How our placement module helped Heriot-Watt re-establish a career mentoring programme
Tuesday, February 18, 2020

The problem: a new CMS system that didn’t do what we needed

We used to have a mentoring programme that ran quite successfully. At the time we had our own Careers Service website and our own database, which I set up to allow the mentoring programme to function. When the university went over to a Web CMS system, we no longer had access to a database and, effectively, the ability to administer our mentoring system. We tried it using a flat file system, in which we had to create and upload a separate pdf for each mentor and students only had accordions to help them find what they were after – if they opened, say, the Computing accordion, there might be 20 or 30 pdf biographies and no way of searching them. It was far from ideal, so we shelved the mentoring programme for the time being and I looked for ways to resurrect it.

The solution: enter TARGETconnect

I was watching the TARGETconnect webinar about the placement module and it suddenly clicked that it was effectively doing what we needed to do to get mentors onto the system, allow students to apply for mentors and keep records of what was going on. I asked our mentoring coordinator to document how she used to run the mentoring programme so I could adapt the module in a way that pretty much met the specifications she was working to before. I just set out to see if it would work – and it did!

I tweaked a couple of areas. Firstly we needed an intake form so that we could collect mentors’ details. The most straightforward option was to set up a feedback form through the feedback system. I put a custom form together and we sent a link to that form to the people that we used to have on our mentoring database, letting them know that we were resurrecting the programme if they wanted to take part and asking them to fill in the form.

There was also a bit of renaming to do, starting with changing the ‘placements’ label to ‘mentoring programme’. Thinking about it in parallel terms, the mentoring programme could be thought of as an organisation offering mentors as opportunities, so I set up the mentoring programme as an ‘organisation’, then transferred the details of the mentors such that each mentor was effectively a ‘placement’, and attached them to our organisation. Once that was up and running it was fairly straightforward.

We were careful to anonymise the mentors’ details in the biographies – for each placement it just says ‘mentor’ and the area they work in, for example ‘mentor actuarial’ or ‘mentor engineering’. The mentors’ details are on the placement record, so we can see who the students are linked up with, but they’re hidden from the student.

The last part of the jigsaw was how to students would apply for mentors. Because the system allows applications, I created an application form for the mentoring programme; when each ‘placement’ or mentor is created there’s an ‘apply’ button and students can apply for up to three mentors. Once an application is in the system, the mentoring coordinator will have a look and if they’re happy that that match can go ahead then they offer that match to the mentor. While that’s happening, the mentor is withdrawn from the live database. Once the mentor accepts the mentee it’s kept as withdrawn and we’ve got a record of a student and a mentor.

The results

We’ve done a soft launch this semester and everything seems to be working absolutely fine so we’re going to do a big marketing launch next semester. We got a good response from our email to former mentors asking them to get involved again – we had about 150–170 responses.

A win for students

The students are glad to see the mentoring programme back. Now when students go into the ‘opportunities’ tab, they can see the career mentoring programme alongside internships, graduate vacancies and part time jobs, and they can search for mentors pretty much as they would search for any other opportunity, for example by career area. We’ve got 41 students matched up in about a month, which is pretty good.

We’ve always felt that mentoring is an important part of the career planning and decision making process; to get someone in industry, in the field you’re thinking of going into, to start giving you really good, solid, professional advice, we think that’s invaluable. And although it’s not designed to lead to jobs, over the years half a dozen or so students have got job offers from their mentors to go and work for their companies.

A win for the alumni department

Our alumni department is also pleased that the mentor programme is running again. We use a lot of our alumni as mentors, and it’s a good way for alumni to be able to give back to the university.

A win for career advisers

We can run reports on who’s been paired up with whom and how many people are still unmatched, which are useful for our careers advisers. Some have asked for a list of, say, engineering mentors who are still unmatched. They can then email out to students to let them know, for example, that there are 20 engineering mentors still available and encourage them to go onto the system and have a look.