Emerging technologies such as AI and automation and other disruptive forces such as the gig economy are transforming the nature of work, and the skills that employers value and rely upon are changing. That’s led to the development of a skills gap where employers struggle to hire appropriately trained workers, according to Brookings.
Deloitte reported that the skills gap may leave approximately 2.1 million manufacturing positions unfilled by 2030, with a potential negative economic impact of more than $1 trillion—and that’s just one vertical. While better education, upskilling, training, and professional development, as well as recruitment, are paramount, one way to fix the skills gap is through effective mentoring.
Mentoring is a professional partnership in which an experienced person—the mentor—assists another—the mentee—in developing specific skills and knowledge via informal yet structured conversations that will enhance the less-experienced person’s professional, personal, and career growth. The partnership will usually fall outside the line management structure of the mentee.
BENEFITS OF AN EFFECTIVE MENTORSHIP PROGRAM
There are various potential benefits to organizations that offer an effective mentorship program. For one, it provides a nurturing environment for sharing life’s experiences, and it isn’t necessarily restricted to career issues only. A mentoring program creates opportunities for building community and organizational culture, which in turn could boost staff morale. It facilitates professional development for both mentors and mentees, including conflict resolution, management, leadership enhancement, and understanding generational differences. A well-designed mentorship program also supports diversity, equity, and inclusion goals by attracting and retaining diverse talent, developing future leadership that represents the organization’s core values, and providing an opportunity for both mentors and mentees to interact with people from different cultural heritages.
The many benefits of mentoring for mentees include better performance through increased confidence and self-awareness and a boost in overall organizational knowledge, technical understanding, and interpersonal skills. In addition, mentees can tap into their mentor’s expertise to help achieve their career goals and gain a wider network of influence.
That said, the potential benefits to mentors shouldn’t be overlooked. They include improving their mentoring and coaching skills through engagement with their mentees; sharing knowledge and experience that will benefit their team, organization, or profession; and making a positive impact on recruitment, retention, and leadership development.
STRUCTURING A MENTORSHIP PROGRAM
There’s no one structure of a mentorship program that meets the needs of all organizations; it should reflect the culture of an organization. Enabling an unstructured mentoring relationship, where mentors and mentees meet at their discretion and a meeting can be initiated by either, can be effective for some companies. Other organizations prefer to encourage structured mentorship with established guidelines and a set frequency of meetings. In either case, participation should be voluntary for both mentors and mentees, but commitment from both individuals is critical to a mentoring relationship’s success.
It’s important to match mentees with the right mentors. It’s helpful to have mentors provide a short one-page profile with a picture. Mentees can review and select a mentor based on background or their particular mentoring needs and goals.
The mentorship program should run for about a year to allow time to develop mentor-mentee relationships. Human resources (HR) should request feedback from participants about how the program was run, make adjustments to it if necessary, and let mentees select new mentors if they want or keep their existing mentor.
The staff mentorship program at IMA® (Institute of Management Accountants) is a good example of a semi-structured program. Mentors create a profile of themselves on a PowerPoint slide. Mentees review the mentor profiles and are asked to provide their top three to five mentor choices. The mentorship program coordinator makes assignments and then announces the pairings. Mentor-mentee pairs decide how and when they want to meet and structure their own plan, including objectives.
CLOSING THE SKILLS GAP
The skills gap alludes to a fundamental mismatch between the skills that employers need and the skills that job seekers possess, which makes it difficult for individuals to find jobs and for employers to find appropriately trained workers, according to Brookings. Many recent graduates and early-career candidates often need to sharpen their soft skills such as communication, professional attitude, emotional intelligence, critical thinking, and problem solving; these are shortcomings that effective mentors can help mentees address and improve. Mentoring can help recent graduates and new hires to understand an organization’s culture and business landscape by encouraging more experienced staff to offer guidance about the subtleties of expected conduct.
Mentors and mentees who are IMA members can take advantage of the IMA Leadership Academy, which supports the development and enhancement of our members’ leadership education and skills to aid in career advancement at no extra cost. Webcasts and courses are available on a range of topics, including “Emotional Intelligence,” “Communicating in the 21st Century,” “Embracing Change,” “Leadership Foundations for Management Accountants,”,” Members also have access to a variety of other professional development resources on the IMA Career Center, including CareerDriver®, career-related articles and podcasts, and networking opportunities.
ADVICE FOR SENIOR EXECUTIVES
It’s important for organizations’ leaders to be advocates for mentoring. The C-suite and management should strongly support an existing mentorship program by becoming its champion, touting its benefits, and dedicating time to mentees.
If no program exists, then consider collaborating with HR and others to establish a mentorship program for your organization. If establishing a mentorship program isn’t an option, then take the lead and encourage senior executives and other colleagues to make themselves available to less experienced staff for informal meetings, say, a coffee or lunch.
BEST PRACTICES FOR MENTOR-MENTEE RELATIONSHIPS
Through my professional career, some experiences as a mentee have been more meaningful and mutually beneficial than others. For mentees, the key is to find the right mentor with whom you feel at ease discussing career plans, certain work issues, professional development, and other matters. Mentees should look for a trusted colleague who they feel comfortable speaking with. Some may look for a mentor who shares a similar management or leadership style to further enhance their own style, and others may look for someone who has a vastly different management or leadership style so they can learn from a new perspective. This is a truly personal decision.
Each collaboration is different, so as a mentor, I try to take cues from the mentee on how they’d like to structure the relationship. In general, we may review goals and upcoming reviews or discuss big projects and concerns they may have. I advise keeping the lines of communication open and checking in with your mentee periodically.
MAKE TIME FOR MENTORING
There are some pitfalls that both parties should be careful to avoid. Try not to use the time to discuss work-related items unless there’s a specific issue about how to handle a delicate matter or a strong personality. For mentors, the most common shortcomings include not finding and dedicating sufficient time to meet with mentees and being distracted in these meetings. For mentees, common mistakes include not following up to schedule meetings, not being prepared for meetings, and not taking the steps that mentors recommend in between meetings.
Busy professionals’ limited bandwidth and correlated difficulty in scheduling meetings are common challenges for mentorship programs, but organizations need to make getting together a priority as part of staff professional development. Scheduling time for meetings should be part of the initial conversation between mentor and mentee. Both parties need to understand preferences for frequency, convenient times and days of the week, in-person vs. virtual meetings, and onsite vs. offsite meetings. Those who work out the logistical challenges to establish a regular schedule for mentor-mentee meetings are likely to be rewarded by achieving their professional objectives.