Master and Apprentice, or Teacher and Student

The old-fashioned way to become a master of something has been through the “master-and-apprentice” – method. Young and inexperienced workers team-up with more experienced colleaques, and the long process of “do-as-I-show-you” begins. This has been the custom since the Middle Ages, when master craftsmen would train young novices. The same approach still lives in the 21st century, just developed into something called “mentoring”. The term “mentoring” comes  from Homer’s Odyssey:

 ”Odysseus asked Mentor to act as a foster-dad for his son Telemachus,
when Odysseus left for the Trojan War”.

The apprentice is nowadays called actor or mentee. Today’s mentors do not so much tell apprentices to “do-as-I-show-you”, but rather encourage them in exploring their careers to new dimensions, coach and train the actors to see other viewpoints, and most importantly: transfer tacit knowledge. In knowledge intensive organizations, there’s a lot of tacit knowledge hanging around, we just don’t always see it. There is no way to document everything and – even if there was – there would be no one with enough time to read all that. Mentors, with their experience and know-how, can see the relevant aspects of tacit knowledge and transfer that to apprentices. Apprentices, on the other hand, can challenge the “old viewpoint” and develop new, fresh ways to implement tacit knowledge in the company. The feedback from apprentices also provides the mentors possibilities to discover something new.

Here at VTT mentoring is an activity which covers the entire organization, from scientists to customer managers, from financial personnel to team leaders. The official mentoring program at VTT is a year long activity, and has currently some 50 mentor-actor pairs engaged. From our team Pasi in involved as an actor, and is being mentored by Marko Jurvansuu (principal scientist / key account manager) for the customer management – track.

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