Preparing volunteers to succeed as youth mentors

Tips for training mentors.

What if I’m not good enough? What will I do with this kid? Potential mentors are often plagued by self-doubt. Mentor training provides volunteers with the skills needed to succeed. In mentoring, both pre-match and ongoing training is recommended. Pre-match training is conducted before the volunteer is matched with a young person and should address the most essential skills required. Ongoing training occurs throughout the duration of the relationship through one-on-one interactions with a staff member, webinars, readings and face-to-face with a group.

Pre-match training can serve many purposes. The primary purpose is to prepare mentors and mentees for a strong and healthy mentoring relationship and teach skills that will help them deal with difficulties that are common within these relationships. Training can also serve some additional and important purposes. Pre-match mentor training can be used as a layer of the screening process if the program waits until after training to accept or decline the volunteer. Potential mentors are more relaxed in a group training session and more likely to act authentically than they are during the interview process when people can be more nervous. Training can provide a chance to learn about how a person communicates with others and other key information that will assist staff in making a good match. Finally, mentors and mentees need support throughout the relationship. The time they spend with staff during training allows them to build trust and get to know each other.

Ongoing training can vary significantly between programs. Some programs train one-on-one while others take on a group training approach. Certainly, group training allows for interaction between multiple mentors and staff and can be highly effective because there is more time to process and learn from each other. One-to-one training is utilized most often by very small programs that worry about making mentors wait too long before matching and programs that conduct training as part of the interview. The Quality Program Standards for Youth Mentoring indicate that training should last for a minimum of two hours. Research indicates that youth experience the strongest outcomes when mentors complete six or more hours of pre-match training.

When designing a training plan for new mentors, consider the skills needed. Many programs focus on topic areas that include: building healthy relationships; setting boundaries; communication skills; youth development and cultural competency. Trainings should be interactive because skill development does not happen from reading alone. You cannot hand a mentor a manual and expect them to be ready to go. There needs to be an opportunity for discussion and practice. Finally, training should be designed to meet various learning styles to ensure that everyone’s needs are met.

Michigan State University Extension will host Train the Trainer: Mentor Training on March 28. This workshop will provide a hands-on learning opportunity for youth development professionals who train volunteers. Activities from the Ready to Go: A Mentor Training Toolkit curriculum (in production) will be provided to participants.

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