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Many IT organisations are facing an unprecedented period of transformation. This can have an impact on a new graduate�s relationship with an organisation, and provide opportunities too. Rosie Symons reports:
With many organisations undergoing mergers or downsizing in order to survive in a turbulent marketplace, opportunities are opening up for new graduates. Is this a contradiction in terms? No, because of a problem that these transformations cause that needs to be addressed: when changes affect an organisation they may lead to blocks of skills or competencies becoming lost in the fight for survival, especially as organisations often make their first cut at senior level, leaving the so-called 'progressive' roles intact. As this can mean the loss of people who have contributed to the success of the company through their specialist knowledge or their strategic vision - role models - forward-looking organisations combat this with a mentoring programme.
This means that the very uncertainty that these transformations have on the marketplace in general can have a positive effect for a new graduate. It means new graduates can benefit from a programme specifically aimed at improving them and, if properly used by the graduate, will ensure a good personal relationship with the company he or she joins.
Graduates have the qualities that ensure that a company can build a successful mentoring programme: raw talent and ideas, and the purpose of the scheme will be to build on these qualities - giving the graduate an opportunity to build their own legacy. A graduate's proven hunger for information and their willingness to learn gives an organisation momentum, but it is the personal nature of mentoring that is one of its strengths.
So, a new graduate won't be left to reinvent the wheel, based on their limited experience of the workplace, but they can expect a discussion about who within the company would best help them achieve their aspirations and thus, in the long run, enhance the organisation. After terms of reference are drawn up, the identified person would be approached for their agreement to act as mentor. Most will be flattered by the approach; likely, few will decline.
At best, the mentor should provide every opportunity for the graduate to access key players, to take part in team-building and brainstorming sessions, to build relationships with their peer group, to learn from and to evaluate the experience of the leadership - right up to those on the Board. Learning from someone who has been there, seen it, done it, does not demean individual capability but demonstrates the will to succeed beyond the role model. At best, both mentor and mentee benefit from the experience.
The IT industry is a typical beneficiary of mentoring. Well into its sixth decade, if we ask: where are all the innovators who created this market phenomenon that has given so many jobs and success stories worldwide, the answer is that many are no longer with us. It is their intellectual legacy that can be captured by mentees.
You only have to look at the elder statespersons among members of the British Computer Society to see an intellectual goldmine of well-networked, influential sounding boards - a source of experience and expertise that most in the industry would give their right arm to tap into.
How uplifting it is from a mentor perspective to hear the words 'I would be really interested to learn from you and to hear your views/share your experiences'. Equally uplifting is for a mentee to be approached by a guru or a member of one's peer group with the words 'I would like to help you to explore issues in order to best utilise your skills and your creative thinking'. Recognising the two-way benefit of constructive mentoring is not easy. Reaping the reward is.
My own experience of mentoring came early in my career and has been part of my management toolkit ever since. I was fortunate to be working for an inspirational leader - Dame Stephanie Shirley, who later became the first woman President of the British Computer Society and was the founder of Xansa.
She taught me how to become a visionary: how to think outside the box, how to be innovative without taking risks, how to ensure the company's cultural values underpinned everything I did, how to feed off the imagination of others and how to engage as a team player across all levels � attributes that I have passed on to many and which have helped me engage numerous colleagues in a better understanding of the impact of my work on their own objectives.
For example, a shared insight into the strategies of effective PR and communications resulted in colleagues successfully applying their new-found technique to improve dialogue with clients by focusing on key messages. Mentoring became a natural part of the learning curve in the development of all my working relationships.
The Worshipful Company of Information Technologists (WCIT), like many traditional livery companies, established a mentoring scheme at the very heart of its foundation. Each apprentice is supervised over a four-year period by a member of the WCIT and a mentor, often their line manager, who agree to invest considerable time and effort in their appointed apprentice.
The mentor and apprentice draw up a training and development plan, which leads to a recognised qualification. The apprentice keeps a careful log of their training and practical experience, which is then monitored by the employer and by the WCIT. The apprentice then writes a biannual summary of achievement.
Often the relationship between apprentice master, mentor and mentee stays alive long after completion of the apprenticeship. It is delightful to see the IT industry take such positive steps towards investment in human and intellectual capital.
The BCS has a free mentoring service for those participating in its Continuing Professional Development (CPD) scheme. Every member is provided with a written guide to help them plan their CPD, but individuals still need help on a one-to-one basis. BCS mentors have attended a course on CPD mentor training and often have experience in staff appraisal, development, training, team leadership, people management, counseling, coaching or mentoring in other contexts.
In CPD, a mentor can particularly help with things such as: conducting a skills audit; determining the knowledge and skills required for a particular job or role; setting an individual�s development objectives; assessing learning experiences; agreeing next steps; and offering encouragement and providing motivation to persist with the CPD activity.
In the notoriously fluctuating world of IT, a mentoring programme offers companies the opportunity to maintain their values, resulting in mentees benefiting directly from the experience of their mentors, and the contacts that the mentor will ensure they get.
And the graduate will get new skills, because the essence of a mentoring programme is effective skills transfer. For an organisation, mentoring represents an opportunity to invest in constructive graduate recruitment, and it helps graduates to explore their own minds and supports them in developing their own style of handling issues.
It provides a platform on which the individual and organisation can build a future based on best practice. Mentoring is not new, but it is the magic ingredient for even greater success for both recipient and organisation. Mentoring makes sense.
Quick reference, boiled down in a nutshell:
This article first appeared in Graduate News, The BCS Computer Bulletin Supplement and was authored by Rosie Symons.