Dan Cook is Head of Key Accounts, Apprenticeships, at Working Links

The value of mentoring in supporting high-quality Apprenticeship programmes is increasingly being recognised for its value in supporting the transition of new people into the workplace, and in passing on vital skills and years of experience.

The same can also be said for existing employees who are developing and learning the new skills needed to progress.

There is a lack of transparency regarding what is meant by mentoring and how it varies from the support typically offered by an apprentice’s line manager, training provider or trainer.

Specifically, in the context of Apprenticeships, mentoring is focused on the sharing of best practice by passing on technical expertise and knowledge, to further career development.

The benefits can be wide spread, creating a skilled workforce, suitable for the demands of the business.

However, mentoring is more than ‘giving advice’, or passing on skills, it's a long-term relationship, driven by trust, where the mentor understands the strengths, weaknesses and needs of the mentee.

A mentor focuses holistically on the mentee’s personal development to motivate and empower them, and it does not give way to ‘do it the way I did it’, but instead respects and understands different ways of working.

Mentoring is also a way to provide motivation, widen the support network and can improve overall confidence.

As a training provider, we understand how the Apprenticeship format can offer businesses a way to embrace these relationships and see an employee for their talents and skills, not just another statistic.

If managed correctly, they can develop a culture of development and reflection, and transform their business.

However, we have seen how this can only work well when supported by positive leadership. Most employees will report into someone and their attitude will filter down throughout the team and this can have a huge impact on employee engagement.

After all who wants to work in a negative environment? A positive team is one with transparency as it builds trust.

It’s important to understand that it is possible to be positive in challenging situations or adversity. Without this, it can cause managers to spiral and make decisions based on poor and combative behaviours, which may work in the short term but doesn’t build the foundation for long term team work.

A positive environment where employees feel valued and supported, leads to better employee engagement, and this is crucial in delivering good customer service; if your employees are loyal then your customers will want to be part of that.

Engaged and loyal employees also enable further commitment to upskilling which leads to better progression from within and therefore greater retention.

As an Apprenticeships provider, we are on a huge and challenging journey into a new market place and everyone has been really open and honest about the challenges that brings.

However, everyone I have spoken to is able to look past that, find positive solutions and see “what good looks like.”

It’s not just the attitudes that have been positive but it’s been the actions and steps we have and continue to take as a business, including:

  • ensuring we recruited the right talent
  • consistently seeking feedback from our employers and partners – and when that isn’t what we expect, making the changes and tailoring our approach to make sure it’s correct for our customers
  • being open to challenging situations, asking for opinions and advice on how to improve and sharing positive next steps
  • reflecting but not dwelling on what’s already happened – analyse, learn (positive step) and move on.

In a nutshell, positive leadership and mentoring builds trust and enables teams the space to trial and improve, allows mistakes in order to learn and increases employee engagement. That creates a great working environment that generates growth.

This is why we will be running an in house training session for the Apprenticeships team in mentoring and coaching, to celebrate National Mentoring Day 2018 tomorrow, 27th Oct.

It is a chance for the team to offer peer support and learn from each other. We believe peer mentoring is crucial to building strong teams and sharing best practice, and it also enables the entire Apprenticeships team to offer the same support and training to the employers we work with across England.  

With many businesses now utilising their levy, there has never been a greater need to have mentors in place. Any form of training and development, during and after, needs ongoing nurturing to keep up the good results it can yield.

Training providers can begin and coach through this process but there is more and more emphasis on employers to continue the good work and with the mentoring and leadership workshops offered at Working Links, we can support leaders and managers to prepare for this.

Dan Cook is Head of Key Accounts, Apprenticeships, at Working Links

For more information, call Working Links on 0800 917 9262.

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