Mentoring students

Mentorship: a business match made in heaven

Image credit: Robert Lacey

Mentorship can be the start of a beautiful relationship: the support and guidance provided by a mentor can be career-enhancing, even life-changing, while the insights and enthusiasm a mentee offers are just as valuable.

You’ve decided to take the plunge and you’re about to embark upon what could prove to be one of the most significant relationships of your life: a mentorship. If you’re looking for guidance and support, encouragement and motivation, and the enhancement of your career and professional development on top, then mentoring’s the thing.

A mentor can offer a different perspective on a mentee’s career and is able to challenge and motivate against the backdrop of their own experience. They offer encouragement and inspiration, helping set career goals and defining how to achieve them. Mentors can widen your horizon, both within your own mindset and in real life too, providing you with access to their well-established network, and significantly influencing your attitude and professional outlook in the process. In addition, their hard-won experience and knowledge offers you expert support in overcoming the usual obstacles and career pitfalls.

What of the mentors themselves, what are they set to gain? Aside from a warm glow of benevolence, a mentorship gives them the opportunity to practice and develop their management skills. They also get to continue with their professional development, gaining those all-important CPD hours, as well broadening their own knowledge and perspective; plus, gain a little satisfaction in giving back to their profession.

Mentors can operate independently across many types of organisations, but many companies offer their own schemes also, in tandem with support from organisations like the IET, which provides a service giving information on becoming a mentor, finding a mentor and best practice guidance on setting up company mentoring schemes.

The Sainsbury Management Fellows (SMF), the MBA scholarship scheme of Engineers in Business Fellowship (EIBF), is another organisation that runs its own executive mentoring programme. As SMF President David Falzani MBE explains: “Mentoring fills the gap where education leaves off. Young engineers have received a lot of education and knowledge but they don’t have the experience of the working world. They don’t have in-depth knowledge of the range of possibilities available and mentors are experienced people who can help them to explore those possibilities and opportunities.”

2017 has been a big year for SMF as it reached its 30th anniversary, with a number of events and milestone achievements highlighted throughout the year. The celebrations have included the success of over 153 fellows having founded or co-founded businesses with a value of over £4.6 billion, creating 18,000 jobs in the process; 175 newly founded businesses are going strong; over 40 per cent of Fellows hold executive board roles and 33 per cent hold executive roles; and 260 Fellows support and mentor young engineers.

This latter point sees a key area of expansion of SMF’s work as it significantly grows its mentoring support for engineers. Mentees range from engineering undergraduates to young engineers in the early years of their career with many wanting to become business leaders in blue-chip companies or to become entrepreneurs, developing new products and services that improve people’s lives and create employment. SMF also mentors engineers who pursue pure engineering careers with the view that business skills like strategy, leadership and marketing are beneficial to all engineers and their employers.

As part of its 30th Anniversary celebrations, SMF has launched a new competition in order to build on its commitment to supporting engineers with their career and entrepreneurial ambitions. The Mentor30Engineers Competition was conceived by a number of the SMF Trustees responsible for outreach programmes and offers amazing 900 hours of mentoring to 30 winners over three years.

As Falzani comments: “With a long tradition of mentoring, creating a competition that offers 30 mentors in our 30th anniversary year is fitting for SMF. We have a wealth of talented business people in SMF and the competition winners will be able to gain so much knowledge and benefit from a one-to-one mentoring relationship over a lengthy period of time. We are thrilled with the number of SMFs who came forward quickly to become volunteers for Mentor30Engineers.”

Thirty engineering undergrads and graduates can win a leading business person as a mentor for three years by creating a stand-out idea that could solve some of the toughest problems in society; ranging from meeting the care needs of an ageing population to preventing environmental damage. The competition is open to UK-based students and graduates from any engineering discipline and undergrads can be at any stage in their degree course.

Mentor30Engineers aims to build on other SMF initiatives that give engineers more commercial education and the opportunity to work with people who are leading successful enterprises in the UK. As Falzani adds: “Some of the most important issues we face are not just technical challenges, but ones that require the ability to link technologies to an understanding of the market mechanism, business skills and entrepreneurial commercial thinking. Mentor30Engineers gives participants a chance to stretch their fertile minds and create solutions to big challenges in society.”

The judging panel comprises a number of Sainsbury Management Fellows including David Falzani, CEO of Polaris Associates and an honorary professor at Nottingham University Business School; Venture Capitalist James Raby; Cathy Breeze, SMF Director of Communications; entrepreneur Dr Robin Jones, a partner at Endeavit and IET Past President Chris Earnshaw OBE, Chairman of the Royal Academy of Engineers’ Steering Committee for SMF, who said: “The Mentor30Engineers initiative provides access to an amazing range of expertise and experience from people who have themselves been successful in business. It is also a great example of how those who have benefitted from SMF Awards are able to widen the impact of the scheme by reaching out to the next generation of engineering leaders who have a passion to address some of the major challenges facing society today.”

The judges will be looking at applicants who are able to stretch their minds beyond simplistic app-based solutions and who can demonstrate that they understand the complexity of the topic they select, going on to create an idea that could actually be achievable. There are no bars on their imagination, meaning they’re not expected to budget their idea. Finally, entrants need to show that they’ve applied engineering thinking/skills into their idea.

The (blue) sky’s the limit.


Entering for mentoring?

To participate in this blue-sky thinking competition, entrants select a problem from five major topics (NHS, environment, social care, finance and corporate tax), develop and then describe their innovation in an essay. The judges are looking for originality and feasibility of the solutions put forward, and also evidence of the use of engineering skills in the ideas. The competition has just been launched and entries must be submitted by the end of February 2018.

The 30 entries that most impress the judging panel will win a Sainsbury Management Fellow as a mentor. Each SMF will provide 30 hours of mentoring over three years, committing to support students throughout their degree studies or through the early stages of their career.

Engineers and engineering students interested in entering Mentor30Engineers can find more details on the SMF website or can email

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