A LONG time ago in a galaxy far, far away, young apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi discovered the benefits of mentoring from Star Wars Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn.
Millions of light years away, travel companies on earth are starting to catch on to the benefits of teaming up senior and junior management in one of the latest developments in job training. Mentoring offers guidance and support on a one-to-one basis from someone with particular, relevant experience.
Andrew Forrest, director of learning and development at the Industrial Society, describes it as a cost-effective way of transferring knowledge.
"Mentoring is a natural follow-on to traditional training courses, helping people to develop in their job," he said.
"It offers people a sense of balance and perspective which can often be lacking in their work. Sometimes people can get so close to the detail of their job they can't see the wood for the trees."
Global distribution system supplier Galileo UK and its parent company TAS introduced mentoring fouryears ago to give high-performing managers programmes for continuous development.
TAS managing director Mike Thorne said: "As managers get more senior they have more specialised needs for development. It's not just a question of sending them on a training course, but having someone who actually knows and understands the pressures they are operating under.
"The idea is that the more experienced person passes on objective advice or guidance which the learner can relate to in their own workingsituation."
The number of managers at Galileo UK and TAS who have mentors is still relatively small but this form of personal development is something the organisation wants to develop over the next couple of years.
Head of personnel Garry Thompson said:"We don't believe in providing people just with classroom training. Mentoring is about people being responsible for their own self-development. They set the agenda themselves."
Thompson himself has had a mentor for the past two years, who he meets once a month for half a day.
He said:"The idea is to get the best out of individuals and to encourage learning and development. It is quite a personal thing and individuals approach mentoring in different ways.
"For many it is about focusing on development needs, trying to build on your own strengths and to work out your weaknesses.
"At the end of the day, what the company gets is improved performance. If individuals know what their developmental needs are, then everyone wins. However, anyone who thinks a mentor is there to give them all the answers to successfully doing their job is mistaken.
"The mentor isn't there to necessarily give you answers. The mentor is there to probe or question you and for you to talk about your rationale for doing something. He or she will ask you how your thought process was working in order for you to arrive at a specific decision, or you might talk through a specific problem or piece of work with the mentor and they can suggest ways to tackle it which you might not have thought of."
Any companies wanting to develop mentoring need to approach it with a professional attitude, according to the Industrial Society.
Forrest said:"The truth is a lot of rather amateurish mentoring has gone on in the past. The worst kind was seen as favouritism with people making sure they got all the best opportunities for promotion, which was of course unfair.
"Mentoring is not and should not be a system of back-scratching. A key quality for a good mentor is the ability to listen, and listen really hard.
"A mentor should not use their own career path as a blueprint because everyone's path is different.
"It does take time and a continuous commitment so if you are goingto have a senior person acting as a mentor there can be a real cost in that."
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