As a member of the healthcare team, supervising others is probably part of your everyday work. You are likely to come into contact with a wide range of people who need your support including students, junior doctors, support workers, people on work experience, volunteers or other colleagues.
But, what happens when you are asked to mentor an apprentice?
Whilst some healthcare professions may have particular associations with the term “mentor” (and what a mentor does) this article focuses on the role in relation to apprenticeships.
Unlike a student, who may only be with you for a short time, an apprentice is an employee and may be a member of your team for an extended period, possibly for the duration of their apprenticeship. They will spend a good proportion of their time, at least 20%, away from the job, studying, perhaps at college or university, or carrying out other experiential and academic learning. Even if they have the opportunity to visit other departments or organisations to develop specific skills and knowledge, ultimately they will keep returning to your team.
The individual apprentices you are asked to mentor will all have different needs and expectations. Apprentices can be an existing member of staff taking on a new opportunity. They may be someone newly recruited into the apprentice role. In some instances you may be mentoring someone who is a young person and in their very first job. You may need to take into account that they need additional pastoral support and so you may have to liaise closely with their line manager over this.
The mentor plays a unique role in the life of an apprentice. Apprentices recognise how important their mentor is to their success. Here are a few reasons why:
- As a professional you help them see the wider picture of how the health sector works, where their role fits it and how the values of their profession impact on their role.
- As a subject-matter expert you help them when they get stuck or come across a part of their learning that they don’t fully understand.
- As a reflective practitioner you help them consider things from different angles, enabling them to review and adjust their course as needed.
- As a coach you guide them to give and receive constructive criticism while encouraging them to proactively seek solutions.
- As a leader you help them become leaders themselves by enabling them to recognise how and when to make decisions and to see how everything they do impacts on others.
- As a role model you show them how to behave by working in a professional way that aligns to the culture of the organisation.
- As a colleague you encourage them to work as part of the wider multi-professional team.
- As a teacher you help them to achieve their full potential.
There will be countless things that you do every time you interact with your mentee that can impact on their success. Having a good mentor is key to the apprentice’s experience.
So, what can you do to ensure that you are ready?
Learn as much as you can about the apprenticeship that your particular apprentice is going through. Download the relevant apprenticeship standard and assessment plan from here. It is important that you and your apprentice check their progress against the knowledge, skills and behaviours listed in the standard. It is also vital to be familiar with how they will be assessed during and at the end of the apprenticeship. Checking progress against these two documents regularly will reduce the likelihood of knowledge or experience gaps being identified too late. It also lets you talk to the apprentice about the end point assessment and see if they are going to need additional support to prepare for it such as ways to handle their nerves or getting sufficient ‘practice’ before the real thing.
Keep in touch with the training provider. The apprentice agreement sets out a tripartite relationship between you as the employer, the training provider and the apprentice. Download any materials the training provider has about the course the apprentice is taking to find out what is due to be covered and when. This can help you to plan your time with the apprentice to greatest effect and help you to prepare for the regular 3-way meetings.
Speak to your education team and/ or training provider to discover what additional support is available for staff. Your apprentice may be able to benefit from help with numeracy and literacy, study skills or practical skills training. They may even be able to join group learning activities run by your organisation that, whilst not directly related to their apprenticeship, would compliment and enhance their learning experience. The training provider is responsible for the off-the-job learning time and ensuring that it is appropriately recorded. At the same time you can find out if there is any training and support available for mentors that you could access. As well as plenty of free resources on-line, you may even be interested in exploring whether the Learning Mentor apprenticeship is right for you.
Be aware that your apprentice may need to achieve English and maths as part of their apprenticeship. If they have not already achieved this before they start they will have to complete it on-programme. It’s important that you check they are getting adequate support for this as without achieving English and maths they will not be able to undertake the End Point Assessment and pass their apprenticeship; even if they are performing exactly as they should in all other aspects of the apprenticeship.
Schedule the time you are due to spend with your apprentice into both of your diaries, if possible for the entire duration of the apprenticeship. If sessions are not scheduled they risk becoming victim to all the other pressing things at work that require your attention. Sometimes you may not be able to make one but, in these instances try to postpone, rather than cancel the appointment.
Hold regular 1:1s with the apprentice. 1:1s should be structured so that you both know how long the session is going to be and what you are going to cover. The time should not duplicate line management arrangements but should focus on the apprentice, identifying their progress and where they need the most support right now. Usually the mentor and line manager will be different people but if you happen to be carrying out both roles with the same apprentice then you may want to be clear about when you are wearing each hat so that the mentor and line management functions are kept distinct and separate.
Network with other mentors. If you are lucky other people in your team will also be mentoring apprentices. But if not, actively seek out mentors from other teams or even from other organisations. Sometimes a 10-minute call with someone who is going through the same process as you can save you hours of frustration.
Be a mentee. If possible find someone experienced to mentor you. They can help you build your confidence and be your sounding board when you need additional guidance and support.
Supporting an apprentice can be challenging. Things don’t always go smoothly. Some apprentices will find the academic work demanding, others will encounter personal issues that affect their work, others take time adapting to the workplace and adhering to the rules. Setting yourself up for success by following the tips above should make the experience smoother.
Not only will your apprentice benefit but, in all likelihood, you will too. There are always new things to learn and supporting an apprentice can give you plenty to reflect on. They may ask awkward questions, make you think more deeply about why things are done in a certain way or even challenge the practice they see in the workplace. Being a mentor can help you to become more efficient at planning, become more empathetic to what another person is going through whilst developing negotiation, coaching and facilitation skills.