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Career mentoring: Supporting the workforce of tomorrow
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your role as a mentor?
I graduated from the University of Nottingham in 1983. Despite an interest in becoming an educational psychologist, I entered the business world knowing next to nothing about how to really succeed. A succession of roles led me to specialise in business development, particularly around developing partnership strategies. Now, I have my own business helping small businesses grow.
Just over three years ago, the university reached out to alumni in a drive to upgrade its support framework for undergraduates and recent alumni. In my role as a career mentor, I am committed to helping young minds at the start of their careers, as well as investing in lifelong learning for myself.
In general, what kind of support do you offer your students?
I help my mentees with how to approach and prepare for the commercial world, whether that’s for internships, placements or employment. Students select their mentor on the basis of background, experience and skillset, so there should be a close fit from the mentee’s perspective.
The support covers the structure of interviews, questioning techniques, what employers are seeking, how to write a CV and covering letter, the language that business uses and the pace of meetings. Sometimes, as the conversation evolves, students gain insight into some of their strengths and weaknesses and this helps them to understand what roles might be right for them.
As well as helping with more practical elements like CVs and interview preparation, you also provide your students with emotional support. Can you tell us about this?
This is where the relationship succeeds or fails. This isn’t a casual acquaintance. You’re collaborating with one objective: to prepare the student for the world of work. It takes a commitment from both parties. Like any relationship, it is important to understand the framework of the relationship and set some rules and boundaries.
Students are full of doubt, yet take uncalculated risks and are bold. Most have learned to compare their performance against their peers rather than have their own internal standards. Helping them to break free from the expectations of others and to set realistic expectations for themselves is critical.
I have found this to be the cornerstone of building confidence. When you make your own decisions about your future rather than trying to meet the expectations of other people, you affirm that what you want matters. You matter. You also search within to find the answers, and when you find them, you believe in your ability to construct your future.
Students can and do complete this journey for themselves; the mentor role is largely a guide to light the way. For me, this realisation on their journey is what makes it a growth experience.
The other side of the commercial world is, of course, employers. How do you think companies can make themselves more attractive to young people?
They can demonstrate a commitment to diversity and inclusion, corporate responsibility, the environment and the mental health of their employees. I would recommend creating interview videos of real graduates who are valued employees to show how they overcame their challenges and thrived at the company.
The world of work is changing rapidly. How do you think that’s affecting students, their ability to find work and their ability to adapt to new work environments?
It’s tough when they have no experience in working environments at all. However, the good news is that employers are beginning to recognise that hiring based on experience alone isn't going to work for them as we enter the fourth industrial age.
Machine learning, artificial intelligence and automation are rapidly changing the criteria that employers use to hunt for talent. Problem-solving skills, resilience and creativity are becoming more valuable in the workplace, and our social skills are also becoming more pronounced. Most of our time will be spent working in small teams seeking to interface with technology in order to achieve the best outcomes. Being human will become a metric that employers will find a way to measure.
We need to ensure we are adaptable and open to learning. This leaves students well-placed as they have the skills to learn and the aptitude to grow. They will need to develop a passion and commitment to lifelong learning, as well as applying new learning on the job, to help the business they work for be as flexible as possible.
And finally, what’s the best thing about being a career mentor?
Seeing people fly. Watching people grow is one of life’s greatest gifts. The impact you can have on confidence, thinking styles, boundaries, independence of thought and creativity is immense. You can make a real difference and it’s also a two-way street. I’ve picked up some great insights into different working styles, as well as a deeper understanding of the challenges facing our young talent.
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