STEM Students Need Mentoring Too

30/10/2015 12:27 GMT | Updated 29/10/2016 10:12 BST

This year's back to school season saw headlines full of the fact that we're seeing green shoots in the area of STEM studies in the UK. It was great to hear that record numbers of pupils took STEM related GCSEs this year - in fact, the numbers taking computer science increased by 111%.

While this is great news and schooling and academics are very important to the future of our young people, some of the other aspects that are important to successful careers and fulfilling lives don't actually come via studies and testing.

So what's missing? Mentoring! I think it's time to focus more on mentoring at the early stages - our bright young starters can benefit greatly during their schooling and at the start of their professional careers, not just once they are established in the industry. And I'm convinced that it's down to us, as an industry, to focus more effectively on mentoring and coaching to ensure that as youths choose STEM subjects, they also get the feedback they need to successfully navigate their careers and lives.

Of course, at all stages, mentoring can either be a big success or just another sterile and unrewarding box-ticking exercise - and there are a few important things that will make it more likely to be the former.

The first is that both sides have to be committed to working together: this seems obvious, but should be confirmed through by both sides in the initial mentoring meeting.

Second, it's crucial that there is a good fit between the would-be mentor and mentee. I call this first mentoring meeting, "the fit meeting". Both need to understand what they can offer each other and gain from each other and what the limitations might be. Personally, I'm most comfortable mentoring someone where we both share similar values and a desire to continuously learn and grow.

That's why I tell mentees at the start of our first mentoring session ("fit meeting") that the objective of the initial meeting is to ensure that the relationship and process will provide maximum outcomes for the mentee. If either of us deem, after the initial meeting or anytime during the mentoring process, that the fit is just not right, we will talk about it and find another mentoring option that is more suited to the mentee. This could result in a difficult conversation, but also results in the process being truly focused on getting great outcomes for mentees and not just going through the motions.

By empowering the mentee at the start of the process, it sets a good foundation for mutual respect and maximises learning opportunities despite often being at very different levels or career points. The third key area is that the mentee and mentor are clear on the outcomes desired from the process. Would-be mentees should be encouraged to spend some time thinking about their desired outcomes from mentoring and to bring those well thought out ideas to the initial meeting for discussion. With goal-based mentoring there's less chance, especially for women, of being what the Harvard Business Review refers to as "over-mentored" and "under-sponsored": focusing on specific outcomes ensures you can monitor and celebrate success.

Of course, it's not down to companies to mandate this. It's up to you, the potential mentee. Whether you are just choosing to study STEM, are starting your career, or indeed are at any point, search out people, organisations or your employer's programmes to find people who would be willing to mentor you.

And finally: if you've been mentored in the past and think you're now in the position to give something back, get started. There are great community programmes for helping young people as well as those that may be offered at your company or that you can help start.