Dear firms, mentoring millennials is key to degree apprenticeship success

Dan Blackman sees mentoring getting results with apprentices in his business. 

Ionel Ursu, 33, is a manager with a difference. He’s recently married, a father of two, including a newborn son, and worked full-time while studying for a BSc in computing. He graduated last year.

“Once the kids were asleep, I’d be awake from 10pm-4am, working on essays, projects and finally my dissertation, then grab a few more hours sleep, then off to work,” he says. If that wasn’t enough, he has just taken on the additional role of apprentice mentor to a group of degree apprentices.

Degree apprentices straddle the world of study and work. They often take a day a week to attend lectures, seminars, and practical sessions, giving them the theoretical underpinning needed for their professional work.

KPMG’s Meet the Millennials report says this group places high priority on workplace culture, job satisfaction, and importantly, they want mentoring. They’re known for ‘job hopping’ too, so employer efforts to develop younger employees is vital for retaining talent.

For employers, the question is, ‘how are we as employers meeting the challenge of developing our apprentices, and who is best placed to do it?’

Apprentices are often new to university-level studies, and new to the world of 9-5 work. For employers, the question is, ‘how are we as employers meeting the challenge of developing our apprentices, and who is best placed to do it?’

In fact, a survey by the Association for Talent Development found that firms with mentoring programmes reported higher employee engagement, retention and growth as the top benefits of mentoring.

Step forward Ionel. He left college with a qualification in accountancy and no plan to go to university – he wanted a job and wanted to earn a living. He started as a temporary admin officer in IT Services more than 10 years ago followed by a permanent junior role at UEL’s business school.

“I was very much an office junior at the bottom of the ladder, but I was keen, hungry even, so I was there extra early, staying late, putting in those extra hours. I wanted to get noticed.”

Fast forward and he’s now the manager of the IT Services’ Business Support Team and Digital Training Services, and now its first apprenticeship mentor, too.  

He says, “When we first launched our apprenticeships in 2016 we only had three apprentices. Now we’ve got 50.

“They’re based in academic schools as IT analysts, study one full day a week, and have real responsibilities in their professional work.

He says, “As time went on, we did some soul-searching; talking to line-managers and listening to what our apprentices were telling us. It became clear that we as the employer had an opportunity that needed to be met with this new segment of our staff.”

Unlike coaching, which tends to be short-term, session based, and one-way, mentoring is long-term, relationship based, and a two-way street.

The apprentices now spend regular time each month with Ionel and their apprentice peers, with time allocated for group discussion and sharing experiences, as well as one-to-one time available with Ionel, who offers them technical and workplace advice, and acts as something of a mediator between apprentices and line-managers when issues arise.

Ionel says, “It means I help their department-based line-managers to communicate any issues in a way that is intelligible for them, and I’m there for the line-managers too when they want advice.

“Our apprenticeship mentoring will develop and grow as we take on more and more apprentices. Having a specific mentoring scheme for workplace apprentices has definitely been a good move for us.”

Visit here to find out more about UEL’s degree apprenticeships


About the author

Dan Blackman is communications and media officer for University of East London


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