IF YOU want to move up in your workplace, doing some related courses to boost your skill set is always good advice.

But what seems to be missing, and which is just as valuable, is the benefit of a mentor.

Human resource manager Hanifa Jassiem said mentorship was simply about having the support you need to achieve personal goals.

“Whether it’s learning an unfamiliar system or moving to a new job, human beings are more effective with the right support.”

And in a broader context – and in Mzansi particularly – mentorship plays a very important role.

“Many people still don’t have the luxury of a tertiary education so coaching and mentorship lets them learn skills they need. Education is fundamental to personal and professional development but this education happens not in a classroom but in real time.

“Coaching and mentorship bridges the gap between knowledge and skill,” said Hanifa.

She said many skills were difficult to teach from a textbook and had to be learned by action and experience.

What is a mentor?

A mentor is often described as a person who guides and supports another person towards reaching their personal goals.

A mentor engages their student by building trust, and adjusts their guidance according to their student’s specific needs.

Ultimately, a student chooses who they recognise as their mentor, whether this person has been assigned to them in a professional capacity or not.

Mentorship v coaching

A lot has been said on the differences between mentorship and coaching.

“I think coaching involves teaching a practical skill, such as how to use Microsoft Office. There is usually an outcome or deadline.”

Mentorship is likely to involve a longer relationship based on counselling rather than teaching – but it doesn’t mean a mentor can’t teach you a practical skill.

Mentorship programmes

The advice for those seeking mentors is to first understand what it is you need and what you expect – write them down.

Hanifa said: “We have a number of development programmes that include coaching and mentoring. They supplement classroom training with practical and ongoing on-the-job guidance and support.”

Finding a mentor

There is no one-size-fits-all approach. A mentor should be based on your needs.

In her experience with professional mentors, she believes that asking the following questions may help you find a suitable mentor:

- Do they set an example that resonates with me?

- Are they genuinely interested in what I am looking to achieve?

- Do they listen more than speak?

- Do they challenge my thinking?

- Do they guide me towards finding my own solutions instead of simply giving me answers?