Since launching back in 2021, the Sheffield Digital Mentoring Scheme has been making a difference to people’s careers and lives. Over 60 people have signed up as mentees and more than 50 have volunteered on the scheme as mentors. We’ve seen mentees take the plunge into new careers, develop ideas into successful startups, and develop skills, confidence and clarity around the direction they’re heading in. In this update, we hear from mentee, Katie Steele, who tells us why joining the scheme is a ‘no brainer’ and Tom Misiukanis, a mentor who describes his experience as ‘wonderful’. Scheme manager, Sarah Lister also explains why we are on the lookout for more female mentors, and describes what support is available to both mentees and mentors.
When we established the Sheffield Digital Mentoring Scheme over two years ago, we wanted to provide individual members and people running start-ups and “micro” companies with support and guidance to help grow their careers and businesses.
We knew that experienced members of our community are keen to share their expertise and knowledge, and want to see others thrive. The success of the scheme so far has really proven this to be the case and we’ve heard a number of really positive and uplifting stories from the matches made.
Katie Steele, founder of Cheribim, was matched with an experienced and successful entrepreneur in the very early stages of her own startup journey. As a tech entrepreneur without technical skills, the guidance she received was fundamental in getting her idea off the ground. She explains,
“I signed up to the Sheffield Digital Mentoring Scheme because I had an idea for how software might add value to the sector I work in, but as a “non-technical”, solo founder, there were huge gaps in my knowledge and understanding of how I might bring it into reality.
“My mentor has been invaluable in informing and inspiring the steps I’ve taken in starting my business, sharing practical insights, first-hand experience and ideas around strategy.”
“They’ve been a friendly face at local events, so generous with their time and transparency, and above all validated my self-belief that I could succeed in what I’m trying to achieve, simply by discussing my ideas with me openly and unquestioningly.”
Cheribim has had a successful year and Katie has expanded the team, recruiting four people. She has signed up to Sheffield Digital as a micro-company to provide her team members with the same opportunities for growth and professional development that she has had.
“I would never have made a connection with someone so successful and experienced in the tech space without the mentoring scheme. So it’s been a no-brainer to become Company Members of Sheffield Digital so that our team can also join the programme!”
Tom Misiukanis has more than 20 years of tech industry experience to tap into and share as a mentor. He has found both of his matches to be undemanding yet rewarding, as he explains:
“It’s been a real pleasure acting as a mentor through the Sheffield Digital Mentorship scheme. I’ve been in and around the tech industry for 20+ years and feel very fortunate and privileged for the opportunities I have had.
“To give back an hour a month to help others as they start on their journey really isn’t a huge commitment, but it’s been wonderful to help both the mentees I have worked with achieve what they set out to do.”
We hope that the Mentoring Scheme can become a fundamental part of the tech ecosystem in Sheffield and an accessible mechanism to continuously replenish the talent pipeline. Tom is on board with this idea, saying:
“It’s the mentees that do the hard work; I’m just here as a sounding board or guiding hand to help them on their way. I hope that in the years to come the people I have mentored through Sheffield Digital will have the opportunity to act as mentors themselves and the cycle can continue.”
Opening doors to the tech sector
It’s no secret that the tech sector lacks diversity. Mentoring is one way that we can help to tackle this, encouraging and supporting people from different backgrounds and with different experiences into tech.
Earlier this year, we reported on Voluntary Action Sheffield’s New Beginnings Project, which is helping refugees in the city to develop coding skills. Following on from this, we have sponsored a number of places on the mentoring scheme for service users of that project. Our hope is that through mentoring, refugees in Sheffield can develop their digital skills and understanding of the local jobs market, increasing their chances of securing work in Sheffield’s tech sector. We are delighted to report that three matches have been so far and are going well, with another starting in the new year.
Whilst mentor sign-up numbers overall are healthy – we currently have 32 mentors available to be matched with a mentee – we have very few female mentors. Sarah Lister, our Mentoring Scheme Manager, explains why this is significant:
“We want to increase the diversity of our mentors in general so that we can be truly representative and make the best matches with our richly diverse pool of mentees.
“In particular, we want to bring more women in as mentors to share their unique experiences and journeys into tech. Our recent skills audit has shown that Sheffield is actually ahead of the national average when it comes to gender diversity in the tech sector. There are many amazing women working in Sheffield’s digital industries, so we’d love you to consider becoming a mentor to help keep this number growing.”
“You don’t need to be at a particular level in your career to sign up as a mentor. We often have mentees who sign up at the very beginning of a career change, so if you’d like to offer guidance during these initial steps then please consider volunteering your time. Your experience and knowledge can add so much value to people who are navigating a brand new path.”
Sarah is also keen to point out that the time commitment is low for mentors, who are asked to commit just one hour per month, for a six month period, which can be extended to twelve months. She says,
“Part of my role is to support mentors by regularly checking in to identify and discuss any issues. We also have a dedicated Resource Hub and a private Slack Channel between mentors, which you can access any time, even during a session with your mentee – in case you need to ask your peers a quick question.
“Another important part of my role is to hold mentees accountable for their side of the relationship, ensuring they book meetings with their mentor and follow up on actions. I am there for both sides to ensure they get what they need from the scheme, doing my best to avoid things becoming burdensome or difficult.”
If you are interested in signing up to the Sheffield Digital Mentoring Scheme, either as a mentor or mentee, you can find out how to do so here. Sarah is your first port of call for enquiries, and you can send her an email here.