ScreenSkills delivered a wide range of mentoring activities as part of the Future Film Skills (FFS) programme, 2018 to 2023. The FFS programme was delivered for the BFI by ScreenSkills with funding from the National Lottery. Mentoring was delivered through a direct delivery programme and via funded and non funded partner organisations in the mentoring community of best practice.
In January 2023, ScreenSkills engaged an independent researcher to review the programmes delivered by the funded partners and produce legacy documents to help sustain mentoring activity in the future. The research findings were used to devise a checklist to help organisations who are considering delivering mentoring. The questions and recommendations are all drawn from the illustrative evidence, lived experience and advice given by funded organisations who have partnered with ScreenSkills to deliver a mentoring programme as part of the FFS project. This is not a prescriptive model; it is a guide to support organisations to develop their own best practice mentoring programmes.
Checklist of questions and recommendations
- Are you trying to meet a particular skills gap, at a particular level? If so, how do you define your ‘supply side’ gap in terms of technical capability, personal skills, and industry readiness?
- Are you searching for new talent to help you tap into a broader mix of audience and content consumers?
- Are you seeking to diversify and enrich the screen industries by focusing on an under-represented group or groups? Is it a core objective of your programme to widen opportunities for an under-represented or disadvantaged group or groups? Are you strongly driven by social and economic justice imperatives?
- Is your focus on new entrants, early career, mid career and / or returners or career switchers?
These are a few supply-side and demand-led examples of possible representations of the “drive” to set up a mentoring programme. There is no prescription here, rather a suggestion that this initial “deep dive” will pay dividends across your recruitment, marketing and engagement efforts.
Whether the answer is decided by an individual, a charity or a company, it is crucial to budget time for this thinking at the outset, and to feel free to revisit and revise it as you design your mentoring programme. Revisions are almost inevitable as you explore current realities of what you can do and who is available to help you. But really clarifying focus at the outset saves time, money and potential friction in interpersonal relationships down the line.
- What is “in scope” for your programme? Do you also offer any or a combination of: industry familiarisation, role briefings, craft training or personal coaching?
- Do you expect (or treat purely as a bonus) mentor offers of script-reading, introductions, shadowing and on-set experience?
- And what do you not mean by mentoring (this could include any or all of training, shadowing, placements, sponsorship, or more)?
Potential outcomes involve building confidence, skills, critical thinking abilities, networks, profiles, and commercial opportunities.
- In terms of skills, do your outcomes include basic skills, niche skills, enhanced understanding and / or self-development abilities?
Defining your priorities will be key to launching your programme and briefing your mentoring partners. What you decide will help keep your messaging consistent from recruitment through launch and help you sustain commitment.
- What do you want to offer? (see above, “what do you mean by mentoring?”) Are you going to focus exclusively on making and sustaining one-on-one mentoring partnerships, or will you also organise masterclasses, workshops and / or other specific skills training?
- What resources do you have? If you’re offering training and events, how much can you budget to bring in outside talent and set up special events? Will you rely on voluntary involvement - “giving back”, “paying it forward”, “talent spotting” - or will you pay, and if so under what criteria and at what rates - expenses, honorarium, union rates? What is your balance between live and recorded offerings? If you’re keen to offer industry familiarisation, do you have access to commissioning and marketing networks and production facilities? If skills development is key, do you know coaches with relevant expertise in - for example - career planning, communications skills, or the mid-life reset?
- Now you know the scope of your offering, how many mentees do you want to recruit?
- How will you - or your organisation or charity or sponsor - balance the potential tension between higher numbers giving an obvious return on funding versus the higher effectiveness of bespoke matching and oversight throughout the life of the programme? How will you describe the decision you have made on this?
- What more can you do to adapt and diversify your offer? Who else can you ask for input?
- What language will you use to make clear your openness to individuals with hidden disabilities or who may be in the process of disclosing disability?
- What extra training may be needed by you or your team - and your mentors - to increase your awareness of disability and access? Have you budgeted for potential access costs?
Consider offering differentiation options - a menu of methods for absorbing and submitting material that accommodates different learning styles - and asynchronous working - allowing participants to ‘check in’ not just live and in vision, but via different methods like online messaging, voice and video notes, and shared project work online. This might make the learning easier for an individual to process, or easier given individual circumstances (such as family demands, or sickness, or multiple work commitments).
Beyond the obvious “contracting” needs such as defining programme aims and outcomes, resourcing and accountability, there’s an important conversation to have at the outset about the inevitable extra demands.
- Beyond the matching and the launch, what will you expect of the programme leader? What and how much will be offered by way of contact points and meetups (for mentees, mentors, and the full group)?
- Is the programme intended to deliver opportunities to hard-to-reach individuals? Is it clear, or yet to emerge, what the needs of your participants might require of you? Depending on your programme design, how much time can be made available for one-on-one guidance, troubleshooting or even coaching?
- Will the programme manager go it alone, or empower / expect mentees to help decide a collective agenda and / or help to deliver events and feedback? If the latter, again, is this part of your initial messaging? How much responsibility for organising and trouble-shooting do you expect of the mentees themselves, and how will you make that clear?
- Where do your potential recruits seek their information, opportunities and inspiration? Which people might influence them and which platforms might they use? Who and where are your potential allies / intermediaries in the recruitment effort - especially for new talent?
These considerations matter above all for underrepresented talent often disadvantaged by unconscious bias in the language of marketing communications, and the choice of recruitment channels to carry them. However, the following suggestions are offered with the caveat that no list of recommendations can better your ideas for finding the talent that is relevant to you.
Many programme leaders have worked successfully on the principle of going where the talent is online, in order to recruit in the first place, and subsequently sustain mentee engagement. Suggested examples include outreach via alumni groups on Facebook, Twitter postings, informally sharing opportunities via professional networks using WhatsApp groups, and influential servers on Discord. Another possibility is paying for pre-roll ads or direct sponsorship on high influence YouTube creator accounts.
Potential promoters / champions of your mentoring programme may exist in local colleges and universities, film and photography clubs, games networks, art studios, libraries and other community hubs. Some recommend extending the search by professional means, such as approaching specialist career coaches whose clientele overlaps your intended demographic.
The potential pitfall with all of these suggestions is the possibility of continuing the practice of (as one interviewee put it) ‘like-minded people hiring like-minded people’. Potential mentees in traditionally ‘hard to reach’ demographics could benefit from the use of “snowball” methods, by which previous mentees or early recruits can reach out to others who may be interested and suitable for the programme, or indeed suggest where they may be found (subject of course to confidentiality and data privacy being observed). For such mentees, could your funding allow you to offer expenses or bursaries towards travel and/ or child-care?
- How will you decide which recruitment methods best fit your needs? Can you test the water - by asking for expressions of interest, and promising more for those who “watch this space”?
- How can you filter the applications your recruitment attracts? What proofs of talent and interest will you require, and by what variety of formats can potential recruits use to submit them?
- What are the needs they will be addressing in your pool of mentees? How precise do you want your mentoring matches to be, in terms of career stages and roles, and in terms of identity and lived experience? What can you do to build your pool of potential mentors especially from hard to reach groups?
- How could it help to consider the potential value of early stage creatives, as well as higher-level mentors? How will you phrase your request to mentees to give back in this regard, by either volunteering to become early stage mentors themselves or by drawing on their emerging networks by providing a flow of introductions to potential new recruits?
- How could it help to offer fees, for example for freelance talent with highly sought-after skills and connections? As above, if you do intend to pay, under what criteria and at what rates - honorarium, expenses, union rates?
- If you are following the norm of reaching out for mentors on a voluntary basis, how are you describing what is expected, and what reassurance can you offer that their involvement will not be too onerous or stretch beyond their current capacities?
As noted with programme design, there is no “best” route or prescriptive recommendation for creating effective mentoring partnerships. Much will depend on your earlier answers about who you are aiming to empower, how you define mentoring and how you are shaping the design of your programme. A few relevant considerations:
- Does your search begin with mentors or mentees? Do you intend to create the matches on a rolling basis, or launch all the partnerships together to align with agreed programme check-in points and an educational schedule of workshops / masterclasses and so on?
- Are you looking for a close match in terms of role, career stage and/or personal background? If so, which of these will you prioritise? What language are you using to describe that decision?
- What framework are you offering to explain and kickstart the process of psychological contracting (see next section)? Have you the capacity to facilitate “three way contracting” conversations with the programme manager, to explore the potential for each match and offer guidance?
- What are you asking mentees to agree to? How do you describe their responsibilities?
How much emphasis do you want to place on the value of “two way” mentoring and what language will you use to describe it? This may be especially useful when you’re dealing with ‘star’ high-calibre mentors, eager to make the most of the opportunity and of course to keep them on board.
- How can you use the experience of membership of your mentoring community, to motivate and maintain individual commitment to the work? What “suggesting” and “sharing” opportunities are there? How can ideas be shared in confidence about the best ways to offer feed back (both appreciation and constructive criticism) to mentors who are giving their time and expertise for free?
Given the large amount of feedback about mismatched expectations, it might be of use to add more training resources on how to start and how to reassess a partnership. Such training would distinguish between the initial informal “getting to know you” conversation (also referred to in coaching as the ‘chemistry’ meeting); “three way contracting” conversations in which the programme manager facilitates a brief discussion with mentor and mentee about the aims of their partnership, and what they would see as signs of success; and a suggested template for “contracting” discussions about how the two sides will work together and what each hopes to contribute to the joint work to be done.
Goal setting guidance is already offered (the GROW model) on the ScreenSkills website, and much of the feedback from partner programmes points to the importance of agreeing and revisiting mentee goals as a basis for the work.
Please bear in mind the challenge of attracting much sought-after and hugely busy mentors, it is suggested that such training resources could be offered in short text and video form (in line with existing ScreenSkills mentor training). They may be of use throughout the partnership. It is a sign of confidence and flexibility, not of failure, to “recontract” - to talk together about what’s going well and what could be better, as suggested by ScreenSkills at the mid-point of the mentoring programme.
There is value for everyone in a stronger emphasis on mentoring as both a learned skill set for leaders and an expected part of career development at early and mid-level stages within the UK screen industries - development for which both initial skills training and continuing professional development resourcing (CPDs) can help make a significant cultural impact. This theme is picked up in the section below on leadership.
Wholehearted engagement follows the successful setting of expectations through a clear contracting process, which in turn flows from consistent messaging about your programme’s aims. The next challenges are boosting commitment, preventing drop-out, and sustaining positive relationships through the life of the programme and beyond.
Successful “contracting” for mentoring activity - within a programme and within each pair - will acknowledge that there are times when the going gets tough. Participants may feel daunted or possibly inadequate to the task, will be under heavy work or family pressure, or become in some other way vulnerable or a victim of circumstance beyond the reach of the programme. This applies to mentees and also to mentors.
What language will you use to acknowledge potential turbulence as you launch your programme? What ability do you have as a programme manager to oversee drop-out and drop-in “breaks” in the mentoring? What language will you use to encourage inexplicable absentees to return, and what incentive might you be able to offer in terms of a one-on-one conversation or personal coaching, or a mid-point “three way” conversation which may calmly bring your mentoring partners back on track? What conversations do you need to be able to have - and with whom - if you believe that’s no longer feasible? What is your strategy when the personal chemistry proves not to work, and how will you share responsibility with the mentee to repair or replace such a partnership?
The experience of many partner programmes is that check-ins help to prevent drop-out and disenchantment. Part of this is obvious: staying in touch shows that programme leaders care about the success of every partnership and renews everyone’s sense of community. Part of it plays on unintended consequences: by offering forums in which the doubts expressed by one participant may well be privately echoed by others, and advice to one can serve many more. As noted above, however, such check-in points - especially group gatherings - cannot be compulsory and may be particularly daunting to neurodivergent mentees and to those for whom English is not a primary language. It may also be of value to relieve such personal pressure by inviting “case study” pairings to speak about their experience, or devise mid-point webinars to explore common challenges and potential pitfalls.
It is part of the programme design, as noted above, to devise ways in which to widen access to learning and to adapt methods of delivery. As noted with recruitment (above) leaders can also boost engagement by effective use of platforms like Discord, Slack, TikTok.
- What are your most relevant spaces to promote group sharing of best practice and of current opportunities in the field?
Feedback demonstrates that encouraging peer-to-peer networking may be especially valuable for those who feel isolated or lonely in their field. This might apply to individuals with niche talents or unusual needs and to members of demographic minorities. Networking may be immensely practical - from suggesting contacts to swapping services - or of significant psychological value, with many individuals welcoming the opportunity to share lived experience in sectors where they find themselves highly visible and /or facing extra social pressures.
- If a peer network is to be part of your project, do you prefer to design and launch it yourselves, or co-design each iteration with the mentee cohort?
- Will you commit to oversee a peer network during the programme, or an alumni network in the years beyond, will you divide responsibilities, or will you leave it to the mentees as an extra-curricular option?
- What about mentees who don’t wish to network or can’t find the capacity for such an extra commitment - how can you ensure that these possibilities are recognised with a light touch, so the individuals don’t feel excluded from the community?
- How can your networks help you - and future mentees?
Making a wider range of CPDs available could be a relatively simple way of adding practical impact. Workshops and other events can be both live and recorded, instructional and illustrative. They could extend to conversations with mentoring programme leaders in different economic sectors and different countries. Aims of a bigger CPD programme could include generating new ideas for creative working practices, regularly re-examining our socio-cultural perspectives and - above all - helping renew motivation for those offering their services in relative isolation and very often for free.
You may want to consider sharing best practice between mentoring programmes managed by other organisations, which could range from informal “buddying” through to more formal inter-programme alliances. Is this an option you would like to explore and on what basis - for example, target cohorts, screen sector or geographical proximity? To what end - for example, sharing programme modules, practical advice, or the outcome of experiments such as scaling or switching your programme design?
Is it worth “buddying up”, across a region for example, to create an “umbrella” of mentoring offers that between them provide more opportunities, especially for traditionally under-represented talent? Could extra support such as career coaching be offered on such an umbrella basis?
Where does it feasibly work to assume programmes are complementary rather than competitive? In what cases might a counter-intuitive approach work better - for example, sharing best practice and offering advice between programmes targeting different pools of talent, with no risk of recruitment competition clouding the relationship?
This research into mentoring programmes may only be a snapshot but what has emerged is a rich picture of development efforts and ingenuity within the UK screen sectors. How is this recognised by leading figures across film, television, VFX, games and animation? All the evidence points to the benefit of embracing mentoring, not as an “add-on” programme that ticks corporate boxes, but as a core component of a group’s organisational culture, however large or small.
This raises the issue of the real benefits of training in coaching and mentoring skills such as active listening and reflecting, giving and receiving feedback, and the ability to role-model collaboration and inclusion. These are not soft options, but stretching disciplines for leaders.
Leaders genuinely invested in the mentoring potential of their talent will be prepared to update and expand their thinking on how to make opportunities available and genuinely accessible. They will also be open to being mentored themselves. As one of the programme leaders interviewed in the research puts it, if you’re part of talent acquisition, or learning and development, then “it’s probably quite important” to be faced with new life experiences and understand the challenges newcomers face.
Equally, for incomers to a screen sector organisation, offering some briefing on mentoring expectations - how to approach potential mentors, how to offer their services as a mentor, or both - can only add value to the business and enhance the collective confidence of those who work there. This can apply at any career stage.
If the UK screen sectors are truly committed to creating a richer world of opportunities, diversifying sources of inspiration, and delivering world-class content, then the message to deliver is that mentoring represents “nurturing all of our talent”. Put more bluntly, “you can’t afford not to”.