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Part 1: The forgotten art of mentoring

Published by
World Pipelines,

Competence is obtained from a mixture of experience, training, and mentoring: everybody understands experience and training, but does everybody understand the concept of mentoring?

We normally associate mentoring with a personal and trusting relationship between a more experienced and/or more knowledgeable person, and a less experienced or less knowledgeable person.

Historically, mentoring in business has its roots in the craftsman-apprenticeship relationship. Artisans learnt everything through mentoring: before books, computers, etc., mentoring was the only way to transfer knowledge.

There are clear business benefits from mentoring, as we know that most successful people in business have benefitted from a mentor, and mentoring is even more important than training in developing competencies.

Mentoring today can be very difficult due to staff reductions, and over-stretched managers. This means that a resource even more important in competency development than training may be overlooked.

Influential individuals

The word mentoring comes from a Greek word meaning enduring. The traditional definition of mentorship comes from Homer’s poem, The Odyssey. Odysseus (Ulysses) travelled the world for years at a time. He entrusted Mentor (Athena, goddess of war and wisdom, disguised as a man) with the care and education of his son.

Thus, traditional mentoring emerged as a relationship between an older, wiser and/or more experienced person. This person functions as a wise teacher and confidante, coaching, inspiring, protecting, and, helping the mentoree to realise their aspirations and develop positive qualities.

Mentoring is still essential today, but many companies do not actively promote it, and many older, wiser staff do not have the time to mentor. But, it may be the best staff development tool we have.


In any profession we need staff who are competent. Competence is a mix of skills, knowledge, and experience. Values such as ethical behaviour are also essential in competency development.

The pipeline industry has always required its staff to be trained and qualified. Design standards, such as ASME B31.4 emphasise the need for competency, and the international pipeline standards, ISO PDTS 12747, now explicitly links competence to the maintenance of safety (integrity) in an ageing pipeline.

The evidence is clear: competence is now on the agenda in the pipeline industry, but the industry may be missing a key element of competency. That element is mentoring.

Competence and mentoring

We become competent by a combination of training, mentoring, and experience:

  • Training is simple to understand: it is structured learning in a skill.
  • Experience is also easy to understand and appreciate: it involves exposure to a skill over time.
  • But, what is mentoring and how do we obtain it?

Mentoring is simple to visualise, and its purpose easy to understand. Training involves the transfer of information, but not knowledge. Knowledge can only be stored in the human brain – we will cover this in more detail below. Hence, mentoring is how we transfer knowledge to staff. No mentoring – no knowledge.

We can now conclude that competence is developed by:

  • Training (structured learning).
  • Mentoring (learning from others).
  • Experience.

But, how important is mentoring compared to training? Well, mentoring is very important, as it may contribute even more to competence than training.

Unfortunately, many HR/training/talent management departments fail to recognise its importance, probably because it is not understood. They may spend millions of dollars on training their staff, but nothing on their mentoring. When developing competence, experience is the most important element.

Part 2 coming soon!

Written by Michelle Unger and Phil Hopkins, and edited from a published article by Stephanie Roker

To read the full version of this article with references, please download a copy of the December 2015 issue of World Pipelines.

Read the article online at:

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