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Stand out and offer mentoring

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25th Feb 2013
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Anette Bjerke gives us an insight into the coaching practices of the oil and gas industry.
 

Whilst it is always exciting to be a part of a growing company, the recruitment and skills shortage challenge is such that it means growth plans are intrinsically tied to the ability to hire and retain talent. However, the hiring and retention of the right talent is still incredibly tough at the moment, and nowhere is this more evident than in the engineering, oil and gas, sector, which is suffering huge skill shortages in both the UK and globally. 

The ability for employers to distinguish themselves and make them more desirable to potential employees is therefore key. In my experience, one key differentiator for employees comes down to training on the job, and increasingly this has called for greater mentoring and coaching opportunities. The use of these opportunities within the oil and gas industry may well provide the edge to effectively prepare incoming recruits for the realities of the industry, meet their training needs, cut attrition rates, and contribute to greater workplace equity through intergenerational understanding. Indeed, Wharton management professor Katherine Klein states that a crucial attraction about mentoring programmes for employees when looking for a job is the ability to have “a sounding board and a place where it's safe to be vulnerable and get career advice. It's a relationship where one can let one's guard down, a place where one can get honest feedback, and a place, ideally, where one can get psychological and social support in handling stressful situations."

Unlike training, which is temporary and often not sufficient to create a comfortable employee in a new workplace, workplace mentoring is a process that continues and is paid forward, when another new employee joins a successful team. Mentoring also differs from coaching in that it is broader and deeper than just knowledge transfer or skills development (though these are often aspects of any mentor-mentee relationship).

"The visibility and successes of mentor- mentee relationships is gaining far more prominence now with over 96% of Fortune 500 companies having implemented some form of programme for mentoring in the workplace."

For example, a key component to a programme I work on is the fact that every trainee is assigned a mentor, a senior employee, for their entire two-year programme. Due to the nature of the oil and gas industry, trainees will spend a great deal of the programme operating on international assignments and spend many months away from their home country. The mentorship programme allows each trainee to have a personal and professional contact that they can follow up with and who can guide, advise and encourage them. Often trainees will come into the programme not knowing which specific area they want to enter on completion and their mentors are direct points of contact that can share knowledge on different areas, as well as networks within those areas. As a senior employee, part of the mentor’s role is to provide a ‘helicopter view’ of the organisation beyond the mentee’s immediate work environment.

The visibility and successes of mentor- mentee relationships is gaining far more prominence now with over 96% of Fortune 500 companies having implemented some form of programme for mentoring in the workplace. This correlation is understandable when research has found that employees with mentors report higher levels of job satisfaction, organisational commitment, compensation and promotions (Allen, Eby, Poteet, Lentz, & Lima, 2004), showing the potential importance of having a mentor for achieving both subjective and objective career benefits.

Indeed, a mentoring programme can add real value to so many areas of employee performance: increasing employee transitions, sharing experiences, building relationships, greater workplace productivity, development of leadership capability, induction protocol, knowledge transfer, customer service training, organizational change programs, career development and development of cross-organizational networks to aid teamwork.

Equally mentors also get a great deal out of such relationships as many report, that working with new young and talented employees gives them a new energy and enthusiasm. Whilst they have to devote time and emotional commitment to the mentoring program, they can stand to gain from the process, as they obtain a greater understanding of the barriers experienced at lower levels of the organisation, enhance their own skills in coaching, counselling and listening, develop their leadership skills, gain additional recognition and respect, learn new perspectives and approaches to problem solving and contribute something to others in the organisation by passing on experience and wisdom to younger colleagues.

"Whilst previously mentoring was hindered by mentors and their recipients having to be traditionally at the same site, with the accessibility of webcams, Skype, laptops, and facetime, communication is easier, and distance is not a barrier to relationship development."

Some social groups also respond particularly well to mentoring – women, for example, who have been involved with a form of mentoring relationship, have reported an increase of almost 94% in their professional productivity – as a result of this kind of business mentoring.  

The reason that I believe mentoring is so important now though in the oil and gas sector, is that for the first time, online technology has transformed these relationships. Whilst previously mentoring was hindered by mentors and their recipients having to be traditionally at the same site, with the accessibility of webcams, Skype, laptops, and facetime, communication is easier, and distance is not a barrier to relationship development. This allows us to offer our trainees the most advanced training in terms of international experience whilst still providing them with the advantages of a mentoring programme.

Anette Bjerke is Programme Manager for the International Talent Programme at Aker Solutions

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