Back in September I spent some time with small business owners in the marine sector in the south west who had taken on apprentices. We spent a day exploring the skills and knowledge needed for them to provide mentoring support in their places of work. They also needed to work out how they would introduce mentoring and make it fit with college work, assessment and in work support alongside supervision and line management.
Employers providing apprenticeship places are required to provide mentoring and not all businesses are large enough to have different staff or managers taking on these different roles. So one of the challenges to resolve was being able to both manage and direct the apprentice as well as mentor and support them.
Yesterday I caught up with the delegates, three months on, to find out how they had been getting on and review the successes (and failures) and, hopefully, understand how mentoring was working. First off we re-engaged with mentoring. I asked everyone to sum up using 5 words what mentoring was to them three months on. Here's a taste -
"listening, leadership, vision, progress, positive, praise, support, help, approachable, future, encouragement, reward, communication, informational, flexible".
What we found out together as we used the words to broaden our review and discussion were four mantras for mentoring (these are the words of the delegates, not me):
- If you know, they can know. The act of bringing experiences, knowledge and skills and using it to guide and support apprentices has been important and a key point in success. This is what those who attended regard as informational.
- It's a conversation. In their words "you grab a chair, communicate and they are involved".
- Potential is discovered. Having mentoring conversations unlocks attitude, and an eye for the future, not just in achieving a successful apprenticeship but a whole potential career.
- They bring you what to listen to. Being flexible when using mentoring skills pays off as listening and focusing on the apprentice's issues and challenges works best. Listening and flexibility mean you enable the apprentice to solve things for themselves.
What this confirmed to us was that learning to mentor and trying it out was beneficial to both the business owner and the apprentice, and that even with small amounts of time available with their apprentice, using a mentoring approach was given a big thumbs up. Once it had been tried, this gave those doing the mentoring more confidence to keep going.
In one case, the business owners decided to adopt the approach widely in the business. This value was to them:
- an increase in staff engagement
- understanding of the culture and vision for the business, and
- a turn around for an employee in attitude and commitment to their job.
This is a small case study of a small set of businesses, not a number busting research project. It is good news nonetheless. Mentoring approaches pay off. Time and again they give value to the mentor as well as the mentee - in this case apprentices - and have wider business benefits.
As the drive in the UK to create more apprenticeship places continues, I recommend anyone taking on an apprentice takes the time to:
- Configure mentoring into your employment support processes for all your apprentices
- Truly understand what mentoring is in practice and how it is different from supervision, line management and advice giving
- Provide training in mentoring skills to those who will be supporting or managing apprentices so you know what it is (and what it's not)
- Be very clear from the start what the college learning programme is and what they should be learning in the workplace so you can tailor training, mentoring and supervision correctly. They are all different activities requiring different skills and knowledge sets.
- Apply the four mantras of mentoring -
It's a conversation.
If you know, they can know.
Potential will be discovered.
They bring what you must listen to.
I provide mentor skills training in collaboration with the SFEDI Group and the IOEE, and also with Apprenticemakers. Get in touch if you are interested.