This ebook is for people learning how to give on-the-job training as a mentor. On-the-job training is basically showing someone how to do something on the job and then helping them until they can do it well.
This ebook was originally written for a vocational and professional training context. The principles, however, apply to may other kinds of contentext, such as academic coaching.
This is a good place to start teaching. It's not to hard to show someone step-by step how to do something.
This procedure explains step-by-step what to do. Use the forms provided because they will guide you through the requirements to make it as easy as possible. Your organization might require that you to use other forms as well.
In outline, the process looks like this:
Meet with student
What is mentoring? What is coaching?
For our purposes, both are one-to-one teaching. Further than that, there are three main opinions:
Mentoring is having a more experienced person as a guide and a respected role model. It has a long-term focus on personal learning. A mentor is a personal advisor, and a friend with whom the student can share joys, offload burdens and focus on personal growth. It includes a wide range of learning oriented to exchange of wisdom, support, and guidance in personal or career growth. Mentoring generally needs to be fairly informal; it is primarily a relationship, not just a procedure or activity.
A coach is a one-to-one teacher, who provides one-to-one training in a skill and helps to improve work performance. It may be a program, such as a de facto apprenticeship. A coach finds the right questions and asks students so that they can find their own answers. In particular, a coach foresees future challenges and guides students to develop their own responses.
Another view is that a mentor is the same as a coach. This view has increasingly fallen to the wayside, even though the difference is perhaps more of degree than of kind.
A similar definition simply tries to cover all possibilities by using the following elements:
an independent person (i.e. not the mentoree's supervisor)
engaged in two-way communication with the mentoree
a primary role is to provide constant encouragement and assistance
facilitates the mentoree's attainment of personal growth and/or work related goals
provide information, guidance and constructive comments
evaluate the mentoree's plans, decisions, goals and objectives
gives support and encouragement
highlights shortfalls in agreed performance where necessary
maintains confidentiality in the relationship
does not take over problems and try to solve them
does not give advice, criticism or solutions, but supports mentorees to make their own decisions.
I'd suggest that it's also more complex than the above definition. Consider the following offers to mentor:
"I'll teach you how to do this stuff."
"Two heads are better than one. I'll discuss your ideas with you."
"I'm here. I'll give you advice if you ask."
"I'll ask you how you are going and keep you accountable for staying on track."
"I'll point out the dangers just up ahead, and tell you what they look like. But it will you job to figure out what to do."
"I've been through lots of experiences and I'd like to tell you about them if it will help."
"I'll be there for you to bounce ideas and feelings off."
"It's a journey. I'll travel with you."
"I care and I'm listening. I'll be there for you if you need to talk it out."
Consequently, it looks like we can arrange the different views into many points between two extremes: the "imparter of skills" at one extreme and the "personal counselor for the emotionally healthy" at the other.
Instead of saying that mentoring is something in particular, perhaps it's a range of things that depend on the people and the situations you face. So unless your organization has a specific role for mentoring, you will be better equipped if you have a range of tools in your toolkit.
How long have coaching and mentoring been around?
Thousands of years. And, in various forms, it's still the biggest educational program on the planet.
And it's probably more successful than formal class-room education based on sheer numbers of people learning what they need to know and its solid track record of making sure that people can do the job they are trained to do.
On-the-job apprenticeships are one of the oldest forms of training, and onjob-learning is the basis of all apprenticeship systems (both formal and informal), and most other kinds of on-job-training and professional education. It's also the basis of most academic tutoring and postgraduate research supervision. It even includes the higher levels in academia. Medical practitioners do internships, doctoral students do fieldwork, and lawyers do "articles". In fact, most professions require some kind of workplace learning for registration.
Even in modern societies that value formal qualifications, most employee training is still unaccredited and done on the job. In some places it's called "sitting next to Nellie." In other words, if you want somebody to learn a new job, you sit them next to an experienced person ("Nellie") who shows them what to do, makes sure that they can do it, answers their questions, and solves any problems. In Australia, this phenomenon greatly frustrates VET sector leaders, who would like to see all these workers get qualifications.
Considering the sheer numbers of people who effectively learn this way, mentoring is probably more successful than formal class-room education.
What benefits does it offer?
As a mentor, you get many personal benefits:
You meet people who will challenge you with fresh perspectives.
You might take great satisfaction in helping somebody else develop.
You'll build a significant network of up-and-coming new leaders in your field.
You'll get better at sharing your experiences, knowledge, and skills.
You'll get opportunities to test new ideas.
You'll get a broader picture of what you do.
Mentorees can benefit in various ways:
They have opportunity to learn new skills, acquire experience, and become more confident.
They gain insights into the organizational culture, attitudes, protocols and expected behaviors
They get opportunities to network.
They increase their potential for career mobility and promotion.
They get recognition and job satisfaction.
They get a supportive environment in which their successes and failures can be evaluated.
They gain mutual respect form peers.
About your students
You need to figure out who will be your student, what they need to learn, and what kind of person they are. I'm assuming that your student will be it as part of an organization, and some kind of accountability might be important.
Who will be the student?
The mentorees obviously needs to be someone who needs a particular skill. The simple way is to assign mentors to mentorees, and this can work for very skill-based mentoring. In some staff placement situations, you might have no choice:
"Jon is the only one here who's really good at what you need to learn. He's a nice guy and you'll get on well with him. How about working with him regularly so she can teach you how to do it?"
The right person?
Check that you are the right person for that student. You need the right subject matter expertise and your personalities need to reasonably compatible. You should feel that you will be able to work together. There's nothing wrong with being totally different, because opposites sometimes attract, and being very similar doesn't necessarily ensure success.
You may have to accept students whose personalities are not the perfect fit for you, but you should be wary of accepting a one-on-one student that clearly won't work. Besides, you should meet in an open, visible location if the student is the opposite gender.
In a more personal case, mentorees needs a trusted friend whom they respect to be a mentor, and you won't be able to depend on any formal position to establish trust. Consider your own expectations. You might be coaching people through difficult personal decisions as a friend or a confidante.
Unless you're is a position of pastoral carer, and people deliberately go to you for help, the informal friendship part of the relationship might be more important. In many cases, the relationship is spontaneous and not completely planned.
In other cases, you might have to coach people whose personalities are not the perfect fit for you, but you should be wary of accepting a one-on-one relationship that clearly won't work. Besides, you should meet in an open, visible location if the student is the opposite gender.
In any case, you need some way that they can bail out if the relationship doesn't work out.
Here's a list of factors affecting compatibility. It's not a checklist. It's more like a list of things that can make people incompatible with someone:
temperament and personality
ethnicity and/or language
work and life experience
Clarify the goal
Identify the needs and goals. It may take a while to find out exactly what your mentoree wants to learn or why they really came to you in the first place.
If the mentoree is ready, you may want to discuss some goals. Give the mentoree freedom to explore his/her ideas and feelings, even if they are not quite right at first. For the mentoree, finding out exactly what they need to aim for is a major achievement in itself.)
The goals need to be clearly focused. Discuss them with the student and write them down. It should be written in the form of "At the end of this series, you will be able to ..." This is not as easy as it sounds, and it will probably take several drafts. Even then they might not be perfectly clear. It is quite common to adjust them later as you better understand the topic
Writing the skill as a set of steps is usually much more difficult than it looks. Try these hints:
Start with what you want the student to learn and why.
State each step in one simple sentence of no more than ten words. Don’t try and explain everything at this stage.
Put the steps in an order that makes sense to your student, not just to you. The steps in a "how-to" are usually in only one order.
Some steps might be only "if necessary." Your students need to check whether they need to do that step, but it might not be necessary.
You will probably have some complicated exceptions, so leave them until afterwards so your students can get the basic steps right first.
You will need to look though your list of steps and revise it until it is right. Even then, you won’t really know until you try it with a student. But it’s easy to cover those mistakes in a friendly one-to-one discussion.
In a workplace situation, it is usually necessary to discuss the goals with the student's supervisor. If you are not the student’s supervisor, check that the student will get enough support and encouragement from him/her. You might also need do discuss any particular ways that tasks need to be allocated to fit training.
It will help if you can identify the student's learning style early. It can make the difference between success and failure for some students. According to current research, it doesn't make any difference for many students.
The idea of "learning style" means that students learn in very different ways. Learning styles are not related to intelligence; the styles are found in people of all intelligence levels.
Here are some of the most important:
Visual learners want to see something, especially a diagram or picture. If asked to explain something, their natural first choice is to draw a diagram.
Audio learners like sound. They find a verbal explanation very helpful, and will prefer to explain something orally.
Theoretical learners like to think it through and make sure they understand it before they feel ready to do anything. Logical consistency is very important.
Activist learners like to do it straight away and see what happens. They get frustrated if asked to carefully think something through before trying to do it.
Reflective learners want to mull it over before taking action.
Relaters feel that relating to people is most important. They look at relationships and want to learn from other people. They very interested in how people tick but aren’t very interested in abstract ideas.
Kinaesthetic learners are good at physical activities such as sport and dance. They naturally want to touch the object that they are learning about.
Plan the student’s learning experience
The next step is to use the job description to plan the student’s learning experience. A list of ideals is not very helpful; the plan needs to be practical enough to implement. (This plan has also been called in the jargon a "work-based learning pathway.")
Identify specific learning goals and write them down
Identify activities to be included in the learning process
Put the program into a series of steps that start with the simpler tasks and progress in increments to the more advanced.
Will experienced co-workers and experts give the students guidance? If so, how will they do it? Will the students feel comfortable with them?
Will they get enough opportunity to follow the example of experienced co-workers and experts?
What opportunities for practice will there be?
When is an appropriate time for the student to observe and talk to others at work?
Will the students be able to rotate between several jobs?
You will find that you need to talk to some people on some of these points, for example, managers, experienced co-workers and experts will each have a part to play. While things must be tentative at the planning stage, having people in on the planning will make the decision to implement much easier.
At this stage, you need to identify the kinds of supervision that you will need. You must normally have at least a training program supervisor and a local workplace supervisor. You will probably need a skills development mentor, and you might also need a personal mentor, depending on the industry.
As part of your planning, you must consider any contractual requirements and responsibilities that affect what you do. There may be links to external courses.
When you have worked out how the program will work, document it in a training plan. Your institution probably uses a form or template.
If the student is doing on-job-training as part of formal education, you will usually need to cooperate with the insititution, which might provide off-the-job class work, training on specific equipment, online learning, conferences, seminars or workshops.
Hints to prevent the arrangement from falling apart:
Clarify how much does the student already knows and what they can already do.
Clarify how much orientation will they need?
Who is reponsible for teaching what? (You probably expect the college to do most teaching, but the student might ask you for instruction.)
Find out who you should liaise with at the institution to monitor the effectiveness of the arrangement. Will they visit on-site?
Clarify any required reports and when are they due.
Plan your sessions
Plan the beginning of the first session
Explain your goals to the student.
Tell your student how you will teach the course.
Discuss any ground rules (e.g. how you will communicate outside meetings and how available you can be) and negotiate realistic expectations.
Fill in a "Student learning agreement."
Go though the OHS rules and ensure their health and safety.
First, write anything that the student needs to know to do each step.
Don’t explain lots of things that won’t help the students do that step. It's tempting to include lots of interesting and "nice to know" stuff that the student doesn’t need, but you should leave it out.
Do include the things that go wrong and what to do about each one.
Try this basic sequence for each session:
Ask how they have been going with what you taught them last time. Help them with anything they need to apply their skills better in the workplace.
Tell them what you are going to do today.
Tell them the purpose of the activity.
Show them how to do it in clear steps, and explain it as you go. Be clear. Answer any questions.
Ask them questions to see if they understand it.
Check that they understand it.
Let them try to do it, and explain what they are doing.
Give them a chance to practice the skill and ask questions.
Give them constructive feedback. Be supportive and non-judgmental.
Plan ways for them to get more practice between sessions.
Evaluate the plan
The next step is to evaluate your planning. Some of these criteria may be relevant:
Does the plan cover a broad enough range of skills?
Does the plan cover skills in sufficient depth?
Does the plan include of a range of both routine and non-routine activities?
Are activities appropriately sequenced?
Is there sufficient learning and practice time?
How well does the relationship between workplace learning and external provider courses work?
Does the program address and language, literacy and numeracy needs?
At this stage you may want to fix anything that looks like it won’t work. When you’re happy with the plan, you’re ready to go to the next step.
Put the plan into practice
You should know by now who should approve of the plan before you can go ahead and what needs to be put in writing. Get agreement to implement the plan.
Now you simply implement what you have planned. Follow the plan for each session and review it afterwards. It needs to build on their strengths, and identify anything they need to develop further.
Start by explaining clearly to the students the goals of the program and what kinds of activities it will involve. Explain any rules and processes. Answer their questions and allay any fears that they may have.
Follow "how-to-do-it" steps so that the student finds it easy to learn.
Give the student a go at doing it. Don’t just explain theory or how to do it.
Develop ways of explaining things simply or demonstrating skills so that the student can learn more easily with less confusion or frustration.
Encourage the student to:
take responsibility for their own learning
think about what they are learning. For example, they might see and understand various principles, understand their weakness and strengths, ask whether procedures could be different or improved.
You will need to be flexible, because sessions don’t always go exactly as planned. For example:
The student might take a long time asking you questions about difficulties they faced since you last met.
A room or piece of equipment might not be available.
Something in your planning doesn’t work and confuses the student. You then take a long time to "de-confuse" the student.
The student knows much more (or much less) about the skill than you thought.
How you picture it in your mind during planning usually looks different from the real program later on, even if you put it into practice exactly as you planned. It’s like making that perfect coffee table in the DIY book. You follow the instructions exactly but somehow your table doesn’t quite look as good as the glossy photo in the book.
Another thing frequently happens. You must change the plan because unanticipated factors make the original plan unworkable. As a result, the program as implemented will be different from what you planned.
Lots of other things can happen:
Key people simply change their mind for reasons you do not know.
People were enthusiastic but didn’t realize what it would involve. They then try to limit their commitment.
There may be changes in business structure, budget, technology, business climate, or workplace practices.
Key personnel leave the program.
Some support services become unavailable or better support services become available.
You missed some things through lack of foresight or experience on your part.
It’s easy to accept changes that you see are good, but it’s quite difficult to handle changes you don’t like. You will probably be frustrated that your "perfect plan" needs to be changed, but you’ll just have to adapt your "perfect plan" to the new reality.
Preparing for meetings
Maintain and develop the relationship. Make sure you prepare for each session and meet regularly as agreed and scheduled. As you go, you should grow the relationship and keep both of you actively involved.
You need to prepare proactively for meetings with the student:
check that the time and location is suitable
make sure the students emails any written work beforehand, if it is that kind of course, so that you have time to read it and give it appropriate reflection before your interview
list your questions and ideas
plan your next step
Then, during the interview, keep to the allotted time.
If you sometimes use email "interviews", the same kinds of guidelines also apply. It will probably pay to write rough drafts of your questions and reflect on them for a few days. You might realize some of the answers yourself, find a better way to ask the question, or find that another underlying question is the real issue.
In any case, it is better to offer help than for the students to become increasingly frustrated.
Establish the relationship
Develop a a good working relationship with the student. For that you will need particular interpersonal and communication skills:
asking effective questions
responding appropriately to students' needs
maintaining appropriate body language
You need to make clear the boundaries and expectations of the relationship and get agreement fairly early. Can the person telephone you for help? If so, when? For how long? How much extra time can you give? How responsible will the student become for his/her own learning? Consider these:
your role and responsibilities
the student's role and responsibilities
limits of the relationship
your area of expertise
the involvement of others
As the relationship develops:
Build the student’s confidence, self-esteem, respect and trust in the relationship.
Resolve any differences. Ask for help if you really can’t agree on something.
Recognise any important changes in the relationship and discuss them with the student and their supervisor. (For example, the student might eventually become quite independent and not need you so much. Your schedules might change. The student might need a different kind of expertise from yours. The friendship might sour.)
Use your personal and professional networks to help the student.
Watch the student for any signs of difficulties. If necessary, change your approach to keep up momentum. Don’t let it bog down.
Always be ethical (e.g. be honest and fair, keep sessions confidential, work within your limitations).
Meet regularly with the supervisor to monitor whether you are being effective in helping the student to learn the planned skills.
Effective communication and interpersonal skills are essential and you must get them right. These include:
showing respect for the expertise and background of the student
demonstrating sensitivity to diversity, disability, culture, gender and ethnic backgrounds
setting an example of what you teach
engaging in two-way interaction
encouraging the expression of diverse views and opinions
negotiating complex discussions by establishing a supportive environment
using language and concepts appropriate to cultural differences
accurately interpreting non-verbal messages
Looking at issues from the student's viewpoint.
Watch for cues. Is the student engaged or disengaged? Do they show up every time, or do they miss sessions? Can you detect frustration, distraction, or stress? Have they reached a plateau where they've stopped learning?
The relationship sometimes sours. This might be through fundamentally different opinions, lack of contact, misunderstandings through emails, or critique of work. Your first course of action should be to repair the relationship.
The working environment
So far, we've looked at the steps that students need to go through. If you want to provide training to people who are already working, your first step as an instructor is to establish an effective working environment for learning. Even if the workplace provides full workplace induction, it is your responsibility to talk with students about their learning program. In fact, all the aspects of introducing students to classroom-based programs apply just as much to you. You will often have to liaise with other staff if the workplace training affects them.
A good place to start is to establish the purposes of the workplace learning. Why is it there? What goals is it trying to achieve? Do the various people have the same set of goals? For example, the purpose or goals might be one or more of the following:
introduce new technology
provide a new product or service
take a new organizational direction
manage workplace change
train people for new positions or job roles
address an identified skills gap
meet OHS requirements
provide a traineeship or apprenticeship
develop career paths for employees
Part of your planning is liaison with various people. Depending on the program, these may include management in the workplace’s organization, RTO staff, or Group Training Company staff (these organise traineeships and apprenticeships). Get their agreement on the program before you go further.
As the next step, find out what the student’s job description should be and get it written down. Make sure that the boundaries are clear; students need to be willing to do what needs to be done, so overly restrictive job descriptions are frustrating for employers. On the other hand, you need to provide some delineation to prevent students being exploited or diverted into too many tasks that are outside their program.
The student’s job description should address work activities, areas of responsibility, processes to carry out work, accountability, use of equipment, projects, and schedules.
In your preparation, ask, "Will the student reach the learning goals with this job description?" You will need to analyze work practices and routines to determine whether they are effective for reaching learning goals. You will need to consider factors such as:
How work is organized, including its structures and systems
Changes in the organization
Operational or organizational guidelines
Work demarcations and industrial relations concerns
Who is the workplace supervisor? Does he/she have the skills to supervise and support a student?
You may need to propose changes to make the students program more effective. Many changes might be small, practical adjustments that do not affect others. However, some proposed changes might mean that you have some homework to do:
Are there any OHS implications?
Are there any industrial relations implications? Does it contravene particular awards or workplace agreements? Will the industrial relations situation ensure fairness of learning opportunities?
Who will need to approve of any changes before you can go ahead? Who else needs to be consulted or informed? What needs to be put in writing?
About "learning contracts"
In practicum-driven cases, you might need to use a Learning Contract for each student. This is a clear record of what the student is intending to learn in a given period. As a contract, it is a commitment on both sides. The form should be filled in with copies to both the student and the coordinator/director. In the cases of apprenticeships and traineeships, you should check specific requirements with your program coordinator.
If you use a Learning Contract, it should:
list clearly work responsibilities
cover all they need to learn in the timeframe (e.g. one semester)
commit supervisor and students to regular contact
list any other planned leaning tasks (including the probability of workshops)
fit their personal schedules, given that some adjustments and sacrifices might need to be made.
fit their individual characteristics and abilities
be achievable but also stretch them
identify person(s) giving supervision and help
Several important points:
Achieving the best contract may involve negotiation.
The tasks for which students are responsible should be highly consistent with the units for which they will be assessed.
Students need to be as accountable for what they do as if they were being employed, even if they are volunteers.
Now the program is running, you need to monitor it. The line between monitoring a program and mentoring the student is fuzzy, so here are some guidelines.
Let's say that you have the role of training program supervisor. Put briefly, if nobody is assigned to mentor or coach the student, you are responsible to make sure the program works for the student. From a training viewpoint, the buck stops with you.
You regularly need to ask all parties how the program is going. Besides the student, these most commonly include the supervisor or manager, on-job people giving help, and off-job training personnel.
Although some problems are serious, many are simple misunderstandings:
"I thought they meant … but then they … "
"She said … but then she … "
It is quite normal that some of them think the program is going well, while others see difficulties. Explore the difficulties until you know the nature of the problem. For example, Jamie mentions to you that he can’t handle the workload. When you enquire, he might say:
"I have a full day each week on campus, but I still have to do a full-time load at work."
"The boss comes in and gives me extra things to do that aren't on my job description."
"I was sick, but I kept coming to work anyway."
"I was given some things to do but I don’t know how to do them."
The supervisor might say:
"He’s doing really well. I didn’t know there was a problem."
"He’s just slacking off. He doesn’t get his work done."
"He’s trying real hard but I guess he’s not cut out for it."
"He’s doing okay. I discussed how it’s going with him the other day and it was good."
Whatever the case, and whichever side brings up a problem, it is your duty to find out what is going wrong and fix it.
And it doesn't stop there. Other monitoring points:
Monitor the student's readiness to take on new tasks and responsibilities. They may become comfortable with things that they have learned, or become fearful of some new tasks.
Put most of your time into being constructive rather than solving problems. Dealing only with problems and ignoring success is a rather negative attitude to convey.
Observe the student’s work and suggest alternative approaches where necessary.
Especially in the case of younger people, it will be helpful to monitor workplace relationships. Work will be much easier if they make friends, but they may be very unhappy if they don’t. Besides, most training sector qualifications require teamwork and communication, so these aspects are really part of your core responsibilities.
You might also find cases of inequitable treatment based on race, culture, gender or other related issues. You need to find out what is going on. When you do, intervene tactfully but decisively to resolve the problem. You cannot assume that people will always communicate effectively.
Encourage student to take greater responsibility for their own learning
Encourage students to reflect on their experience. They may be able to do some things before understanding them very well. Ask the student about the reasons why things are done as they are, the implications, the relevance of off-job learning, and how they might do things in other situations.
Is the student still learning?
Keep on asking yourself, "Is this effective?" As you go, you'll learn more about the individual’s learning style, and their particular characteristics.
You will probably need to develop learning activities to support and reinforce new learning, build on strengths and identify areas for further development
You should make every attempt to adjust for their learning style so that you can be more effective. For example, some people will learn more by reading, but other won't. Some people need active involvement in doing something. Others live on interaction with other people.
Show leadership if the student gets stuck. They may need you to make the harder decisions if they can't. For example, you can help them re-focus or give them more (or less) responsibility. It's hard to inspire people, but easier to empower people.
It is your job to motivate them so that they continue to be responsible for their own learning. Usually that means discussing the goals and barriers. But watch for subtle cues from the students about things that they are reluctant to say out loud. Changes your approach if you need to so that the student keeps momentum.
Ethics can be more of an issue:
If you get personally very close, you might become unable to objectively evaluate the success of the relationship as a learning experience.
If the other person is of the opposite gender, you should not normally spend a lot of time alone.
The closeness of your relationship involves a level of trust that brings the need for confidentiality.
Make sure the closure is smooth. Talk about it and the student's further goals.
When the student has met the goals you set, negotiate closure and carry it out smoothly. Keep the relationship good and communicate it well.
Ask the student for feedback on whether they think they achieved the goals of the sessions.
You can determine when the relationship is over when:
The student assesses themselves as having the skills they are aiming to get.
The student shows significant improvement in a particular area.
The student is ready for formal assessment.
The student can learn independently.
The student is ready to keep learning through other means.
The agreed time period over.
Sadly, you might also find that severe blockages in the relationship that make it no longer viable.
Evaluate how effective it was as a learning experience for the student. Get the student's feedback on the outcomes achieved and the value of the relationship. Evaluate your own performance in managing the relationship. What things do you need to improve on?
Fill in the evaluation form. If your organization uses a different form, then you should also use its form and lodge it with the relevant staff member.
Did the student have all the skills you aimed for?
How effective was your teaching process and your teaching techniques?
What personal benefits did you gain from the process?
What benefits did the organization gain from the process?
Based on your evaluation of what happened, what improvements do you recommend? (E.g. What would you do differently next time? What kind of person would you select? Do your organizational procedures need improvement? Were the forms helpful or not?)