Workplace mentoring: a literature review
An exploration into the literature on mentoring for apprentices and trainees in the workplace, including mentoring of apprentices and other trainees to progress literacy development. It discusses the benefits, issues and gaps raised by the literature in terms of different types of mentoring offered in organisations.
Author: Dr. Chris Holland, Work & Education Research & Development Services
Supported by the Industry Training Federation
Funded by the Ako Aotearoa Northern Hub through the Regional Hub Project Fund
Date: August 2009
Also see Professional development for mentors in industry by Dr Chris Holland and Dr Nicky Murray which followed-on from this work and provides the support that workplaces in different industries need to engage in mentoring.
This review is a brief exploration into the literature on mentoring for apprentices and trainees in the workplace. The scope of this review is confined to the literature that discusses mentoring internal to the workplace which supports on- and off-job learning. The review explores the literature on the mentoring of apprentices and other trainees to progress literacy development. The review provides the tertiary education sector with a springboard for exploring workplace mentoring in more depth, and to consider policy, professional development and practice that can strengthen the mentoring of trainees. It discusses the benefits, issues and gaps raised by the literature in terms of different types of mentoring offered in organisations.
The questions which frame this review are: What is the nature of workplace learning? What is mentoring and what are the types discussed in the literature? What are the benefits of mentoring to organisations, mentors and trainees, and what are the issues and gaps?
The nature of workplace learning
The literature shows that learning in the workplace occurs both formally (through on and off site courses) and informally, where people learn within a community of practice in the workplace. It shows that in both instances, learning confidence is affected by social relations, levels of power sharing and trust. Trainees learn best when they are supported, stimulated and challenged in both formal provision and workplace development. Mentoring is recommended in a number of studies, particularly where the workplace’s language, literacy or numeracy may be an issue for the learner.
What is mentoring?
Two different models of mentoring are presented in the literature. The first is a restricted, functionalist model, where there is a formal distance between the learner and the mentor and where the focus is on learning outcomes rather than the learner as a whole person. The second is a relational model, where the learner is regarded as a valued equal who happens to have specific support needs, and where issues of respect and trust play a larger part. This relational model is regarded as the ‘highest quality mentoring state’ (Ragins and Verbos, 2006:21). It is also consistent with a Māori model of mentoring.
Billet (2003) and others discuss distributed learning and suggest that a range of mentors might be utilised by a learner at any one time, rather than relying on a single mentor in a 1-1 relationship. The literature describes a number of ways in which mentors can work.
There are claims in the literature that mentoring benefits trainees and organisations, but that greater benefit results when social capital processes and goals (involving investment in the learner as more than a capital resource), are developed. The literature indicates that in a relational mentoring model, where trust and social capital are developed, mentors also develop in ways that benefit the organisation, and the culture of the organisation is improved. A positive workplace culture supports the aims of organisations to ‘enculturate’ workers into their vision.
Gaps in the literature and implications for further research
The literature shows that mentoring is important for all learners, but especially for those who are struggling to come to grips with the expectations of the workplace, and its language, literacy and numeracy demands. O’Neill and Gish (2001) assert that there is a specific need for research into the role of the mentor in terms of the development of interpersonal skills. A clearer understanding is needed of how mentoring should best be developed for different ethnicities and for women. More research is needed to examine how multiple mentors and multiple kinds of mentorship can help a trainee’s socialisation.
Finally, there are currently no ethnographic studies in New Zealand which explore how learning organisations set up and support mentoring in the workplace, particularly for apprentices and other trainees. Such a study would make a valuable contribution to our understanding of mentoring in New Zealand workplaces.
Contents of full report
- The Nature of Workplace Learning
- Concepts of Mentoring
- Types of mentors and mentoring
- The Benefits and Issues in Mentoring
- Establishing Effective Mentoring
- Gaps in the literature and implications for further research
This work is published under the Creative Commons 3.0 New Zealand Attribution Non-commercial Share Alike Licence (BY-NC-SA). Under this licence you are free to copy, distribute, display and perform the work as well as to remix, tweak, and build upon this work noncommercially, as long as you credit the author/s and license your new creations under the identical terms.