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M2.04 Conducting the mentoring process

5. Ensure that the learner has an adequate support by workplace management and colleagues for learning

Traditionally, mentoring is the long term passing on of support, guidance and advice. In the workplace it has tended to describe a relationship in which a more experienced colleague uses their greater knowledge and understanding of the work or workplace to support the development of a more junior or inexperienced member of staff. It’s also a form of apprenticeship, whereby an inexperienced learner learns the 'tricks of the trade' from an experienced colleague, backed-up as in modern apprenticeship by offsite training.

An important component of the mentoring process is the organization, the atmosphere in which mentoring takes place. It is usually assumed the organization is supportive for a formal mentoring program to exist. This is something that cannot be assumed or left to chance. The organization must be an active participant. The organization is not to enter into the privacy of the mentoring relationship; rather it should develop mentors and mentees through training and education. It should provide the time and resources necessary for the personnel to participate. The organization should, through coordinators and committees, constantly evaluate the processes, be available for intervention, help, and correction.

Not all workplaces or all jobs offer equal opportunities for learning. Perhaps the most important contextual factor related to workplace learning is how work is organised. The traditional Fordist organization represents an extreme form of division of labour: the workers have narrow job descriptions, repetitive tasks, controlled procedures and little opportunities for autonomous decision making. In such work there are few opportunities for learning and development. At the end of the other continuum there are organizations in which work continuously provides new challenges and learning opportunities. In these workplaces workers are rotated between jobs, tasks are carried out by collaborative and self-managed teams with a lot of autonomy, and workers are encouraged to share their expertise and develop their work.
While the organisation of work sets the context and conditions for learning, it continues to be the reciprocal interaction between the individual and the workplace that determines learning. The nature of individuals’ participation in workplace learning depends both on the extent to which the workplace provides opportunities for such participation and on the extent to which individuals choose to avail themselves of those opportunities. Thus, while the workplace creates the possibilities, it is how individuals participate and interact in their workplaces that is central to their leaning. On this view, knowledge is co-constructed through interactions between social practice and the individuals participating in that practice. It is therefore important to acknowledge workplaces as sites for learning.
An expansive work community offers opportunities to take part in many different communities of practice, whereas a restrictive work community limits the opportunities for participation.
Three types of learning opportunity are central to the creation of expansive learning environments:
  1. the chance to engage in diverse communities of practice in and outside the workplace;
  2. the organisation of jobs so as to provide employees with opportunities to co-constructing their knowledge and expertise;
  3. the chance to deal with theoretical knowledge in off-the-job courses (leading to knowledge-based qualifications).
Organisational studies on workplace learning have also emphasised that it is the responsibility of the work organisation to create a propitious climate and other prerequisites for learning by individuals, groups and whole work communities. In other words, space for learning and thinking is needed.