Mentors prove to be fine guides

June 9, 1995

Nearly 90 per cent of students on mentoring schemes say that their self-confidence has grown and 30 per cent say that their academic work has improved as a result.

The National Mentoring Consortium last week held its first fundraising luncheon to celebrate its first official year .

The consortium now links 250 students from ethnic minorities with employed mentors in one-to-one relationships to help them build their careers.

Originally named the Mentor Scheme at the University of East London, the NMC is the brainchild of Norman McLean, a former careers adviser at the university. He found that many African, Asian and Caribbean students, even those with first-class degrees, lacked self-confidence and were reluctant to approach the "big companies" in their job applications. He is committed to redressing the balance, and hoped that mentoring would help.

Mentoring began in the United States, and many companies over there, and increasingly here, now offer such schemes to their younger employees. It was there that Jacqui Harper, television presenter for Newsroom South-East, first experienced mentoring: "I learnt to take criticism but not take it personally, and it gave me a focus - I knew that I wanted to be a TV journalist. For me, it made the difference between doing a job and doing a job I loved."

Feedback from participants, both mentors and mentees, is positive. Gordon Fairbank, now in his second year at the University of East London, says, "I can't begin to quantify how much I have got out of the scheme." On top of his practical work experience on the computer network of the Customs and Excise, his mentor also helped him to cope effectively with racism.

Students may chose whether to be matched with mentors by race or gender, but older students often consider it more important to be matched with a mentor in their chosen career area.

As well as the single most significant benefit of improved self-confidence, the mentees also acquired improved time-management and presentation skills.

"What we do well is build confidence," says Norman McLean, now director of the NMC.

Employers often join the scheme to develop their equal opportunities policies, but their money also buys them management training for their staff, including counselling skills.

Mentors themselves, though they stress the big commitment involved, find the scheme "challenging, rewarding and valuable".

Jacqui Harper is now a mentor herself, and despite a busy schedule she says that the benefits out weigh the disadvantages: "There is a great feeling of pride - you don't often get the opportunity to shape someone's future."

The NMC is now seeking formal accreditation for both mentors and mentees. It has been granted funding from the London East Training and Enterprise Council to set up an NVQ assessment centre to acknowledge mentors' experiences, and the University of East London plans to include the students' experiences in their Career Guidance Module.

The NMC hopes that this will help to attract more universities and employers.

The organisation is set to double in size next year when it will be joined by University College London and, they expect, Anglia Polytechnic University, Durham University and London Guildhall University. The BBC are also among new employer members.

British Telecom and the University of Wolverhampton have both pledged an extra Pounds 5000 on top of their existing contributions.

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