Drive Employee Skill Development with Mentoring

A fast-changing world requires a labor force with a wide range of skills, just as it requires businesses to adapt to changing demands and technological advancements. Skill development is something that businesses continually need to invest in to stay relevant and thrive in the long term. Without it, they risk facing labor shortages that prevent them from completing vital business operations. This can cost them money and people. 


On the other hand, integrating skill development as part of a well-rounded mentoring program can have the opposite effect. According to a recent McKinsey report, organizations that prioritize learning and development are more likely to attract, advance and retain talented employees. 


In this article, learn how you can incorporate skill development as part of your company’s employee development programming. 


What is Skill Development?

At its core, skill development refers to a practice where companies actively invest in upskilling and training their employees, particularly in areas of weakness. The purpose is having an agile and adaptable workforce that can transition seamlessly between roles and responsibilities in accordance with the company’s constantly changing needs. 


Benefits of Skill Development

Companies that invest in skill development can expect to reap the rewards in multiple ways. In addition to filling the skill shortage gaps, it can engineer greater employee loyalty. According to McKinsey & Company, the main reason people quit their jobs is a lack of career advancement and development opportunities. When companies provide opportunities for employees to learn and stretch themselves, employees are more likely to stay at the company. In the process, they’re also creating a pipeline of future leaders and cultivating a culture of learning and growth, which encourages innovation. 


Examples of Skills That Can Be Developed

Every company will have different skill needs; their skill development plan should reflect that. There are, however, some common strategies that will benefit most employees and companies. Most companies will benefit from developing leadership skills among their employees. 


  • Becoming a manager – Many individual contributors become managers by being good at their jobs, but with little to no experience managing people, facilitating difficult conversations or delegating work. 


  • Upskilling to keep pace with a changing industry – For industries like manufacturing and energy and utilities, developing skills in better integrating digital technology and automation into day-to-day responsibilities can be a huge part of remaining a productive and competent worker.


  • Leadership capabilities – In order to build a robust pipeline of leaders, organizations need to develop the right competencies and skills within their high-potential employees. Things like empathy, delegation and leadership presence can be cultivated in employees through learning and practice.


Another way to approach skill development is to identify the skill shortages within each department and design a program around those gaps. 


The Bond Between Mentoring and Skill Development 

Skill development and mentoring can and should go hand-in-hand. Companies who want to maximize the benefits of skill development should consider how they fit within their overall mentoring strategy


How Mentoring Can Aid in Skill Development

Mentoring encourages employees to build relationships and develop a growth mindset—fostering innovation and collaboration. That’s why the two practices work well together. Skill development as a focus within a mentoring relationship enables employees to learn desired skills, practice them and refine them. 


Role of a Mentor in Skill Development

For example, a company may have a series of formal training covering leadership skills. Mentoring can allow employees to put those skills and knowledge into practice. An employee may attend a workshop on public speaking and facilitating meetings. They can practice those skills with their mentor in a role playing activity, by leading a mentoring circle or through a reverse mentoring relationship with a senior employee, discussing issues of innovation cultivation or diversity and inclusion


Traditional one-on-one mentoring relationships can also help companies shape their skill development program in that mentors can help mentees identify talent and skills gaps the company needs to fill. Mentors can act as a support system for the employees as they progress through the company, which can significantly help an employee’s professional and personal growth. According to a 2023 Harvard Business Review article, a whole-person approach to leadership development leads to better organizational outcomes and provides more value to the employee. 


Tips for Effective Mentoring for Skill Development 

Of course, companies have to be intentional in designing mentoring practices to encourage skill development. The following practices are good guidelines to follow to get positive results:


Set clear goals and expectations

Any mentoring relationship should start with expectation settings, no matter the format. For example, in one-on-one mentoring relationships, the mentor and mentees should discuss expectations around time commitments, degree of support, and what specific skills the mentor can realistically help the mentee with. For group mentoring and issue-based mentoring circles, the participants should be clear about the goals and objectives for every session and be practical about what they can learn and accomplish together. 


Provide regular feedback and constructive criticism

Any new skill takes a little bit of time to learn, and if an employee is putting a new skill to practice, they probably won’t get it right the first time. That’s where regular feedback and constructive criticism from mentors come in. Without it, it can be difficult for the mentee to identify what they’re doing right, and what they need to work on.


Encourage self-reflection and self-evaluation

In addition to constructive criticism and feedback, part of what makes mentoring so valuable to skill development is the opportunity to reflect and pause on their progress. As Dov Seidman, an entrepreneur and founder of a not-for-profit that aims to cultivate a culture of moral leadership tells Harvard Business Review, encouraging people to pause gives them a chance “to reflect, rethink assumptions, and think of a better path.” 


Empower experimentation and innovation

Not everyone learns the same way, and any skill development policies should reflect that. While it can be helpful to provide structure and guidelines, companies should leave room for experimentation and innovation. An effective learning environment should allow employees to try new things in a low-stakes environment. 


Build trust and maintain confidentiality

Lastly, people develop and learn best in an environment of trust. Any mentor-mentee relationship should be based on trust and honesty and with the expectation that they can maintain confidentiality. 


Challenges in Mentoring for Skill Development 

Some companies may be reluctant to introduce a mentoring program because of potential challenges. Here are the potential issues that companies can face in implementing a mentorship program for skill development:


Incentivizing senior employees to be mentors

Becoming a mentor is an additional time commitment that many senior employees may be hesitant to make, especially if there aren’t any incentives for them to do so. While mentoring should always be voluntary, companies must be creative about cultivating an environment where senior employees want to be mentors, such as incorporating it into an employee’s performance review or making it part of an (optional) leadership development program. 


Matching mentees with suitable mentors

A mentor/mentee relationship only works if both parties align in their goals and expectations. But matching the right participants can be long and arduous, particularly in a large company. However, there are multiple ways to streamline the process through company-wide surveys and technological tools. 


Designing a program that works for all employees

No one-size-fits-all program will suit every employee, so companies may face the challenge of creating a framework that doesn’t serve everyone’s purposes and goals. However, they can make a framework that allows mentors and mentees to amend and adopt as they see fit, provided they have an accurate understanding of their employees’ goals and aspirations. 


Getting support and buy-in from senior leaders

Plenty of research backs up the benefits of mentoring and skill development, but the rewards aren’t immediate and often take time to materialize. As a result, getting buy-in and support from senior leaders can be challenging. To combat this, companies must continuously track the ROI of any mentoring or skill development initiative. 


Managing a mentorship program

A mentorship program can also take a great deal of time to manage. Without the right resources and support, it can be an overwhelming endeavor for a person to take on, particularly if they’re doing so on top of their day jobs. An approach that provides a system and accountability allows the program manager to take a more hands-off approach.


These challenges should not deter companies from instituting a mentoring and skill development program. Utilizing mentoring software to manage, track, and design an effective program can alleviate many of these burdens. 


Easily Develop Your Employees’ Skill with Mentoring Software 

Chronus mentoring software can help companies save the administrative and logistical work that goes into developing and implementing a skill development mentorship program. From matching participants through the platform’s AI-powered matching technology or using customizable reporting and dashboards to demonstrate the progress made in skill development across an organization, the software gives you the freedom to focus on the company’s bigger picture and purpose. 


Having talented employees with a wide range of skills is an asset to any company, especially in a competitive labor market. Take the first step to ensure that your company is in a position to attract and retain these employees for many years to come. 

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