ChannelTrends: The ROI from Mentoring Millennials, Veterans, and Others

mentoringThe channel is a giving community, and its members seem to grow more generous with every generation. From providers supporting their community organizations to the numerous activities sponsored by vendors and distributors, the dollar and volunteer contributions continue to garner more attention each year. And the help doesn't end there.

Time and attention are two of the largest contributions from those in the industry. CompTIA Communities and Councils are a great example, with thousands of tech professionals actively involved in promoting IT careers, building training tools, honing channel standards, and developing other important initiatives each month. Each takes time out of their busy schedules to work on projects intended to advance our industry. 

Those collaborative efforts come with no financial expectations. While members may leverage the extra help to improve their own operations, or forge partnerships that lead to new projects, their compensation is typically limited to the emotional satisfaction of giving back and the friends they make along the way. 

That's just one way to give back. Another, perhaps more crucial need in the IT industry is mentoring talent. With 46% of companies in the latest CompTIA jobs survey indicating the skill gap has gotten worse over the last two years, everyone in the industry should be focusing more on recruitment. From elementary and post-secondary education to veterans and others returning to the workforce, we need to cast a wider net and let everyone know about the opportunities available in IT.       

But landing recruits and spearing tech pros is just part of the job. Many readily offer advice to those who seem interested in pursuing or furthering a career in IT. While they surely enjoy seeing their confidants enroll in industry training or related educational programs, or land their first job in the computer field, that's just the starting point. Advice is crucial and the emotional satisfaction is real, but the real ROI comes from the steps those guides take afterward.

More Giving, Greater Return  
Yes, mentoring can be considered an investment. Technical professionals often get back as much, if not more, as they give in these relationships. Younger recruits typically share their own insights and help "counselors" better understand the issues their generation cares about ‒ valuable information for companies trying to target that target audience and hire from that age-group. Those who don't learn from those they mentor may not be listening.

Older workers can similarly challenge and enlighten their mentors, offering their own perspectives and life experiences. Mentoring creates a two-way flow of information that both parties can use to their advantage. The student receives invaluable knowledge of the industry, tips that will speed his or her career development, and a friendship that may last a lifetime.

Of course, the largest beneficiaries are the companies that build and support mentorship programs. When organizations match quality employees with high-potential recruits, it can be the proverbial "win-win-win." Mentors often express how inspired or energized they get when taking a new co-worker under their wing, recruits benefit from the instruction, advice, and guidance of their tenured counterparts, and the company profits from the shortened learning curve. 

These programs reduce the time it takes for newly hired employees to succeed in their roles. That means higher productivity, greater job satisfaction, and improved morale. 
Need proof? Talk to industry leaders. Channel success stories nearly always involve one or more co-workers, family members or other mentors that helped that individual accomplish their ultimate goals. And many of them end up extending a hand to others looking to make their way in the industry. 

Learning How With a Little Help 
One thing that seems to hold many back from mentoring is self-doubt. Some have reservations about their own skills, or concerns about communicating with a different generation ‒ younger OR older. The latter can be a bigger stumbling block for returning veterans, who often struggle to find their way into a new career after years of serving their country. Many just need someone to listen and offer advice.

Those who are serious about helping, but don't know how should consider sitting in on a CompTIA Community meeting. The Advancing Women in Technology (AWIT) Community has actively encouraged mentorship and industry recruitment activities for years, designing and distributing materials to simplify the process and grow a more diverse workforce.      

The Future Leaders and Advancing Diversity in Technology Communities have similar objectives. With all three groups collaborating on new programs and promoting the value of mentoring prospective IT professionals, the opportunities are growing. The tools and information are more readily available to those willing to help. 

For example, many tech professionals have spoken at local schools and colleges using AWIT's IT careers presentation, and followed up with those attendees who wanted more details. Others have taken family members, friends, or other acquaintances under their wing ‒ uncovering and aligning their interests with potential industry roles. 
Some companies promote shadowing to ensure IT is the proper fit for prospective candidates.

Proactive firms make mentoring a core part of their HR programs to ensure all employees get the support needed to be successful. They train from the top, ensuring that everyone from the CEO down has the ability and the desire to lend a hand when needed. And it's always needed.

Brian Sherman is president of Tech Success Communications, a channel-related content and social media development firm. He served previously as the chief editor at Business Solutions magazine and senior director of industry alliances with Autotask. Contact Brian at Bsherman@techsuccesscommunications.com.