up already you may spend some time quite hungry for work. There are enough smaller structural firms around here (I used to work for one, now I work for a significantly bigger fish in the structural pond) that the market is reasonably serviced. Especially for one man show type operations.

RE: Where to find a mentor

jayrod12 sounds like mentor material.

I used to count sand. Now I don't count at all.

RE: Where to find a mentor

Quote (SandCounter)

jayrod12 sounds like mentor material.

Thanks, but I'm still wet behind the ears by most people's standards, i.e. there's still a 3 for the first digit of my age.

Not to mention 2 kids under 5 and a house in a continual state of renovation. Where does someone find the time......

RE: Where to find a mentor

Here's what we know:

1) You work in Canada
2) You are about to get your professional engineering LICENSE- it's a license, not a "designation"
3) Everywhere in Canada, it takes four years of mentored work experience in engineering at minimum to obtain a P.Eng. license
4) You have two years of structural design experience
5) Generally a P.Eng. license is insufficient here for a candidate to become a sole proprietor or corporation offering professional engineering services to the public. A 2nd license is required, which in Ontario is called a Certificate of Authorization

By simple math, you must have at least 2 years of engineering experience not related to structural engineering.

Letting us know your age and how many years of non-structural engineering experience you actually have would be helpful if we were to provide you with advice.

If in fact you only have two years of other experience and are just now meeting the experience requirement for your P.Eng. license, you are far too young to be seeking clients on your own as a full time business. You can try, but the likelihood of failure is very high indeed. I'd suggest to you that you need 10 yrs or more of relevant work experience before you can realistically consider hanging out your own shingle to sell your services directly to the public. Unless you already have a more or less captive client lined up, i.e. a family member who can and will feed you enough business to keep you fed, success seems unlikely at best.

The other hurdle would be insurance. I'd have that well nailed down before proceeding.

Most people work for a while (4-6 yrs) after gaining their license, gain mentorship from others working for their employer, build a network in the industry, gain the trust of a client base, and then venture out. It's done that way for good reasons.

RE: Where to find a mentor

Depending on where you live - in Saskatchewan you need permission to consult in order to offer consulting services, but only firms of two engineers or more need the CoA.

RE: Where to find a mentor

Beside the 2 years of structural design experience I have around 5 years of project management experience from owner's, contractor's, developer's and consultant's perspectives and I am well familiar with construction project completion particulars in Canada. Also, Im 30 yo.

My province (MB) does not require any additional experience to obtain certificate of authorization. Regarding the e&o insurance I was preapproved few months ago - one condition is that I can't work on condos.

I think the best option would be reaching to association and seeking a mentor through them. Information they have on their website is more for students and interns.

Jayrod12, how did you figure Im from Winnipeg?

RE: Where to find a mentor

In everyone's profile when you click on it, there's a little bit at the end of the blurb that has province and country, or state and country as applicable. Yours (and mine) say (MB, CA)

RE: Where to find a mentor

While I applaud your enthusiasm and eagerness, if I was one of your clients, I would not have a warm fuzzy feeling about the owner of a consulting firm who was looking for a mentor.

RE: Where to find a mentor

Just do it and go for it!

I was in a similar situation a few years back and I am glad I took the leap of faith. It is not easy and you will find yourself working insane amount of hours but in my opinion the pros outweigh the cons. Its good that you have construction experience as this will help you with the big picture of things as it did with me but make sure you stick with projects you have experience in. When I was building I was working mostly with CMU/wood and this is where a majority of my design experience is in as well. The projects I get opportunities on outside the bulk of my experience I usually pass on or make sure there is enough time in the budget to brush up on things. I stick to mostly the smaller projects(residential mostly, some site specific engineering, and very small commercial)that I have most of my experience in but I do take on the occasional project that will challenge me. When I do come across something challenging for me I jump into the books, old notes, come on this forum, or reach out to some other colleagues. Another option you might look into are those freelance websites(upwork, elance ect.) I had a colleague find a PE on one of those sites help him with some design work he needed some expertise on and I think it worked out ok for him...just a thought.

Another huge thing to consider is how you are going to get clients and pay the bills until you get some momentum. Right now we are fortunate to have an excessive amount of work coming in but I know it is only a cycle and times will change. If you cant get work there is no need for a mentor.... You are no longer just an engineer pumping out designs, you now have to run a business or at least until you can hire someone to do one or the other. Good luck!

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