In this post, Creative Mentor Network Founding Director Isabel Farchy discusses the importance of mentors on the future of the creative industries; and why mentor-focused programmes can offer as much to those giving up their time, as they do to those who receive the support.

For many of us, how we came to choose the profession we are in today can often be traced back to an experience in our lives where someone or something came along and inspired us. These moments can be things like getting the opportunity to go into a professional workplace for the first time; meeting someone who you want to be like when you grow up; or simply the exposure to the endless possibilities beyond traditional roles (medical, legal and financial) which are usually promoted to us at school age.

The problem facing many young people from more diverse social backgrounds or lower income families however, is that opportunities like these are far less accessible. Parents may not work in a professional setting and so cannot utilise the same connections; schools may cut funding to creative programmes. Even cultural beliefs around what a ‘good’ career is can all leave less traditional choices - such as the creative industries - as an unexplorable option. Either through lack of awareness, or simply because of a lack of understanding and support.

One question we often ask students who come to us looking for guidance is “Why do you want a mentor?”. The most frequent answer we receive is that they’re looking for the type of support they cannot get from schools, or at home, in terms of career planning.

This is where mentors play such a vital role in the development of diverse talent coming into the industry. They offer the chance to connect with an established professional - a living, breathing example that this potential career choice can work. It opens up a world of possibilities, connections and most importantly, role models for them to be inspired by.

Mentors, we need you
The demand for mentors has rocketed in recent years. A recent survey by Monster.co.uk found that over a quarter of people (28 per cent) want a mentor, but many have no idea how to go about finding one. When looking to connect young people coming out of school with those currently working in the creative industries, the demand for mentors far outsrips the supply.

This is why mentoring programmes set up in partnership with creative businesses, and run in a similar way to traditional graduate schemes, are so key. Moving towards mentor-focused initiatives - such as the We Are Upstarts programme we recently launched with socially-led creative agency We Are Social - offers young people the chance to begin building their own network. It can provide them with the confidence and opportunities to consider opportunities which might have previously been closed off to them.

Giving and gaining
What is often so overlooked as well is that the process of becoming and being a mentor can be just as rewarding for the person giving up their time as it can be for the person being mentored. Aside from the certification which our training scheme offers as part of the process; many employees who are about to start leading teams of people for the first time list it as one of their main reasons for getting involved. Mentor programmes can provide guidance on leading people in a less formal setting: setting goals, developing accountability, and learning to communicate with someone just starting out; and can be as much about developing your own management abilities and style, as it is about helping someone else to develop into their own career.

The process can also open a mentor, and the company backing them, up to a much wider cultural understanding than they may have previously experienced. It’s so easy in advertising to fall into the trap of believing that because something it relevant to you, it’s relevant to everyone; and we’ve heard such great stories over the years of mentors - junior and senior - who have had their entire perspective changed by soundboarding ideas off of their mentee.

And the best bit? There are no specific skills required. We find the best mentors are people who are interested in reflecting on the way they communicate with people.

To the future, and beyond
Mentoring will help develop the future talent of the creative workforce, and shift the industry’s view of the world into something much broader and more inclusive, making it more representative of the diverse cultural society we live in today.

And for anyone thinking about taking on a mentoring responsibility, remember - there will never be a ‘good’ time. Your workload will never get lighter. Your friends will (hopefully) never stop inviting you to the pub. But if you’ve got a passion for making our industry a better place, there’s no better way than to start with championing its young talent. Make time for our future.