As a business coach, I have spent some time over the past week finding out how, as a potential mentor, I could get involved with the government’s new mentoring scheme. I have also tried to see how someone seeking help with a startup or growing business (the potential mentee) would fare.I am now not only confused, but also sceptical about the government’s claim to be supporting Britain’s smaller entrepreneurs. After closing the Business Link advisory service, is this really it? The perfect situation is where the mentor is exhaustively trained, the pair matched, the contract clearly stated and the mentee clear on what to expect. But I was clearly asking too much from a government scheme… MentorsMe.co.uk isn’t one, unified mentoring scheme; each organisation will have its own approach; some will charge and some will be free; some mentors are paid while others are volunteers; some will be ongoing, face-to-face mentoring, others are online Q&A. Immediately, I was unsure as to who is offering the service: the Business Link website (click “Find a business mentor”) says it is funded by the British Bankers’ Association (BBA) to the tune of 10,000 “experienced mentors with a wide variety of business backgrounds”. Yet there is no mention of the BBA scheme, which in fact provides volunteer financial staff and retirees, on MentorsMe.co.uk. MentorsMe.co.uk turns out to be a portal which, basically, leaves you to your own devices. It offers 49 organisations, a mix of charities, professional mentoring companies, social enterprises, recruitment companies and mentoring websites. They include The Prince’s Trust, Business in the Community, Rockstar Mentoring Group and Horse’s Mouth (among the better known ones). We are told that these organisations have been quality assured and individual mentors trained. “Quality assurance” seems to be by the completion of compliance forms with little, if any, interaction. And I signed up to two sites as a mentor without any vetting or offer of training. Few of the 49 websites signpost Mentorsme.co.uk. One I contacted said they were setting up a mentoring scheme with the National Skills Academy, a retail training body (although they didn’t ask me if I had retail experience). Another said they were managing the New Enterprise Allowance for the Department of Work and Pensions. Another invited me to sign up as a “candidate” and I realised I was putting up my CV for a recruitment company. How, I wondered, would the mentee know which organisation to select? Many of the 49 are established mentoring organisations already providing high quality services, some charging and some free. There is clearly uncertainty as to how this scheme is going to develop. I spoke to a couple professional colleagues, including Ian McKay, CEO of mentors mowgli, who says it needs more unity: “It could be effective but only if it provides a way for different organisations to act collaboratively, with a true respect of what each one offers.” And Joe Hinton, MD of UK Business Mentoring, said they thought hard before applying. “It could be very good. Any business owner would benefit from a mentor, but who determines what a quality mentor is?” Not MentorsMe.co.uk it seems. Sandra Hewett is a business coach and author of A Woman’s Guide to Working for Herself (How to Books £9.99).
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