Building The Employer Mentoring Community: If You Want To Go Fast, Go Alone - If You Want To Go Far, Go Together

27/09/2016 12:55

In August, I was honoured to be announced as the Senior Mentoring Adviser for the Careers and Enterprise Company, the Government-backed organisation that exists to join the dots in careers and enterprise provision across England. My role is to advise the Company on the strategy and execution of the Government-led schools mentoring campaign and the roll-out of the £12m investment fund to scale mentoring programmes to help young people in greatest need across England by creating encounters with employers that improve confidence, behaviour, engagement and attainment.

The new fund and campaign are a hugely welcome recognition of the power of employer-led mentoring to support the life chances of young people in schools who have the potential to go on to great things but who need support to realise their talents fully. The Company's excellent research on the impact of mentoring makes clear the value of such interventions.

As important as the Company's new mentoring fund is, the significance of the wider campaign is even greater. The opportunity before us is one which all of us in the schools mentoring arena need to seize with both hands. That is why I was so keen to contribute to the Company's work. Let me explain why I am so excited about this opportunity.

The Government has been very clear in recognising the difference mentoring can make in promoting social mobility. The Company's research has provided the most solid evidence yet of that impact. And, importantly, the Company's research has also set out the evidenced framework of how mentoring programmes need to be structured to make the most impact. The next stage will be to set out how mentoring organisations can monitor and evaluate their programmes to be able to demonstrate their impact and to launch the campaign to deliver the target of 25,000 more young people receiving mentoring support.

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There are many mentoring organisations up and down the country doing fabulous work in schools and with young people. Last week, at The Company's campaign workshop, I had the privilege to hear from three amazing young people who talked powerfully about how their lives had been so positively changed thanks to the support of their mentors. Chanai, Jaziba and Keiarnya were in no doubt about how important their mentors had been in helping them realise their potential.

In my experience, despite these achievements, there is no real community in which organisations in this field can come together to learn from each other, pool their efforts and share their experiences. As a result, there are a lot of wheels being re-invented (or, worse, not being re-invented...). Schools, employers and funders, so keen to engage, are unsure which organisations to trust or how to assess one against another. And the sector, if we can really call it that at present, is not harnessing its talents to drive employer mentoring forward, to be more ambitious in our scale and our impact, to make the case for our work more strategically.

The charitable sector is, sadly, too often fragmented and poor at collaboration. As powerful a driver to improvement as competition can be, it hugely frustrates me when charities cannot work together to further our shared aims together. In the school mentoring field, there is more than enough demand for a rich tapestry of providers to flourish. There's also a plentiful pool of prospective volunteer mentors on the supply side. And funders are more than willing to fund good programmes, even more so when they can see powerful collaborative ventures. So why on earth would we look at our colleagues in other charities as competitors when they are really our partners-in-waiting?

So, with employer mentoring in the political spotlight, with the most senior business leaders backing us, with significant new funding available and with powerful research and campaigning resources at our disposal, now is the time for us to create a powerful mentoring community. This community needs to build on the best of what is already out there, to work together to professionalise our work and to champion the cause of our work. Political reality is that moments like these, when the stars align so fortuitously, are rare and fleeting. We are at a moment in time when, together, we can put in place the platforms for our work that will ensure powerful mentoring support for young people across the country long after the current campaign and funding stream. We are already seeing the difference we can make when we can come together, as we did when some 100 organisations came together to consider the new mentoring campaign at the Company's recent workshops. I for one learned so much through these discussions and from the expertise of the organisations that the Company is able to bring to the table.

So my simple plea for anyone in this field is to join the Company's new Mentoring Community and be part of this exciting journey!

And, lest we forget, the reason for all of this is so that we can help thousands more Chanais, Jazibahs and Keiarnyas up and down the country. Only by coming together, will be deliver lasting change of real significance to the young people about whom we all care so passionately.