By Nicholas Wyman
At any given time, my organization represents 600 to 700 apprentices in mentored skills based programs. It’s been personally rewarding to witness just how empowering mentorship can be for trainees, mentors, and companies alike. 82% of apprentices in our programs complete trade certifications and go on to earn progressive wage increases and promotions within the companies that trained them. Mentorship is a cornerstone of these programs and a big factor in their success.
Why is this so important now?
As Baby Boomers reach retirement age, many industries are facing a loss of skilled workers. At the same time, the pace of technological change demands that today’s workers acquire new skills rapidly and continue to upgrade their skills while on the job.
Rather than waiting, possibly in vain, for a job-ready candidate to walk through the door, employers can recruit promising talent and build up candidates’ skills with on-site training and professional development.
Mentoring is an important part of a successful skill building program. As a management tool, it is one of the most effective ways to transfer organizational knowledge as well as job-specific skills. Unlike more traditional supervisory management, mentoring creates a climate of support, guidance, and teaching that boosts employee engagement and productivity.
At the same time, mentorship builds invaluable bonds of trust and loyalty, and encourages professional development. It’s a smart investment in any business’s most important asset: their human capital.
What’s in it for employers?
1. A better bottom line.
Many employers have already seen that focusing on training and workforce development reduces costs and increases their bottom line. Apprenticeships, for example, offer a 38% return on investment by lowering recruitment costs and reducing the need to hire contractors. But the gains of a mentoring program don’t stop there. Effective training and mentoring also improves workforce productivity that drives output and makes businesses more competitive.
A seven-year study  conducted at Sun Microsystems showed significant differences in retention and output between mentored and non- mentored staff, as well as those who served as mentors. Retention rates were 72% for mentees and 69% for mentors, compared with only 49% for those who did not participate in the program. Improved retention resulted in a $6.7 million dollar savings in turnover and replacement costs. Only 5% of non-participants saw a positive change in salary grade, while 25% of mentees and 28% of mentors did. The company noted that because salary increases indicate a greater contribution to the organization’s impact, the compensation gains of mentors and mentees also represent a positive return for the company.
2. Increased employee engagement.
Mentees benefit from the knowledge and experience of veteran workers, and are better prepared to meet the challenges they will find on the job. At the same time, the personal approach of mentoring creates a sense of relevance and being ‘a part of’ the organization. Research shows that employees who feel a sense of belonging within the organization have much greater engagement.  Mentored employees reach out for opportunities for growth and personal career development. They are more likely to become self-starters, often motivated by the knowledge that their efforts are recognized and relevant. Such employees in turn contribute more to the organization. Mentorship creates a culture of collaboration. Both mentors and mentees benefit from the sense of shared investment and personal accountability. As one mechatronics apprentice said recently, “You get to make your voice matter.”
3. The next generation of workers prefers mentoring to management.
Mentoring is a proven, effective formal method of training. At the same time, it is an informal method of connecting with and educating the next generation of workers. Research shows that mentorship is more appealing than management for the Millennial Generation, people now in their 20s and early 30s, who will make up 40% of the workforce by 2020. According to data gathered by the Intelligence Group (publishers of the youth- focused research quarterly Cassandra Report), 88% of Millennials prefer a collaborative work culture to a competitive one, and 79% would prefer that their managers serve as mentors rather than bosses. 
Mentorship is an effective training tool for workers of any age. But these numbers also indicate that it’s going to be the preferred approach for the next generation. To attract the best talent of today and tomorrow, I believe smart employers will increasingly integrate mentorship into their organizations. Skills building programs, such as apprenticeships, are an excellent way to formalize mentoring.
A few things to keep in mind:
Mentoring is most effective when it is integrated into the organizational structure.
It’s important to set clear expectations and benchmarks.
Establish clear methods of evaluation to address skill gaps, strengths and weaknesses.
Compatibility and confidentiality between mentor and mentee is key to success. Mentors should be carefully selected and have strong organizational support in their new role.