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Effective mentoring for industry placement students

Your industry placement student should be allocated to a supervisor who will be responsible for their day-today activities. It’s not essential for students to have a mentor as well, but a good mentor can add a lot to a student’s experience.

A mentor will provide additional support and advice on issues wider than just their team role and responsibilities.

What is mentoring?

It’s a relationship in which the mentor passes on useful skills, knowledge and insights which help students learn about themselves, what they can do and what it takes to be a professional at work.

How does it work?

Mentoring is a supportive relationship. It focuses on the student’s development as a person and as a professional. Mentors help students by drawing on their own experience.

They aren’t supervisors – they don’t set tasks or assess performance. And they don’t have to tell the student everything they know about a subject, at every opportunity.

Mentoring is about sharing what ‘good’ looks like, and sharing experience. It builds confidence and a ‘can-do’ attitude. A mentor also can step in when things get tough, helping students to find a way through to the other side.

Why do it?

Mentoring helps students make the most of the time they spend in your organisation. And
it helps the supervisor as well by being another source of support.

Who can do it?

A good mentor has experience relevant to the student’s role – technical, management and life experience are all equally valuable. Mentors should be able to quickly grasp what students need. They should listen, ask the smart questions and lead students to a possible solution.

Mentors may be from a different team to the student or their supervisor. This can add breadth to the understanding of your organisation. In a smaller organisation, it might not be practical to spare the time of 2 people, but ideally a placement works best if this is possible.

What’s the process?

  • Have a first meeting with the student to start the mentoring relationship. Keep it relaxed and informal. Set up ground rules for when to meet in future, how often, how long for, where and why.
  • Arrange meetings out of the regular work environment, if possible. It avoids distractions and shows these sessions are different from ordinary day-to-day work.
  • Keep the student on track and focused on their learning. Suggest goals, agree them with the student and help to come up with practical actions. Ensure that meetings are kept to time.
  • Discuss progress and problems openly – there should be no hidden agendas. Explore options, look at different angles and welcome alternative ideas. Provide coaching in specific areas of the placement role. Get extra support for the student, if they’re struggling.
  • Help students to come up with ideas themselves. Giving a simple answer to a problem is not as useful as helping a student to understand how to approach problems in future.
  • Get students used to reflecting on situations and events. Sketch out pathways to move on from difficult situations. Give structure to what’s happening and lead students to think clearly about what they and other people have done.
  • Continue the mentoring relationship until both of you decide it’s time to stop. This might be at the end of the placement, or it may just reach a natural end. It’s good to have a last meeting to reflect on what the student has learned, how far they’ve come, and where to go next.

A good mentor:

  • wants to help make the best of the placement
  • is appropriately trained to understand mentoring and safeguarding
  • has time to do the mentoring job properly
  • is confident in their ability to help
  • stands back and reflects on a situation, as well as reacts to it
  • is positive and approachable
  • is disciplined themselves, and instils discipline in students
  • is patient
  • understands what motivates students and what discourages them
  • offers a different perspective
  • challenges students to think differently
  • notices what isn’t said, as well as what is
  • listens and ask questions
  • is a sounding board for ideas
  • helps students to find solutions
  • brings in other people to help

 

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