These days, doctors, attorneys, and accountants are not the only people that call themselves “professionals”. Belonging to an association community helps develop individual professional identity and confidence. Mentoring programs don’t just help members achieve career and professional development goals. Mentors and mentees extend their professional networks, socialize professional standards and norms and increase their sense of truly belonging to a profession.
PROFESSIONAL ASSOCIATIONS SUPPORT PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT
As more and more white-collar workers operate in the ‘gig economy’ and as people change jobs more frequently, external relationships to support personal and professional development are becoming much more important. It is now generally accepted that, rather than have one mentor who can provide everything, it is better to have a network of helping relationships that include mentors from a variety of sources.
One organisation cannot deliver everything individuals need in career and professional development anymore.
Researchers contend that it is difficult for an occupation to even be considered professional, without an association to link experts together. Associations have a special obligation to help members develop their “professional identity”. And, having a well-designed mentoring program is an increasingly important piece of the puzzle.
ASSOCIATION MENTORING HAS ADVANTAGES FOR MEMBERS AND THE ASSOCIATION
It has been demonstrated that mentoring is essential for establishing a sense of professional identity across a variety of occupations, as mentees learn the profession’s norms, expectations and standards, and mentors re-connect with what they know and can pass on. (Bellis, 2000; Bettin, 2021; Nganga, Browne, & Stremmel; Mantzourani et al; 2022; Matsuyama et al, 2020).
Identification as a professional fosters self-confidence and a sense of belonging, both essential for psychosocial well-being and success.
Association mentoring programs provide an opportunity for young, less seasoned professionals to establish a professional identity that will assist them throughout their careers. The option to mentor young professionals is an opportunity for more experienced professionals to “give back” to their industry, strengthening their sense of self-worth and professional identity.
Accreditation becomes a “must-have” qualification as associations professionalise and establish professional standards. Mentoring programs play an important role in continuing education and help people become more conscious of their own development needs, ideals and standards as professionals. This strengthens the relationship between the association and professional members and therefore membership retention potential (Peacock, 2010).
Associations can also use mentoring programs to develop members’ leadership abilities and thus keep the association leadership succession pipeline full.
WHAT MAKES PROFESSIONAL ASSOCIATION MENTORING PROGRAMS UNIQUE?
Professional association mentoring programs match entry-level and junior professionals with more experienced people in the same profession. These external programs offer greater potential for reciprocal learning as each party explores new territory with their partner. Mentees in external relationships enjoy the relative objectivity offered by an outside mentor and do not feel the same pressure of having to impress an employer. They are more willing to admit their fears and weaknesses.
We observe that association mentors are more likely to volunteer year after year to “give back” to their profession. The experience gained by mentors through multiple mentorships improves the value of the program over time.
SOME POTENTIAL PITFALLS
Many associations have state or regional chapters connected to a national association. These connections are sometimes quite loose and can be fraught with politics. In our experience, failure to adequately engage regional councils or chapters in mentoring program design can result in a lack of support for the program. This is particularly important if program marketing is dependent on regional entities as communication channels.
Professional association programs generally rely on some form of outside funding, which generally comes from one or a blend of these:
- Program fees paid by mentees (not mentors, who volunteer their time);
- Sponsorship by corporations;
- Government grants.
There is no guarantee that asking mentees to pay a highly expensive program fee results in higher motivation and commitment. High program fees may provide a barrier for some applicants, so tread carefully here.
Be careful also to consider the impact that different funding models may have on the focus and success of a mentoring program. Corporate sponsorships can put at risk the mentee-centricity required for mentoring programs if sponsors have too much say in program goals and design. Government grants for mentoring programs may require that a minimum number of participants participate, and this can put pressure on program managers to accept sub-optimal matches. Pairs that are not matched well may not last the distance.
Mentoring programs offered by professional associations are by nature inter-company, and so associations must pay particular attention to the design and governance of their program. One safeguard is a clear code of conduct that must be read and agreed to before participation.
What about Continuing Professional Development (CPD) points? Awarding points for participation in association mentoring programs can boost application rates. However, some people sign up only to collect points, and fail to fully participate in the program. Associations can pre-empt this by requiring participants to prove their involvement in the program.
DESIGN IMPLICATIONS FOR PROFESSIONAL ASSOCIATIONS
Here we list a few design implications that need special consideration for professional association mentoring programs.
Get the right people on board
It’s ideal for all mentoring programs to have a steering committee or a body in charge of planning and administration. However, with professional association programs, the composition of the steering committee is crucial. Make sure key stakeholders are fairly represented.
A mentoring program code of conduct must be unambiguous, widely disseminated, made accessible to employers and emphasised during mentor and mentee training sessions. It should clearly address any potential employer conflicts in matching.
Use Purpose-Driven Marketing
Promoting mentoring as a way to bolster professional identity will help with recruitment, especially the recruitment of mentors. So too will emphasis on the chance to “give back” to the profession. Help applicants see the bigger picture – why will this program help the profession overall?
Choose an Appropriate Funding Model
Make sure to take into account potential effects on the program as a whole before determining program fees or seeking corporate sponsors or the government for support. A well-run formal mentorship program obviously needs financing; therefore investment trade-offs might need to be made. Understand the impact of the different funding options, so you can make an effort to design around them.
Match Pairs Carefully
There will be some geographic competition lines when matching in mentoring programs. Small-town employers can feel threatened when an employee is mentored by someone down the road. Managers of programs must collaborate closely with those who are knowledgeable about the local competitive environment. Matching pairs outside of one’s own region is one approach to lower competitive risk.
Workers are becoming more and more in need of expanding their “developmental networks,” looking for career and psychosocial support outside of their job, as economic demands and employment changes continue to erode the bond between employer and employee. Professional associations are in a perfect position to offer “outside” mentorship programs that not only broaden development networks but also create the “professional identity” that gives a sense of belonging to a workforce without corporate restrictions.
A thorough understanding of the association’s political structure and employers’ competitive sensitivities are required to design a professional association mentoring program. Association programs can be incredibly successful when designed with the above key points in mind.
©Melissa Richardson 2023
Bellis, C. (2000). Professions in society. British Actuarial Journal, 6(2), 317-344.
Bettin, K. A (2021). The Role of Mentoring in the Professional Identity Formation of Medical Students. Orthopedic Clinics of North America. Volume 52, Issue 1, Pages 61-68.
Mantzourani E., Chang, H., Desselle, S., Canedo,J. and Fleming,G. Reflections of mentors and mentees on a national mentoring program for pharmacists: An examination into relationships, personal and professional development, Research in Social and Administrative Pharmacy, Volume 18, Issue 3, 2022, Pages 2495-2504,
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