This past January was National Mentoring month. Did you miss it?
It did not get much attention in the media even with the President endorsing it. That’s right, the President believes in the importance of mentoring to the point of dedicating an entire month to focus on it – officially encouraging the bettering of the next generation. The focus of this proclamation is understandably on youth. The reality is that the benefits of mentoring also apply to those of us a little too old to be considered a youth. And, why is it that mentoring for our country’s youth deserves encouragement from the office of the president and that effective mentoring among adults rarely ever happens? As with most everything of value, it takes effort.
Hard to hear, right? It deserves repeating: it takes effort
And effort is the hurdle that most people won’t overcome.
For centuries, most societies had a built-in framework for mentoring – some still do. In my opinion, America has lost the strength and potential that is related to this structure. What strength and potential has been lost? Having an up-and-coming workforce practicing how to be successful is not exactly how our educational system works now. A system consistently training workers in a mentoring fashion is what has been lost. It is only within the last few decades that the institution of apprenticing almost entirely disappeared. “Apprentices?” you might ask. Maybe you are unfamiliar with the word entirely or maybe it makes you think of bondage or servitude – check out what Wikipedia has on it. My takeaway is that the phrase, “system of training,” sums it up well. If you are a fan of Donald Trump then maybe the show, “Celebrity Apprentice,” is familiar, or its predecessor, “The Apprentice.” But, these reality shows do miss the mark on giving viewers insight into the power of a system of training.
I suggest more specifically that apprenticing is a system of mentoring.
One young boy who made a big difference on American business started as an apprentice. This boy did not want to become an apprentice but was convinced (probably pressured) by his father to commit to being trained, mentored, by his older brother. He lived a long time ago – over two hundred years ago. So, he had to sign a binding contract that made him an apprentice for the next nine years! This youngster, named Ben, was reading well at his age of twelve; Ben was ‘enslaved’ as a printer’s apprentice and setting up a printing press by hand with letters he previously only eyed. He was putting in effort day after day.
Ben did learn from his effort; he also learned to think of ways to do more with his skills. Ben did not want to stay as an apprentice for nine long years! After five years, Ben ran away to start his own printing business – he got away because his brother had officially ended his apprenticeship but made a new private one which could not be enforced. It was good old Benjamin that helped establish American newspapers, our post office system, libraries, contributed to science, formed our democracy and protected our foreign interests! I believe that all of this was possible because of the opportunity and learning Benjamin Franklin gained in his apprenticeship!
I hope you have handled hundred dollar bills – with Ben Franklin’s face on them. The next time you have a ‘Franklin’ in your hand, I plead with you to consider him being an apprentice for half a decade benefiting (and enduring) from the system of mentoring by his brother and their business transactions. I would not have liked being an apprentice through my teenage years, but I guarantee I would be in a much better financial position if I had apprenticed. I have often sought out mentors, and I would be thrilled if I could find ways to be an apprentice now. I want to benefit from a system of training.
I believe we have an opportunity in this century to leverage the characteristics of a successful apprenticeship and combine them with technology, social technology. Re-imagine mentoring on the internet. Social media can be used for accountability, and there is unlimited learning available via the internet.
I resolve to not totally miss out on the President’s encouragement. I will pursue being mentored and mentoring others via social media tools. I commit to learn, to establish a virtual apprenticeship, and to build an online community that fosters mentoring and learning.
What do you resolve to learn in the coming months?