Building a lasting and meaningful relationship: a closer look at mentorship

Jenna Richardson (pictured right), Armed Forces Employers Liaison at the Forces Employment Charity, takes a closer look at our corporate mentoring service, exploring the benefits and experience for both mentor and mentee.

At the Forces Employment Charity, we are uniquely positioned to offer long-standing expertise with a modern approach to recruitment. Using our specialist knowledge to bridge the gap between military life and civilian employment, we provide service leavers, veterans, reservists and families with life-changing support as well as job opportunities and training.

We work with employers who truly understand the values that veterans can bring to their organisations and have been responsible for veterans joining a range of sectors. These sectors include maritime, oil and gas, transport, engineering specialisms, communications and more.

When organisations are passionate about supporting the ex-Forces community but don’t have any current vacancies, their employees can join our corporate mentoring service. This service has proved to be incredibly rewarding for both mentors and mentees. Connecting experienced professionals with mentees who are eager to learn and grow in their careers.

Through the online mentoring hub within MyForcesEmployment, veterans and family members can contact a professional who has volunteered their time to share their insights and expertise. Our goal is to match mentees with mentors already working in their desired industry. This gives the people we are supporting unique insight into their chosen field. It also gives mentors the opportunity to talk about their passion and share their enthusiasm with an engaged audience.

Empowering mentors and mentees

The Forces Employment Charity corporate mentoring service has no set time frames for either session length or number of sessions required. Our team recommends six meetings over three months, but we don’t dictate when these need to be or put a time limit on how long the relationship can last. These areas and other logistical considerations, such as locations for meetings, are determined by the mentor and mentees, who have complete autonomy over the relationship.

We’ve found that this approach empowers both mentor and mentee, giving them the freedom to determine their preferred approach to mentoring. It also ensures that neither party feels any pressure to stick to a specific timetable. More often than not, the logistics of the arrangement depend on the nature of the conversation and the time required to cover the subject area. If the mentee and the mentor feel they need to go beyond the recommended six sessions, they can.

A conversation between two people

Unfortunately, potential mentors often lack confidence and don’t realise how valuable they, and their experiences within their industry, truly are. This is partly because mentoring is often seen as teaching or tutoring, but the reality is it is often just a conversation between two people.

Mentoring is ultimately an opportunity for the mentee to essentially pick the mentor’s brains, hear about their experience and get tips and guidance. This doesn’t have to be a formal process with a list of outcomes; the reality is mentees are happy to just meet up and talk. As long as both parties approach meetings with openness and enthusiasm, the conversation will flow. When mentors go back and forth in an engaged conversation, they realise how much they know about a subject. How valuable the information that may seem like second nature to them actually is to someone looking to get into the industry.

As an organisation, the Forces Employment Charity provides:

  • Consultations with an employment advisor
  • Job matching and vacancies
  • Advice on training
  • Interview techniques
  • Employee events
  • CV reviews and support

All these services and more will be provided to mentees by our experienced employment advisors. This means that mentors don’t need to be specialists in these areas; our advisors will concentrate on them. Mentors just need to be enthusiastic about their industry and share stories from within it. This is where they can add value and provide context and a better understanding of the area of employment the mentee is interested in. These stories and experiences contextualise the industry for mentees, boosting their understanding and, ultimately, their confidence.

Benefits for mentees

Receiving this reassurance and boost in confidence is one of the many benefits our corporate mentoring programme offers mentees. Talking to someone already in their selected industry is also a great way to highlight the transferrable skills veterans have.

Often veterans struggle to see how their experience in the Armed Forces makes them ideal employees. Communication skills are an excellent example of this. In the military, veterans will have coordinated operations and exercises, relaying crucial information in a clear and concise manner. When making the transition into civilian life, it can be difficult to appreciate how valuable these skills are and how much they can be applied to civilian employment. However, talking to a mentor about their day-to-day experiences at work often highlights scenarios where these skills would come into play; for example, a mentor might talk through project management tasks which depend on clear communication.

When a mentor breaks down a working day in this way, mentees are more likely to identify the large range of transferrable skills they have. It starts to become clear how important attributes such as a strong work ethic and the ability to work in a team are. In the military, teamwork is a necessity, and veterans understand the importance of working seamlessly with others. Once the practicalities of civilian life are revealed during a conversation with a mentor, the importance of this skill and others begin to become clear.

Not only does this mean these conversations can support the interview technique work our employment advisors will be undertaking, but it can also help relieve the anxiety going into a new working environment often brings. Mentees will feel more prepared and have their confidence boosted by the understanding they have of the transferrable skills they will bring to their new workplace.

The impact of practical advice from someone already working within an industry can never be underestimated. Having a mentor gives mentees the ability to ask specific questions and gain an understanding they wouldn’t get from someone outside of the sector. For example, if a mentee is looking to work within healthcare, the NHS is a vast organisation that may seem complicated from the perspective of someone who has never worked within it. To overcome this, we have mentors specialising within different parts of the Health Service to ensure that mentees have direct access to individuals who can give them tailored advice about departments and the best route for them.

In addition to clarifying information on sectors that seem daunting, mentees also benefit from mentors revealing opportunities they might not otherwise know about. In the cyber security and construction industries, for example, there are many different opportunities that a veteran might be unaware of. These include roles and career paths that could make the best use of the technical knowledge and abilities they gained when working in the Armed Forces. In the cyber security industry, this could include roles such as project manager, threat and risk management, data analyst and programmer. For construction, mentees could discover they are highly qualified to become civil engineers, architectural technicians, surveyors and more. The mentorship programme can identify opportunities like this in these sectors and others.

Benefits for mentors

The relationship between mentor and mentee is a lasting connection that makes a meaningful impact. A mentor’s knowledge and experience can help change the lives of the clients and families the Forces Employment Charity supports. It is incredibly rewarding to help someone overcome challenges and reach their goal. The positive impact of knowing that they have made such a difference in someone’s life stays with our mentors and often makes a difference to their own mental health and wellbeing.

It is a mutually beneficial relationship that can also help mentors develop their own skills in leadership, communication and coaching. The ability to hold one-to-one conversations outside of the working environment and with someone who is not a member of their own team or organisation is a valuable learning experience with less pressure than the scenario they might be used to at work. As the relationship develops and mentors see which pieces of advice or methods of communication benefit mentees, they begin to take these learnings and apply them in their working life, enhancing their approach to reviews and catch-ups with their own teams at work.

There are also a number of Corporate Social Responsibility benefits to mentoring programmes. With more and more businesses looking for ways to encourage employees to give back, mentoring creates opportunities to provide evidence of volunteering, impacting both the mentor and the organisation they work for.

Many of the mentors we currently work with are looking for a way to connect with the Armed Forces community, often because they, or someone in their life, has served. Mentoring with and families is a great way to learn about the Armed Forces community and the challenges they face. This knowledge can then be taken back to the employer and enhance any veteran support programmes that may be in place.

Outside of the relationship between mentor and mentee and the Armed Forces community, the Forces Employment Charity also makes an effort to connect mentors leading to a wide network of professionals who share enthusiasm for mentorship. This links mentors with valuable corporate relationships and networking opportunities that could have a wider impact on their own career development as well as creating relationships that could directly benefit the organisation they work for.

Former clients who want to give back

Whilst mentors do not need to have any prior experience with Forces Employment Charity, many of our mentors are former clients who want to give others the opportunity to access the support that made such a difference to their own lives. Many were mentored themselves and know firsthand how impactful the experience can be.

Former clients who go on to mentor have a unique connection to mentees as they have such a shared history. Not only do they understand the challenges of military life, but they have also been a veteran looking to forge a new career path. They have been in the same position as the mentee sitting opposite them and know firsthand how difficult it can be to adapt to civilian life and find employment.

This shared experience and an understanding of the sector the mentee is looking to get into creates a strong bond which gives both parties the ability to have an honest conversation about their experiences. Creating a relationship that will undoubtedly impact each other’s lives.

Our advisors never stop being available to clients, even if they haven’t spoken to them for a number of years. Therefore, former clients who are considering becoming a mentor can always reach out to the advisor who supported them to discuss mentorship and how to become part of the corporate mentorship programme.

Supporting families

Life within the Armed Forces community has a big impact on not just those serving but those around them. The Forces Employment Charity supports families, spouses and partners with a number of challenges, including;

  • Living in relatively isolated locations
  • Defining what a ‘‘normal’ life is
  • Getting back onto the employment ladder
  • Coping with a sudden return to civilian life
  • The need to build confidence
  • Childcare issues
  • Frequent moves

These challenges, especially frequently moving house, often mean that family members have undertaken a number of roles in short lengths of time. This can lead to extensive skills in a number of areas, but it can also, unfortunately, lead to the spouse, partner or family member feeling overwhelmed when it comes to deciding on a future career.

Our mentorship programme links spouses and partners who are looking to make a career change with industry professionals who can help them identify where their skills lay and why these skills and attributes will be appealing to specific sectors. Mentors can therefore help families make informed decisions about their next career move.

The process

The Forces Employment Charity undertakes a lot of behind-the-scenes work to ensure that the combination of mentor and mentee will be beneficial to both parties. Before connecting individuals, our team speaks to every party, including the mentor’s employer, to determine their specific goals and objectives. As well as the mentor’s background, expertise, and why they are passionate about their industry.

From here, mentors are activated in the Forces Employment Charity mentoring hub. Once their application is approved, their mentor profile will become visible and potential mentees can search for and find mentors on the Hub. Once connected, the mentors and mentees agree on when to hold their first conversation, which kicks off a series of meetings where mentors can share their valuable insights and help mentees navigate their career paths.

Ultimately, both parties need to think about what they want to get from mentoring. For mentees, this could be improved confidence, understanding of a specific sector, or hearing from someone who understands their industry. For mentors, it can be the positive impact of supporting someone on a new career path, developing coaching skills or connecting with the Armed Forces community. To get the most out of this experience, both parties need to be open to feedback and willing to invest time and effort.

Whether you are looking to be mentored or become a mentor, the truth is you’ve got nothing to lose by trying mentoring. There is, however, an awful lot to gain.

If you’re interested in becoming a member, complete our mentoring application. If you’d like to be paired with a mentor, register with us to talk to an advisor and get access to our online community.

Want to hear about our programmes, partnerships, events and ways that we could support you?