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Mentoring programme WorkPlace Pirkanmaa – Organizer’s point of view
The WorkPlace Pirkanmaa mentoring programme, carried out in Tampere, was initiated in 2007. It began from a survey that discussed international degree students’ preparedness for employment (see Minna Säpyskä 2007). According to the survey, international students needed more guidance in developing their skills for Finnish working life. The results also indicated that employers would have liked to commence more low-threshold cooperation with institutions of higher education.
This is how the ESF-funded WorkPlace Pirkanmaa project started, coordinated by The Baltic Institute of Finland and conducted by three universities in Tampere (University of Tampere, Tampere University of Technology, and Tampere University of Applied Sciences). The original project was completed in spring 2011, but the universities decided to continue it as part of their Unipoli cooperation.
The mentoring programme is one of the most important measures to enhance international students’ preparedness for employment in Pirkanmaa. It is also a way to support employers in their business goals regarding internationalization. The third implementation stage of the programme is about to begin in autumn 2012. This time, WorkPlace Pirkanmaa cooperates with Tredea, an organization conducting a similar programme for immigrants who are in the beginning of their careers.
Structure of the mentoring programme
is arranged separately for the mentors and the mentees. The
meetings involve discussion on what mentoring is, what makes a good mentoring
process, and how to resolve problematic situations. The mentors and mentees are
encouraged and motivated to create team spirit.
2. The kick-off meeting
where the partners of each work pair meet, and the process
begins on an individual level, on the level of pair work, and on the level of the entire
3. The mid-programme meeting
is arranged for an overview of the situation, to
make necessary corrections and give motivation for the latter part of the programme.
The organizers gather mid-programme feedback before the meeting, and the topics
of the last meetings are based on this feedback.
4. The final meeting
ends the process. It comprises of discussion on gained
experiences and feelings: what was learned and achieved, what remains to be done?
Everyone is thanked for their participation and handed their certificate. Maintaining
the acquired contacts is encouraged. The organizers collect final feedback and the
learning diaries before the meeting, and they are used as the basis for the topics of
The partners meet each other on average five times over six months. Some of the pairs might meet more frequently, some perhaps fewer times but for longer meetings, depending on their schedules. The partners can also substitute face-to-face discussions with e-mail or Skype discussions. The rule of thumb is that the meetings would ideally take place once a month. The meetings should last on average one to two hours. We encourage mentors to take their mentee to their workplace if possible.
The Mentoring Package
contains topics for each pair meeting, preliminary exercises
and questions to facilitate discussion. Topics are offered as a guideline only, and the
partners can decide themselves what topics they find useful. The package also
contains general information on mentoring, career planning and multicultural
interaction. Instructions for writing the learning diary and a model CV are provided as
In addition, the mentoring pairs fill out and sign a Mentoring Agreement
in the kick-
off meeting. This agreement defines the length and goal of the process and the
methods of communication used (e-mail, phone, Skype; meeting times, availability
The participants are encourage to give honest, constructive feedback in both group and pair meetings or directly to the organizer. At times, especially the mentees have
to be reminded that their opinion is important and sharing it can lead to developing the process. Giving feedback is an important working life skill. During the programme, anonymous feedback is gathered in the middle of the process and in the end, and the topics that appear in the feedback are discussed anonymously in the mid-programme and final meetings. The learning diaries also often contain feedback for both the organizers and the partners. Feedback can be used for marketing purposes with the student’s consent.
Participants have hoped for a web discussion board to facilitate communication between group meetings. We have maintained separate, closed (i.e. confidential) groups for the mentees and mentors, but some of the participants would prefer a larger, common group. The problem is that traffic on the board has been rather slow, which might mostly be due to lack of time. When setting up a discussion board, it is vital to make sure that it is easy to use and preferably previously familiar to the participants (Facebook, LinkedIn etc.). If the board is difficult to use or requires registering, many lose their enthusiasm.
Challenges in implementation
: Marketing the programme to potential mentors – company
representatives and employers – has to be planned carefully. The mentors have to
show personal motivation and a desire to commit to the programme for its entire
duration. Some find enough motivation in helping a young student forward, but
especially enterprises are reluctant to participate just for the common good.
Therefore the mentor has to genuinely benefit from participating in the programme,
and the benefits have to be highlighted already during marketing. For some, this
advantage might be learning new aspects about a potential market region that the
mentee knows, for some it might be improving language skills. Some companies are
looking for potential employees or want to familiarize themselves with the latest
research; some people need mentoring skills in their job and want to gather
experience through the programme.
Past experience clearly indicates that e-mail marketing is inefficient. Nearly all the mentors have become involved in an event of some kind or a form of cooperation, or they have heard of the programme from a member of their network. That is why the organizers of the mentoring programme have to arrange meetings with potential employers, especially when conducting marketing for the first implementation round. Participants from the previous years are an excellent marketing asset: they spread
the word and recommend the programme based on past experience. It is worthwhile to quote them in advertisements, or invite them to events.
: Mentoring – like we have done it – cannot be carried out
electronically. It requires physical meetings, pair and group work, as well as reading
materials and doing the assigned exercises. The entire programme takes
approximately 20 hours over six months. However, commuting, vacations, illnesses
and rush at work, plus the students’ work shifts, other studies and exams mix up
schedules. As such it is important to leave some room for flexibility in the plans
(whether to offer a compensatory meeting if someone cannot participate in the
essential kick-off meeting, for example). Yet it is equally important to establish
definite rules. Experience has shown that a successful mentoring process requires
the commitment of both partners.
Forming the pairs
: Successful mentoring always depends in part on personal
chemistry. We have pointed this out to the participants, reminding them that they
make the process happen and that both partners have an equal responsibility and
similar obligations toward the other party. In general, forming optimal pairs is a
critically important phase for the success of the entire programme.
We pay attention to the following aspects, for example, when processing the applications:
- sufficient language skills, clear self-expression (taking cultural differences into
- the mentee is genuinely interested in find a job in Finland and he/she will
- the mentor is motivated to help and wants to gain something from the
programme, and has enough work experience (at least five years, preferably more than ten years)
- evidence of interest and commitment to the programme - suitable field of education (the partners have the same education or otherwise
- evidence of interest in discussion, thinking and finding solutions - personality: this is usually not overtly apparent in the applications, but at the
end of the selection process we often have an idea about which people would make good pairs – and our hunch is often correct!
Choice of partners is not always successful. Most often this is due to schedule and commitment problems or communication breakdowns that the participants are not able to solve. Difficulties with actual personal chemistry have not occurred. As the group is multicultural, the organizers have to pay attention to the fact that some mentees – especially young or inexperienced – may find it difficult to work with the
opposite sex, for example, or a considerably older (or authoritative) person. On the other hand, it is important to remember that the goal is to prepare the students for Finnish working life, and work communities are quite uniform in many Finnish workplaces. These difficulties can be predicted and prevented by discussing the topics in group meetings and encouraging the participants to talk about their insecurities.
Qualities of a successful mentor pair:
- strong motivation and commitment (and enough time for the process!) - good interaction skills and sufficient language skills - genuine desire to find solutions by discussion - goals that are agreed on mutually - mutual areas of interest: education and work, cultural and linguistics skills and
- compatible personalities: neither partner dominates the interaction, both listen
to each other but can also (constructively) differ in opinion
- both give and get: the mentee also has something new to offer to his/her
What makes a good mentoring programme?
: What is happening? Where and when? Who are involved? Should
I participate, am I important? How should I prepare? How do I get there? What do I
do if I don’t get there? What is the next step? Who can I contact?
: In feedback, group work and networking are often mentioned as
one of the biggest rewards of the programme – this is something that the participants
do not anticipate beforehand. Team spirit requires effort:
- participating in the group meetings is obligatory; everyone is important for the
- communication and getting to know each other is encouraged, and not only
- an Internet discussion platform is provided for the participants - a collective mentoring identity is created for the group - the organizer is part of the group, too: he/she has to be present, available and
: We provide a comprehensive package of material on pair work.
The material also covers topics and a structure for the partner meetings, which helps
to overcome initial shyness. From the beginning to the end, it is still worthwhile to
encourage the partners to decide their own goals and plan a personalized structure for the process. The participants can ask questions and share ideas in group
meetings and Internet discussions. Furthermore, the organizer can provide suggestions in the background material, such as examples on exercises that the partners can carry out (simulated work interviews, visits, small projects etc.).
: It is vital to emphasize already during marketing that the process
requires commitment in order to be useful for both parties. It should also be stressed
that the other party of the pair work is bound to be very disappointed if the other party
fails to adhere to the schedule or appears to refuse cooperation. Mentoring does not
require enormous amounts of time – but the time dedicated to it should be spent well!
: All the discussions are confidential. Everything that is shared in pair
work, between the participants and the organizer, or by anyone in the group, stays
confidential. Agreements and meetings should be adhered to; if changes are
necessary, this should be communicated in advance to both the partner and the
Choosing of partners
: It is always better if the organizer knows at least the mentors
beforehand, but this is not always possible. The application forms have to be clear
and detailed, and the selection process should be conducted with ample time and
: The group meetings should be attended by a well-informed mentor
coach who can direct the participants to the right direction and provide support along
the way. A good coach utilizes inclusive and participative methods, speaks the
relevant languages, is able to recognize nuances in interaction, and creates a
relaxing atmosphere with his/her personality. The coach understands the mentoring
methods but also the intercultural dimension of the programme and its emphasis on
Positive experiences – what to gain from the mentoring programme?
The WorkPlace Pirkanmaa mentoring programme has received very positive
feedback from both the mentors and the mentees. The mentees
have invariably felt
that the programme has taught them working life skills: they have gained a better
understanding of Finnish working life and the practices in their own field, they are
better prepared for job searching, and their professional self-confidence has
improved. Over and over again, the mentees express their surprise on how
generously the mentors share their knowledge and contacts and see much effort in
supporting their mentee. Even though direct employment is not the goal of the
programme, so far approximately a third of the mentees have been employed during
the programme or soon afterward. They acknowledge the importance of the programme in finding a job, especially the role of their mentor.
The benefits for the mentors
are more difficult to generalize, as their goals differ
more from each other. The mentors often appreciate the opportunity to form new
contacts with future specialists of their own industry. They also learn new aspects
about the culture and business model of the company’s possible target country, gain
new points of view to Finnish working life and work communities, and get an
opportunity to improve language skills and intercultural communication skills. Yet
another benefit is to gain experience about working as a mentor under good
instruction. Many mentors have stated that watching the mentees’ encounters with
new situations and their resilience and enthusiasm has reinvigorated their own career,
Making new contacts
is one of the most significant benefits of the programme for
both the mentors and the mentees, even though they rarely anticipate this
beforehand. The participants represent different fields, languages, nationalities and
age groups, as well as both sexes; this guarantees that networks do expand. One’s
partner is not the only new contact formed; new cooperation possibilities emerge
when everyone is given enough time and space for networking.
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