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Mentoring – A concept worth implementing

  By Mario Carrera

Mentoring is a voluntary process where a generally more experienced person helps another prepare for future growth by advising on developing relevant skillsets.  Guidance Counselling is mostly a one-off encounter where a career or career area is suggested (usually given to students). Mentoring is guidance given over a period to prepare for the future (mainly for young professionals and those new to a job). Coaching is either short or long term, dealing with current and ongoing issues (mature individuals). Big brother and big sister programs offer some of the elements of mentoring but have a more social dimension.

There are many types of mentoring but the three main categories are academic, professional and social.  Academic mentoring is where the focus is on developing the skills needed for school (critical reading, writing, presenting, researching, etc.).  Professional mentoring is where young workers are guided over a period to develop job skills. Social mentoring involves working with the underprivileged, minorities and others who may be disadvantaged, to build life skills and exposure to more positive approaches to life. Mentoring as a concept can thus be adapted to each situation. Hence, many Alumni in the USA have mentoring programs for existing university students and mentoring can be done remotely or in-person as preferred.

The whole process is administered by an individual or group that defines the program, vets candidates, matches mentors and mentees, sets out a schedule, monitors progress and reviews the relationships.  Mentoring is a two-way relationship but a third party is often important to maintain the purpose of the connection. The definition of success is subjective and individualistic thus having a third party helps set realistic outcomes.

Not everyone can be a mentor.  Mentors need to have relevant experience and training in addition to the desire to give back and listen. Being able to answer, What makes you unique? Why should someone look to you? How do you give advice? Who do you want to work with? When are you free to commit time? etc. are questions that require serious thought and in-depth answers. Mentors will need to explain themselves and actions to other and perhaps get feedback that they may not like.

Mentees also need vetting. The willingness to actively listen, question and act on suggestions are crucial. Answering questions such as, Why should someone spend their time with me? What sort of issues do I need explaining? Who do I think I should learn from? What am I willing to do to make a success of the exchanges?  Both mentor and mentee need to know what they are getting into and what they want out of the relationship.

Based on my own teaching at University, interacting with teenagers, speaking with parents, speaking with professionals and other academics I have found that although there is much talk about preparing quality individuals for the future, mentoring is one action item that is widely agreed upon as being valid.

Firstly, building the awareness of what mentoring is and how it differs from other programs, requires schools, companies, institutions and others to realize the potential benefits of mentoring. Extensive literature exists from practical guides (www.mentoring.org) to more academic, Crisp, Baker and Griffin (2017).  Many organizations have short-term programs (summer school, day trips, etc.) but mentoring requires more attention to detail and longer-term planning. Publishing the concept is a start.

Secondly, administrators need to be trained in handling such a program.  Dealing with relationships is complicated, and not everyone can manage the emotional strain. Training involves extensive reading and mental focusing.

Thirdly, coordinated efforts are needed by all so that teenagers and university students are given a pertinent tangible product. After all, having more aware, responsible and mature youths benefit the society as a whole.  

I have designed a program for university students. However so far feedback from working professionals and associations in Thailand has been underwhelming. Many Thais do not know what mentoring is and are hesitant about accepting new ideas. Foreigners want payment, which is interesting in many ways and all claim to be very busy professionals with little time to even discuss a plan. Contributing just one hour a month for 12 months or even one hour to a program designer is apparently is too much for many.

For a program to be effective, it should be structured.  Being structured does not mean a program cannot be fun, but the rationale needs to be maintained. Mentoring is one of the few areas that most agree is useful if implemented, yet, sadly, few are prepared to participate in. Perhaps it is time that the concept moves to reality.

If you would like further information contact mariano.ca@kmitl.ac.th