The latest info from CAF confirms what we instinctively know: it’s the mentors, stupid.
We know that completion rates for apprenticeship are low, and have been for years. We are having a lot of success attracting people into the trades (total registered apprentices in Canada are now twice what theywere a fewyears ago) but we still haven’t managed to improve the success rates, so while we are turning out more skilled people from apprenticeship programs, we could be doing so much better. In fact, we NEED to do better.
The Canadian Apprenticeship Forum has been looking at the issue, and in a recent event in Vancouver they shared some of their results. And those results reinforce something we instinctively know: you want more grads, you need to improve the teaching.
The CAF research points to the absolutely critical role that mentors play in ensuring the success of apprentices. Choosing the right mentors, and supporting them in their role, has huge benefits for your organization. So here are 5 tips to help you select the right mentors, and give them the tools they need for success.
Tip 1: Make sure the people selected for mentoring are actually competent in their jobs. This seems obvious, but you’d be surprised how often people are selected as mentors simply on the basis of their longevity. This doesn’t mean that only the best and brightest should be mentors, but whoever you have teaching needs to be at the level of “unconscious competence.”
Actually, this opens up the field to many more mentors than you might be considering. Competent people exist all over the organization and at every seniority level. Mentors don’t have to be above trainees in the hierarchy – peer-to-peer mentoring can be very effective. Just make sure that you know what people can do, and how well, before you have them try to teach to others.
Tip 2: Make sure your mentors actually WANT to teach. Knowing how to perform a task doesn’t matter if the person selected as a mentor doesn’t want to teach. There’s a lot of mistrust in the workplace, particularly around sharing what you know and can do and ‘training your replacement”. But there are people in your organization who fit Tip 1, and are genuinely interested in sharing their skills with others. Find them.
Tip 3: Make sure mentors need to know HOW to teach. There’s a right way and a wrong way to teach skills in the workplace. The right way requires organization, understanding how people learn, and the patience to allow people to learn and make mistakes. The wrong ways include “watch me”, “listen to me” and “here, read this”. Have a look at the TWI section of the website – lots of information there on the correct way to mentor someone. Develop a standard approach to teaching on the job, and make sure people follow it.
Tip 4: Make sure your mentors have good interpersonal skills. Communication is key. Liking people is important. Being able to relate to another person on their level, and making what you’re teaching matter to them is essential. Mentors don’t need to be able to deliver training to large groups in the classroom. They DO need to be able to communicate effectively one-on-one, be able to provide constructive feedback, and be able to build up a trainee’s confidence. If the mentors don’t have the skills, then it’s up to you to help them develop them
Tip 5: Make sure management supports the mentoring effort. Too often the efforts of mentors are undermined by management. Not overtly – managers aren’t obviously out to sabotage workforce development efforts. But deadline pressure, production pressure, and other day to day business stresses can make it easier for the mentors to do the job themselves rather than train someone else. Other times, the need to “tick the boxes” to get some arbitrary number of people “trained” within some equally arbitrary time frame results in slap-dash mentoring and ultimately poor performance down the line. Remember: if you don’t have time to do it right today, why do you think you’ll have more time to fix it tomorrow?
So there you go: 5 simple tips. Obvious? Sure, but you’d be surprised how often they are overlooked. Following them won’t automatically guarantee success… but it will tip the odds in your favour. Try it and see.