Mentoring Works – for 20 years

 In Blog, CEO's blog, Education

What were you doing 20 years ago? The Spice Girls had their first hit, Dolly the Sheep was created, and just like this year, there was a Clinton fighting for the White House. The internet was still in its infancy, and just 4% of UK population had internet access, and there were of course no smart phones or tablets. It was the year EBAY started and a low point in Team GB Olympic achievement – just one gold medal, eight silvers and six bronzes.

Well times change in some ways, but in others they don’t. This week we celebrate 20 years of the ELBA Mentoring Works programme. Since 2016, 5,000 school students have been supported by business mentors to help them make sense of career options, develop their confidence and to increase their employability skills. It has been a fantastic sustained commitment from ELBA and BIG Alliance members and we pay tribute to them at our celebration event on the 19th October.

We are also bringing together businesses, academics and experts to look at the future of mentoring. The Government has announced a target of a 1million new mentors by 2020, and it is good to think that many more young people will get the benefit of a business mentor. We will be asking three important questions to help make sure the roll-out of mentoring is meaningful and has impact rather than just being a gimmick. Firstly, what is the true value of mentoring, how can impact be maximised? The Mentoring Works programme involves the input of the mentor for at least two terms, preferably three, and we find that it has most impact in Year 10 or Year 12, when young people are making critical decisions about their future. It also appears to be most effective with young people who lack the family and social networks that many of us take for granted. Recent research shows that mentoring also has most impact when it is integrated into a sustained programme of meaningful input from business, including work experience, careers insights, and employability training.

Secondly, what is the business case for mentoring? We need to answer this if we are to find new business mentors in sufficient numbers to meet the target. ELBA and BIG Alliance members are committed to Mentoring Works because it meets their responsible business goals, but more than, they find that the mentors themselves gain new skills and confidence, and new recruits want to join companies that can demonstrate that they are involved in community engagement as well as business.

The third question is how do we engage the disaffected? The Mentoring Works programme is elective for the young people – they have to apply to join the programme. It takes place after school hours, and they travel to the office of the mentor. This gives the programme a cachet and helps the mentee feel they are special. Most of all it is “not school”. We believe all these ingredients help make the programme attractive to young people, and we the pull factor is the most important. Any hint of compulsion is death to the mentoring process and just makes the mentors’ job incredibly difficult.

There is much to ponder as we look forward to the next 20 years – but two decades of experience will be on show at the upcoming celebration event and there is no doubt that Mentoring Works. Hope to see you there.

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