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MENTORS AND ADVOCATES


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Why mentoring is important

Why mentoring is important

We can all look back on our lives and think of people who were older or wiser or more experienced than ourselves, who gave us some valuable advice, helped guide us in the right direction, believed in us, stood up for us somewhere, or opened a door for us. Without their support things might have turned out differently or we might not have achieved what we have. These people are often called mentors (Mentor was the name of the fictional person who was responsible for the education of Odysseus' son, Telemachus, while his father was away on his various epic journeys).

Mentors are to be found in education, business, the arts, sport and many other areas. Mentors may assist in teaching, counselling, advising, introducing, networking, sponsoring, advocating, role modelling and encouraging their protégés (or mentees). The relationship between a mentor and a protégé can be more or less formal and structured, depending on needs and circumstances.

Mentors also say that they gain a lot out of being a mentor. They get to use their own life skills and experiences to assist students with disability. They notice that their own personal skills and self-awareness levels improve. They learn to relate to members of the younger generation on an equal and mutually beneficial basis. They feel they have made an important and meaningful contribution and experience a greater sense of self-worth.

The role of a mentor

The role of a mentor

The role of a mentor is to discuss options with the protégé (as opposed to directing courses of action), and help the protégé deciding for themselves what is the best course of action. A mentor could be described as a non-judgemental friend that helps protégés find the best way forward.

Mentors can assist protégés in any or all of the following ways:

  • Improve the protégé's knowledge of available services to assist with study, at work or in the wider community.
  • Help to instil and maintain positive attitudes in the protégé to study and work.
  • Support the protégé to get though your traineeship or apprenticeship.
  • Give the protégé a greater sense of confidence and optimism about the future.
  • Provide advocacy support to the protégé when problems arise.
  • Assist the protégé to establish and achieve study and work goals.
  • Advise the protégé on paid and work experience opportunities.
  • Improve the protégé's job readiness, job presentation and job search skills.
  • Help the protégé link up with a suitable employment agency.

How to become a mentor

How to become a mentor

Many mentors and protégés have found benefit in using a specialist employment service for people with disability to get started. A specialist employment service can assist the protégé with job search and job support as soon as they are available for work, as well as coordinate wage, training and equipment subsidies. Those services with a focus on placing job seekers with disability into large business and government departments will be in a good position to understand the protégé's likely working environment and the essential requirements of the job. This will also assist with matching the right protégé to you as a mentor.

There are more than 30 specialist disability employment services operating in Western Australia. They are located all around Perth and in regional centres such as Broome, Port Hedland, Karratha, Newman, Carnarvon, Geraldton, Kalgoorlie, Esperance, Albany, Bridgetown, Narrogin, Northam, Busselton, Bunbury, Collie and Mandurah.

A successful mentoring program that has been developed for university graduates with disability is the ‘Willing and Able (WAM)’ mentoring program. In this program, mentors meet with the graduate around eight times for 1-2 hours and focus their discussions on:

  • Sharing information about the career environment in which they are seeking to work.
  • Clarifying the essential requirements of job roles in the workplace.
  • Experiencing a workplace culture (e.g. by attending a staff meeting).
  • Developing better skills in presenting their professional profile (e.g. refining their interviewing skills and resume).
  • Building and using your own network to find work.
  • Anticipating employer concerns, disclosure and related workplace issues (e.g. use of assistive equipment).

You can find out more about mentoring program by contacting ndco@edge.org.au.

Getting started

Getting started

Before you embark on your role as a mentor, it is important to establish:

  • Why it is being done (the need being addressed).
  • What you are expected to achieve (the objectives of the mentoring relationship).
  • Who is to be involved and why.
  • The specific responsibilities of the mentor and protégé.
  • The 'ground rules' on confidentiality and other issues.
  • The frequency, timing, location and formality of meetings.

In the first meeting with your protégé, it is important to listen carefully, suspend judgement and allow them to do most of the talking. You should thank them for coming and ask open questions about their sporting, educational or social interests to find a common link that will build rapport. A helpful and 'safe' topic for the first meeting with your student is to find out what they know about mentoring and dispel any myths or concerns.

Some of the common myths and misconception surrounding mentoring include:

  • That is a sign of weakness or incompetence on the part of the protégé.
  • That it means that the protégé cannot be not trusted to be responsible.
  • That mentoring is a way of screening out people who should not be in that field.
  • Whatever the protégé says will get back to other employers or other people.
  • The protégé will not have the time or it will undermine their study efforts.

It is important at the end of the first meeting to arrange a specific time and place for the next meeting. Once the protégé has left, it is a good idea to make brief notes that will ensure that you will remember important personal details, and be able to plan effectively for the next meeting.

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