If you’ve been in the workforce for a while, you’re more than likely familiar with the concept of internships and how they benefit both the interns and the companies they work for. For many of us, it’s a tested and time-honored rite of passage: when starting out in our chosen fields, we “pay our dues” by providing free or low cost assistance to a mentor or team who, in turn, teaches us the job and its responsibilities, as well as the industry we’re looking to break into. We got free work experience and exposure to the field (and with a little luck a job at the end of the process), and the company got low cost help. It’s a win-win setup.
However, something new has been flying under the radar in more progressive companies that’s starting to get more widespread attention—reverse mentorships. No, this doesn’t entail middle-aged employees returning to the classroom to learn how to be students. Instead, it’s an intriguing concept that typically involves millennials—young adults who are at the beginning of their career paths—working alongside older individuals to, well, mentor them!
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What could a seasoned and established individual who’s farther along in his or her career journey learn from someone who’s just starting out? Plenty, it turns out! Millennials typically have their fingers on the pulse of the latest and greatest in tech, and can help keep their older, “late to the game” counterparts up to date. No longer do industry veterans need to secretly pretend that they’re up on all the latest tech and fumble along through it, hoping that no one gets wise to their ineptitude—today, they can get shame-free coaching from a reverse mentor!
Millennials also have a great handle on how to use tools like social media, audio, and video to capture the attention of the younger generation—a key demographic for a variety of industries, products, and advertisers—which is something that older adults tend to struggle with. So, if you’re clueless about using Twitter or Instagram effectively to promote your business, a reverse mentor can help you see the light!
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These days, it isn’t uncommon for companies to hire younger adults (and individuals even younger) to help them strategize their marketing campaigns targeted at this fickle and easily distracted age group. Sure, older adults can spend their time and effort guessing at what seems young and fresh, but today’s younger generation is very good at spotting phonies and pretenders, and turning away when they encounter something that sets off their disingenuous alarms. Who better to provide ideas for grabbing the attention of younger consumers than those closest to the age demographic?
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Reverse mentors can also help companies stay fresh and adopt progressive strategies for attracting and retaining a new generation of employees, and can even offer fresh perspectives on the industries they’re focused in. Younger individuals also usually have an abundance of creative new ideas that can help businesses stand out from their static, slower-moving competition—a valuable resource, indeed.
Despite the seemingly obvious advantages to having a reverse mentor, the idea does have its critics. Some people feel like reverse mentoring only feeds the egos and sense of entitlement that the younger generation has become infamous for having. They also claim that it’s an unnecessary and irresponsible way to destroy the standard chain of respect and authority that traditional business are used to operating in.
However, there is a growing consensus that both older and younger generations have something to learn from the other side, and that the most effective mentorship arrangement would allow each side to share its perspective, knowledge, and experience with the other, to the benefit of everyone involved. So, regardless of what side of the mentorship coin you’re on, consider taking advantage of a reverse mentorship arrangement to help you achieve your goals!