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Mentorships Forge Connections to Transfer Knowledge

Rob Thompson
By Rob Thompson
on October 10, 2019

Knowledge-sharing relationships between experienced workers and those who seek to learn from them are a useful approach to cultivating skills throughout the workforce. In a mentorship program, organizations set up formalized structures with an established learning goal, targeted participants (both mentors and mentees), and a format for interaction. The result is a development approach that accelerates the learning curve with real-world, human interaction and a practical perspective on the skills and competencies that drive success in a given role.

How Mentees and Mentors Benefit 

In an active mentorship program, everyone wins. The mentee benefits from detailed and practical learning, and the mentor benefits from the fulfillment of passing on values that can help others achieve career success. These benefits go beyond the transfer of knowledge and extend to improvements in employee satisfaction and workforce inclusiveness. According to one study, employee retention rates were more than 20 percent higher for those who participated in mentorship programs than those who did not. Another study found mentorships were a top strategy for improving diversity and inclusion in the workplace, leading to an 18 to 24 percent increase in representation for black, Hispanic, and Asian women in management, along with a significant rise among men of traditionally underrepresented backgrounds.

Mentorship is a Proven Approach to Learning

Companies have sustained formalized programs for everything from leadership development to the advancement of technical, marketing, management, and communications skills. According to the Allegis Group survey:

• 42% of HR decision-makers claim their organizations widely use mentorships as part of their development strategy
• 45% are in the early stages of adoption or plan to implement programs over the next two years

Ways Companies Can Advance Their Mentorship Programs

While mentoring can boost skills development, organizations have also had to accept its several drawbacks. For example, traditional mentorships require a significant time commitment. Likewise, without careful program management, mentees may endure an unfocused learning experience with few lasting outcomes. Finally, traditional views have limited the opportunity for relationships to one direction, with the more tenured worker transferring knowledge to the more junior employee.

As companies advance their mentorship programs, various changes are taking place to address some of these challenges. For example, digital tools can automate some aspects of the process to maintain consistency and focus on outcomes. Those same processes also automate many of the more time-consuming aspects of managing a mentorship program, such as signing up participants, matching mentors to mentees, providing virtual space for one-on-one collaboration and interaction, gathering feedback, and measuring results.

In addition to automating the process, technology platforms are helping to bring larger pools of people together through online mentorships. These venues enable employees to access mentors from inside or outside their organizations, thereby developing as many mentor relationships as needed. One notable example is Veterati. The mentorship site serves U.S. military veterans and cites anywhere from four to 25 mentors per mentee. The on-demand aspect of digital mentorship platforms gives employees control over their learning path and allows for a tailored experience that directly matches individual needs.

Beyond enabling easier connections between mentors and mentees, organizations are also addressing age-related challenges to traditional mentoring with reverse mentorships. In this scenario, newer members of the workforce share knowledge with more established workers. The approach can be instrumental in helping tenured workers gain knowledge about new technologies, modes of communication, and other competencies newer workers bring to the organization. Reverse mentorships are particularly important as Baby Boomers reach retirement, and many companies seek to ensure those workers do not take their skills with them when they leave the organization.

Views on Use of Mentorships Positive

Overall, Allegis Group survey respondents are positive about the use of mentorships. Approximately 90 percent of HR decision-makers state that mentorships significantly or moderately impact the employee experience, skills development, the ability to attract and retain talent, and leadership development. Among organizations with programs in place, the survey also found 43 percent of the workforce has participated either as mentors or mentees, with 29 percent of mentorships having been virtual or long-distance. Roughly two-thirds of respondents cited mentorships as a source of growth for soft skills, such as:

• Leadership (68%)
• Relationship building (65%)
• Strategic thinking (62%)

Hard skills were also critical, with 49 percent of HR decision-makers citing mentorships as a means for their organizations to cultivate technical capabilities, such as software development knowledge, in the workforce.

While mentorships are recognized for their value to employers, companies are not content with the status quo. Ninety-seven percent of organizations with a mentorship program have enhanced it in the last two years:

• 64% dedicated more employees to program management
• 52% broadened the scope of their programs
• 51% have applied more technologies
• 50% have dedicated more budget

Looking ahead, employers can expect to see the continued evolution of existing programs as more participants and technologies boost the value of mentorships to the enterprise.

Case in Point: Putting Modern Mentorship to Work

For companies seeking a better way forward in transferring critical skills, mentorships are delivering impact across multiple industries.

• Caterpillar Focuses on Skills and Opportunity: The global manufacturer of construction and mining equipment, and diesel and locomotive technology depends on a variety of critical skills to stay ahead in a competitive and innovative industry. To maximize the effectiveness and value of its global workforce and expand its supply of available talent, Caterpillar offers professional development programs centered on today’s most demanding fields, including analytics, engineering, financial services, HR, IT, leadership, and marketing. Mentorships last two to three years, with a strategy that emphasizes relationship building with senior professionals, and a combination of general soft skills and specific fields of expertise.

• Boeing Unlocks Skills to Boost Innovation Potential: As a leader in aerospace and provider of technical products and services to commercial and military sectors, Boeing relies on a steady supply of scarce and emerging skills to grow in a highly demanding industry. The company’s rotational program is a mentorship strategy that opens the talent supply to promising, entry-level workers. Program participants are paired with senior-level professionals in engineering, IT, business, or HR for six-month intervals, after which they switch to another mentor. Total programs last from two to four years, followed by full roles within the company.

(Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in a white paper titled, “Cultivating Skills to Build the Talent Pipelines of Tomorrow.” Download your free copy here

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Rob Thompson
Written by Rob Thompson
Editor, Strategic Content Group at Allegis Global Solutions A successful writer and brand development professional with 17 year of experience in agency and corporate marketing and communications. Industry expertise in talent solutions, talent management consulting, information technology, consumer, and non-profit verticals.

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