Graham Ballinger is a retired engineering manager with a background in mechanical and production engineering. A long-time member of both the IET and the IMechE, he is passionate about engineering and continues to be actively involved in the community.
“I’m now retired from full-time employment but I’m still a director of a limited company and I volunteer for both professional institutions,” he says. “At the IET I mentor other engineers looking to work towards Professional Registration, while at the IMechE I’m a member of the Professional Review Committee.”
Graham was inspired to become an engineer because he wanted to understand why things were designed in certain ways and also how they were produced. He began his career as a toolmaker, over the years gaining experience and qualifications and working his way up the professional ladder.
He became a member of the professional engineering institutions (PEIs) back in the 1980s through his work, and over the years his involvement has grown.
Discovering mentoring for the IET
He first came across mentoring when the IET (at the time known as the Institute of Electrical Engineers – IEE) approached him about offering support to a fellow engineer who lived nearby.
“They wrote to me saying they’d had an application for Professional Registration from someone who lived in a village near me and asked if I would be willing to give him some advice,” Graham says. “That’s how it all started; it wasn’t a formal mentoring set up, but I got together with him, shared my advice and he went on to become a Chartered Engineer (CEng),” he says proudly.
Graham enjoyed the experience of giving back and has continued to mentor ever since. “I’ve never said no to taking on a mentee throughout my working life. I’ve been in the lucky position of being able to help,” he enthuses. “If anybody wants to know anything, I’m more than happy to tell them!”
What’s it like to be a mentor?
So, what does being an IET mentor actually entail?
For Graham it’s all about learning about your mentee and their experiences to date. By doing so he can then understand what criteria they already meet in regards to their Professional Registration goal and the areas where work is needed. He offers guidance on the ways a mentee can meet the Engineering Council competences necessary to achieve Professional Registration, in addition to providing advice on completing their application and interview.
Their interactions are quite relaxed, with Graham often picking a local pub or coffee house to meet for a drink and a chat. Now, of course, the meet-ups are virtual due to covid-19, but that aside the mentor/mentee relationship is the same.
“We meet up for a chat and I’ll get them to tell me about what they’re doing and their everyday lives. This way I get to understand what they’re currently up and what they want to achieve.
“What constitutes a good mentor? Being a good listener with an open mind. The most challenging aspect I’ve found is sometimes maintaining a mentee’s commitment to what can be a long process,” he notes.
Why become a mentor?
There’s no financial benefit to becoming a mentor, so what does Graham gain from the experience?
“The idea of helping someone along and guiding them is enough of a benefit for me,” he says. “It’s a nice thing to do.
“Although I was never formally mentored during my career, I worked with skilled engineers who were always willing to help me, and it’s great to give back. Plus, there’s a buzz every time you see something you’ve said really register with them,” he enthuses.
A way to stay connected
Even after his retirement at 65, Graham chose to continue volunteering for both the IET and IMechE. He found this was a great way to continue to stay connected with the engineering profession and meet different engineers. Now 71, he has no immediate plans to slow down.
“The range of people you meet varies enormously – it’s very interesting. I want to stay connected to the profession for as long as possible and this is a great way to do so. I plan to keep on mentoring certainly for at least the next four to five years. I don’t see any reason to stop – if someone wants my advice, I’ll give it.
“If you’ve got knowledge that can help other people why not share it? It’s the only way society benefits and grows,” he concludes.