Blog – What mentoring young people has taught me…

JN Mentoring young people

Before coming to work for Solutions for the Planet I worked for one of our previous Business Partners and mentored on the Big Ideas Programme for four years. I found the mentoring experience unbelievably rewarding, personally, as a professional and as part of my career. Here I’ll talk you through some of the benefits of mentoring that I experienced.

I mentored in the West Midlands, at various schools across Birmingham, Solihull and Wolverhampton, helping teams all the way from the Big Ideas Days to the National Finals. And that was one of the most rewarding elements, seeing teams and individual students develop. As teams, some gelled immediately, while others had to work on their relationships, it was so interesting seeing the different roles students took within teams and how they supported each other utilising their different strengths. From natural leaders and communicators to great researchers and creative thinkers, there was a chance for everyone to shine.

As for individuals, at times it felt like you could literally ‘see’ some of them developing and growing. They were becoming more confident and being able to articulate their ideas and thought processes, something they would have found difficult at the beginning of the programme. While this was rewarding for me, it’s only now, writing this article that I’ve thought about how those skills we help students develop will benefit them in their lives beyond school. Whether it’s at a job interview, negotiating, or building relationships, the skills they’re learning are invaluable.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

JN MentoringProbably the second most important of the benefits of mentoring for me was seeing how the students aren’t constrained by the sort of accepted thinking and professional mindsets that we are as adults. It was like a lightbulb moment, seeing the students generating ideas without any boundaries. If professionals produced some of those ideas, they’d probably have stayed quiet for fear of being branded foolish, eccentric, or irrational. However without that fear, the students were able to develop their ideas, explore options and different paths of development. This was something I definitely took back to the office and was able to use, a reminder to ask ‘but what if it was possible’, to think of new ways of making things possible, and to challenge ‘but this is the way we do this’.

Mentoring young people also challenged me into thinking about how I communicate and to foster new ways of explaining things. Being used to talking to colleagues and other adults with shared experiences and knowledge, we get used to omitting details when we’re talking to people who we think understand what we’re talking about. It’s the things we take for granted, we don’t always need to explain the background or context, and we use technical language and complex terms. However young people may not know the background or may have never heard some of these terms before. It was like going back to basics and constantly thinking about the ‘why’ we do things the way we do and then talking the students through that thought process, taking them on that journey of understanding.

Talking of thought processes, another challenging thing for us adults, is not just giving the answer or taking over and doing something because we know how. (Though maybe that’s just an insight into my personality!) An example here is when a team was designing the logo for their Big Idea, they couldn’t decide what they wanted it to be. Having worked in marketing for over 20 years, including some time creating corporate identities, I just wanted to do it for them, but I knew that wouldn’t help them. So I had to think of a way to help them develop their own logo. I took them through a thought process for generating ideas and asked them about what they thought about different objects and concepts that could go into their logo and they created something amazing. It was important to talk them through the process while letting them do the thinking and the work.

Outside of the actual mentoring itself, something else was being shaped – my view of the company I worked for and my level of enjoyment working for them. Enjoying the mentoring made me really appreciate not just being given the opportunity to do it but also that the company was offering the time to do it. It’s not something all companies think of, the employee volunteering scheme wasn’t just for PR or for a good corporate social responsibility story, it was something the volunteer mentors found personally rewarding and also helped us in our day to day job. You can read more about the benefits of mentoring and being one of our Business Partners here.

Jeremy Newman
S4TP Associate

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Solutions for the Planet Ltd