Launched earlier this year, the Sheffield Digital Mentoring Scheme is now looking ahead to launching its second cohort of mentoring matches in 2022. When our Community Manager Sophie left the team, she passed the Mentoring Scheme to the very capable hands of Sarah Lister, who has a passion for mentoring and a lot of experience. Now able to reflect on how things went with the first cohort, Sarah is excited by the response we had from the community, but acknowledges it didn’t come without its challenges. In this interview, we hear from Sarah what has to change in the next phase of the scheme to make sure it can continue as a sustainable initiative, which is beneficial and rewarding to mentees and mentors. She also offers a useful overview of how it works, what participants can expect, and the support that Sheffield Digital gives to those taking part.
Can you provide a brief overview of how the first cohort of the mentoring scheme went, throughout 2021?
There has been a really positive response from the community in terms of people signing up to the scheme, and setting up the initial meetings. What we need to work on is maintaining and developing the relationships so that they don’t fall flat after the first month.
It really is great to see the variety of mentors who are offering their time to the scheme. The skills and levels of experience are really varied, so I’m rarely stuck with making a match for the mentees.
It’s also great to see that some mentees are working towards a career change into the digital tech industries. This shows that Sheffield Digital is reaching people who are only just starting to think about learning new skills, and that has been one of our aims this year.
In summary, Sophie did a really great job of getting the scheme set up and getting it started. I think we have learned a lot from the experience so far, and I hope it can run more smoothly in 2022 with some simple but important changes put in place.
What were the main challenges encountered during this first year?
Maintaining communication is the main one. By that I mean between mentors and mentees, and also my communication with each of them. We all have roles that require clear communication, which is vital to the success of the scheme.
Some of the mentors and mentees haven’t followed up their initial meetings with additional meetings planned for the following month. I think this is partly because people are busy with work, or due to personal circumstances, or they simply haven’t received a response to emails.
I have sent out feedback forms to the people included in the first cohort, and there is a strong message in the responses from both mentors and mentees that there needs to be more support from Sheffield Digital, which is what I’ve been working on for the past month or so. I think that some people feel let down because they haven’t had the consistency of regular meetings, so I am working on changing that by making regular contact with all the participants. There are challenges within that as well, because some people are not responding to me.
Another main challenge is putting across the emphasis on commitment to the scheme. One meeting a month over a six month period perhaps doesn’t sound like a lot at first, but there are other actions that need to happen in between to progress towards the goals. It is a commitment that requires dedicated time.
You’ve taken over the running of the Sheffield Digital Mentoring Scheme. What skills and experience are you bringing to the role, and what are you most looking forward to?
I trained as a coach in 2016, and while the approach and skills are different, there is some overlap. I have volunteered as a mentor for students at Sheffield Hallam University, and I really enjoyed the experience. The connections I made through the scheme were really valuable to me, and I’ve stayed in contact with one of the mentees that I worked with.
Last year I did some mentoring work with the Screen Industries Growth Network (SIGN), who approached me on LinkedIn initially. This felt like really meaningful work because of their commitment to diversity and inclusion, and I appreciate that they offer the mentoring workshops to people free of charge and online because this makes them more accessible. I will be continuing this work next year.
I recently took part in an excellent mentoring training session provided by the Sheffield Creative Guild, and I am taking part in their scheme as a mentor next year. So, as you can tell, I really enjoy mentoring! It can be such an enjoyable way to connect with people. I am also volunteering my time as a mentor on our own scheme as well of course, and I’ve really enjoyed taking part in 2021.
I am most looking forward to connecting with our community, this is what I enjoy most about working with Sheffield Digital. I feel very privileged to be in this position and I want to do the best that I can within the resources we have available.
What are the main pieces of advice that you’d give to future mentors and mentees?
Firstly to be aware of the time commitment. Our guidelines are to have one meeting per month over a six-month period, but for the scheme to work, mentees need to also dedicate time to working towards the goals between each meeting. Of course there needs to be some flexibility, but this requires clear communication so that everyone knows where they stand.
I think it’s important to plan ahead with the follow-up meetings, so that they are firmly in the calendar. If this is done at the end of each meeting, then there is less chance of time running away and communication breaking down.
Another piece of advice for mentees is to really consider what you want to achieve during the six month period. Take time to complete the sign-up form and be as specific as possible. This will help with the matching process, and your mentors.
Finally, to make the most of the scheme that we have available. Let’s make it work together, through clear communication and dedication. I am here to support both mentors and mentees, so please get in touch with questions, concerns, and feedback. If you’re fed up with emails then I’ll be happy to have a call instead, or a slack chat.
Are there any changes to the sign-up process for mentors and mentees? Can you remind us how it works?
The process is staying the same in 2022. Mentors can sign up by completing this form, and mentees need to be individual members before they sign up using this form. When new individual members sign up, please note that you don’t have to make your profile visible on our website. There is an option to hide it when you join membership.
Once people have signed up, they should expect an email from me within a couple of days and then if I establish a match I will follow up with more details. For some people there may be a waiting period until we have a suitable match.
Once matched, what can mentors and mentees expect in terms of the structure of the scheme, and their meetings?
They should expect an initial introduction from me which includes a template document to help with structuring the meetings. Following that, they should expect to hear from me regularly to check how things are going, and again at the end of the six-month period when I send out a feedback form. It’s really important that people reply to me, even if they are very brief updates. This will help me to run the scheme smoothly, because then I know who is available and if the matches are working well. If people haven’t heard from me, please check your spam folders in case my emails are getting lost there.
And what support will you be offering to mentors and mentees?
After the introductions, I will email people who are one month into the scheme to check that a positive connection has been established. Then I will be in contact after three months to ask how things are going. If there are any issues, then I will do my best to step in to resolve those. The support is confidential, I am the only person running the scheme and I have dedicated time towards doing this.
They can contact me at any time to ask questions, raise concerns, and to provide feedback. My email address is email@example.com. Please note that I work on a freelance basis, so I’m not full-time but I will do my best to reply to emails as quickly as possible.
So, what’s the status of the scheme at the moment? Is it ready to start again in 2022?
Yes we’re ready! There have been some recent sign-ups which is great to see, and there aren’t any time restrictions on when you can join. Some of the mentors have confirmed that they are happy to continue in 2022, and we have quite a few available to work with new mentees. We are hoping that both new mentors and mentees will sign up.
How can people find out more, and what should they do if they have questions?
There are two great blog posts which were published in 2021, these have more details and links to helpful resources. Introducing the Sheffield Digital Mentoring Scheme and An Update on the Sheffield Digital Mentoring Scheme.
Questions can be sent directly to me: firstname.lastname@example.org or send me a direct message in our slack community where we can chat.
Thank you to everyone who is taking part in the scheme, and to those who have provided feedback. I am really looking forward to leading and developing this scheme, and I appreciate everyone’s efforts to make it possible.