MentorsWork was first introduced in April 2020 and has supported over 580 businesses nationwide to-date. The initiative was developed by Skillnet Ireland in partnership with SFA with the core purpose of helping SMEs increase their competitiveness by working with the leadership and management teams within those businesses.
The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, which coincided with the launch of MentorsWork, resulted in an increased focus on addressing and responding to immediate challenges. As businesses grappled with unprecedented levels of disruption, the external management development and mentoring support delivered through MentorsWork enabled those SMEs to take stock of their position and determine what they needed to do to remain productive and competitive.
With clients in the Healthcare and Food service sectors, payment solutions provider Dualtron has played a key role in facilitating business continuity for a number of essential services providers throughout the restricted period. Leveraging the support of the MentorsWork programme enabled Dualtron to address immediate challenges while focusing on long-term opportunities, according to Managing Director Dave Byrne.
“We had to pivot in terms of how we provide services so that people could manage social distancing at their sites,” says Dave. “For example, on payment systems, some EPOS clients are now using functions like click and collect, or payment on delivery, which has enabled them to spread their risk and effectively manage social distancing.”
“In terms of strategy and tactics, having an experienced mentor to discuss the challenges I could see from my own perspective, was beneficial,” says Dave. “MentorsWork helped us determine what to prioritise and how to eliminate things that may not require a focus straight away.”
Sharing a similar view, Barry Prost of recruitment and employer branding consultancy Yala.ie emphasises the importance of external thinking when it comes to making decisions and long-term planning. He says: “As an entrepreneur, or a small business owner, one of the drawbacks is that you’re more than likely the most experienced person in your business by definition.”
“It’s really valuable for SMEs and owner-managed businesses to have mentoring of some kind, that offers expertise, ideas and a sounding board from outside your business. We can often find ourselves just in this kind of loop collectively within the business, and there’s no new thinking coming into the business. For me, having that input was really beneficial.”
Stimulating growth across multiple sectors
MentorsWork has helped SMEs from all sectors across the economy determine practical solutions that are unique to their business and tailored to suit their needs.
As restrictions heavily impacted the hospitality sector in 2020, Trina Scanlon, Marketing Manager at the Hibernian Hotel in Mallow, Co. Cork found herself undergoing a career transition. “I came from leisure originally, and because of Covid, I’ve sort of landed into this role,” says Trina. “While I’ve been responsible for all marketing for the leisure centre for 20 years, the transition to the role has been a huge learning curve for me.”
“Having somebody else’s opinion from outside the business through the MentorsWork programme, was extremely beneficial in terms of setting the scene, looking outside of our own immediate circle and understanding more about what works in other businesses and sectors.”
“At the end of the day, no matter what way you package it, businesses are focused on keeping customers and keeping them happy by giving them a good experience. So, it’s great to hear how other people are doing it.”
Lifelong learning to drive competitiveness
Through a mix of 1:1 mentoring, thought-leadership masterclasses and interactive workshops, the MentorsWork initiative has helped guide and support participants with their business challenges. As SMEs continue to manage and navigate the rapidly evolving business landscape, the role of lifelong learning through programmes such as MentorsWork, is growing in importance across sectors and at all levels.
Employers are reaping the rewards of instilling a culture of learning and upskilling within their business, something which has existed within Dualtron for some time according to MD Dave Byrne.
“We are constantly upskilling. Most of the senior managers in Dualtron have completed third level qualifications in the last 10 years. Two of the directors who have software backgrounds have completed postgraduate degrees in business. We’re always trying to improve ourselves year and year, and that’s part of the company culture.”
From a recruitment perspective, Barry Prost feels candidates who demonstrate a commitment to their own professional development have a significant advantage when it comes to their own career prospects.
“Employers love to see that candidates are committed to ongoing learning and career development,” says Barry.
“Obviously, in certain professions such as engineering for example, there’s a formal and structured way to learn while you’re in the workforce, but I would say all companies want to hire employees who are keen to improve and get better. There’s a growing emphasis on professional development as it is a big indicator as to whether an employee is going to do well in that company.”
When it comes to enhancing the competitiveness and growth of SMEs, Dave Byrne feels lifelong learning is not only critical for the future, but also paramount for the present. Dave says: “MentorsWork obviously came about in the middle of the pandemic, which was timely in some ways and yet not ideal in others. The overall goal, as I understood it, to really bring up the skill levels of smaller businesses to those of multinationals, was positive and I am pleased to see that MentorsWork is continuing and being expanded in 2021.”
MentorsWork is a free, enterprise-driven programme, which aims to connect business owners and managers with experienced and skilled mentors to address their specific business issues. MentorsWork is an enterprise initiative of the Small Firms Association (SFA), funded by Skillnet Ireland. For more information visit: www.mentorswork.ie