Mentoring at NowSkills

Training provider NowSkills has been exploring the use of mentoring as part of the support it provides to new trainee tutors, as well as how tutors can support employers to develop mentoring skills to use with apprentices. This case study looks at the work the organisation has undertaken and the role ETF mentoring training has played.

Based in the north west, NowSkills is a private training provider that has been designing and delivering digital and IT apprenticeship programmes since 2013. The provider now has close to 300 apprentices on their Level 3 and Level 4 courses at any one time, who may be training to be software developers, analysts in data, business analysts, digital marketing and content creation specialists, as well as IT support technicians and network engineers.

NowSkills employs 14 digital subject experts whose role is to deliver the ‘off the job’ theory sessions for apprentices. These tutors work closely with the employers, liaising with the designated apprentice mentor to help develop and assess the knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviours that apprentices will need to be successful in the workplace.

Engagement in the programme

The Grant Lead, Danny Wells, first became involved in the ETF’s Mentor Training Programme when he undertook the Mentoring Skills for New Mentors course last year. As well as looking for ways to grow the business, Danny wanted to improve his mentoring skills, and explore ways in which he could improve the support given to new trainee tutors.

Recognising that employers are mentors of apprentices, he has also been looking into ways in which the tutors can help employers develop their mentoring skills so that they can better support the apprentices in the workplace.

This year, Paul Rogers is undertaking the New Mentors course. Paul is a digital analytics tutor and assessor working with data technicians and data analysts, as well as software development apprentices. He is also mentoring some colleagues who are new to NowSkills.

How mentoring works in practice at NowSkills

To help tutors develop their practice, observations of tutors working one-to-one or in group sessions are regularly carried out. NowSkills also asks for feedback from employers on how well tutors are working with apprentices, and they also look at the quality of work that has been produced by apprentices.

Currently, mentoring is used to support new tutors, as well as those who are underperforming.

What difference has the programme made?

The programme has helped Paul to develop a range of knowledge and skills; in particular his listening skills and a better understanding of different mentoring models. These have helped him support apprentices more effectively as they progress through the learner journey:

“I thought I was a good listener before. But when we’re on the course, when we started discussing six different styles of listening, I thought there was only one style. So, I feel like I’ve increased my listening skills and I listen more to what’s going on. The course has also made me aware of the different mentoring models, different question types in order to get answers, which I can adapt to, in a coaching way for apprentices.”

Paul also feels that that course has helped him to be more effective when working with employers:

“I’ve been working with apprentices for nearly 30 years, and I’ve seen a lot of changes. I think it was moving from the NVQ to the new standards. There’s a real shift to coaching and mentoring and discussing things more so with the employer.”

The developmental mentoring approach is now fully embedded in the organisation and the Grant Lead can already see the impact on the speed at which new tutors are improving their practice. In his view, not only are tutors performing better, they are also reaching competence in the job much sooner than previously.

This additional mentoring support is also seen as a benefit in a competitive market and is helping NowSkills attract high quality tutors:

“As you know, there are fewer people in the workforce – particularly in digital – and they can command some very, very high salaries in the industry. So, this helps us attract the talent and offer people a pathway into developing into a really competent tutor within the FE sector within apprenticeships specifically, and they can actually be supported to be really good at it.”

Next Steps

The aim in the future is to widen the offer of mentoring to all tutors at NowSkills; particularly those who have been with the organisation for some time. Danny also hopes to formalise the mentoring support a little more, for example by agreeing a timeline and expectations for new tutors.

For more experienced tutors, consideration needs to be given to how to identify those needing support and at what stage of their careers this might be, as well as how the support can be formalised and accessible.

The benefits of engaging with mentoring

Engaging in the programme has clearly benefited NowSkills, and Danny would strongly recommend the programme to other training providers:

“It helps to demonstrate that your organisation has a culture of continuous development and improvement where you support people to grow. We listen to what they are saying; and take on board their feedback where they see things need to improve. Mentoring helps them to reflect on their practice and think about how they can improve.”