In my earlier blog, I spoke about internships and how for some, it is the modern-day exploitation of labour. I touched on the subject of the duty of care that employers need to have, one of which is real-time, on-the-job training. This then leads to the question of what’s the difference between training and mentorship? Is one more valuable than the other, or are they one and the same?
There’s no denying that there are overlaps – essentially, both involve a more experienced individual, assisting someone junior (or less experienced) in improving through a task or job. But that’s where the similarities end.
At work, we often hear of on-the-job training and this is where a major part of an internship falls under. Training in its truest sense, is formal, with specific KPIs and defined learning objectives. There’s also a “time-limit” set to it, as opposed to mentorship.
A trainer is also a subject matter expert, a “guru” if you will, with extensive expertise or knowledge on a particular subject or in some cases, tasks. It can also be conducted in a “classroom” setting, where participants learn from the trainer, but the key will always be knowledge transfer and geared more towards hard skills. For example, pulling specific data for a monthly report, analysing statistics and building strategies, programming, coding and design, etc. It involves people learning skills to help them perform the “basics” of the job or applying the knowledge they learnt during their formal education.
Mentoring on the other hand, is an informal relationship between two people, often based on trust. While a mentor could do many of the same things as a trainer or even a coach, there is no formal obligation for them to carry it out. A mentoring relationship is one that sometimes naturally develops from an already formed professional association, or even friendship (in some cases). One party may actively seek out another (more senior) individual and ask for actual guidance or mentorship. But sometimes, mentorship develops without either party naming it. When it matures, the relationship will gradually fade and if you’re lucky, turn into a friendship of peers.
So what’s more “valued”?
While there is no denying that hard skills and a meritocratic education are important, companies are faced with two challenges:
* At the rate that businesses and industries are evolving, skills learnt in school may become obsolete by the time students graduate. This is particularly true in the realm of technology i.e. programming, coding, etc.
* Beyond this, there is another huge skills gap within soft-skills, such as creativity and problem-solving.
Trying to prepare students for jobs that might exist in the future will be nothing more than an exercise in futility. Hard skills are needed, but what businesses are not satisfied with these days are the levels of soft skills (or lack thereof) in fresh graduates – skills like communication, organisation, and leadership.
This is where companies need to take a certain amount of responsibility for cultivating their own workforce. While the education system is slowly waking up to the idea of preparing students with these skills, seeing results will take years. In the meantime, it does nothing for companies that are looking for employees right now. If companies want employees with these skills, then they need to take matters into their own hands, and this is where training and mentorship comes in handy.
Can soft skills be imparted the same way hard skills can be?
While companies are very interested in having employees with soft skills, how soft skills themselves are learned doesn’t seem to be very well understood. Companies however, are in an excellent position to impart these to new hires, by adopting some soft skill strategies themselves.
One tried and tested method of imparting the soft skills that work best in the company is of course, through workplace mentorship. As explained earlier, this practice generally has been carried out without much thought put into it. Effective mentorship, however, has its privileges; 71% of Fortune 500 companies have some type of corporate mentorship program, with 75% of executives crediting their mentors with helping them reach their current positions.
Looking at the effects of mentorship on the college level, students who had at least one professor who engaged them and inspired them about what they were learning more than doubled the chances of the students thriving in both their academic and social pursuits. And this is what companies have the capability to do now, regardless of size, whilst waiting on the education system to play catch up. Not only will you find positive benefits in the long run in terms of talent management and retention, but also as an employer brand as a whole.
Do you have a mentorship program? Do you think it would add value to your employees?
To discuss any of the points raised in this article, or to seek advice on ways to manage your talent and retain your employees please contact us today.