When I retired from full-time employment I registered with Inspiring the Future. This is a charity that connects state schools and colleges with employers and people from the world of work. As a result I was asked by North Walsham High School in Norfolk to act as a mentor for three 14-year-old students. Together with my wife I have undertaken this task for the last year and greatly enjoyed the challenge. At the request of the School I have just completed an assessment and evaluation of the mentoring scheme and concluded that:
Effective mentoring is unquestionably of benefit and both students and mentors enjoy the experience. Almost all the students interviewed could point to some personal benefits they had obtained from the scheme
What effective mentoring offers, to return to the jargon of my training days, is both support and challenge. Looking back on my youthful experience I remember being offered rather a lot of challenge but not a lot of support.
There is one particular conversation I recall well. When I was in my late teens an aunt of mine continuously pestered me with the question: ‘But what are you are you going to do exactly?’. At that time I didn’t have a clue. I knew I was not suited for any work involving practical skills but had little idea beyond that. I had spent one summer vacation working in a local steelworks bending iron bars for concrete reinforcement. I was lousy at the job and to this day I feel a slight tremor of anxiety when I enter any building erected in the late 1960s. I could therefore not offer any sensible reply, least of all ‘I am thinking of studying economics and then moving into corporate training in the City; after that I will specialise in labour market economics and skills and then teach at University’.
Having faced a similar question from her own parents when she was at that age, my wife was mentoring a very bright girl half a century later. The girl’s own brother was at University. Asked if she in turn was thinking of applying she responded ‘My mother doesn’t want me to go – she doesn’t see where it will lead to’.
When I was faced with my aunt’s question I wish I’d had the courage to do what one of the young people at North Walsham did. When he was asked to complete the career ambitions section of his mentoring form he responded with ‘How the hell am I supposed to know, I’m 14?!’. He clearly has spirit and I hope he does well and enjoys his working life.
It seems that not much has changed. Times are hard in the employment market. Anything we can do to help is worthwhile. The School should be commended for its introduction and commitment to the mentoring scheme.