Mentoring and its benefits


WMN Issue Piece: Mentoring

By Alastair Carnegie, managing director of Cornish energy broker, Total Energy Solutions. (with picture)

One of the issues I hear repeated time and time again in business is the shortage of skilled people to employ in the South West. The reality is we have a wealth of talent right here on our doorstep but which often remains untapped by local businesses, particularly the SME sector, and as a result we see it disappearing up the M5.

This pool of talent lies within our region’s colleges and universities. If businesses got involved with mentoring students they would be able to see firsthand the talent available and that future directors, leaders and entrepreneurs are right here, just waiting to be snapped up.

A survey issued this month said that three quarters of British businesses believe a skills crisis will hit the UK in the next three years. The survey by the Prince’s Trust and HSBC said that half are having difficulty filling vacancies while 40 per cent were already witnessing a skills gap. This is why, here in the South West, we must look closer to home for the right people with the right skill-set to fill these gaps.

I strongly believe that business plays a vital part in education. That is why I got involved in mentoring students at Duchy and Truro College, Pool Academy, Plymouth and Exeter universities to name a few. Our time is what is needed. Time to share our expertise and experience with students to help prepare them for life and employment after school, college or university. Spending time with a group of students talking about real business issues, from interview techniques to strategy, is one of the most rewarding aspects of what I do.

Business leaders across all sectors and levels have a wealth of knowledge to impart, from hands-on in the factory to managerial roles. In my experience, the SME sector is unaware of the valuable part they can play in helping students prepare for work, which, in turn, helps students have a positive impact when shifting from the education to work environment.

Very few graduates I have spoken to plan on staying here in the South West. Most are looking to head up country where the perception is there are better salaries and city lifestyles.

By getting involved in mentoring, local business leaders can also show students what job opportunities exist. The food industry, to name just one, is big business in the South West. Here in Cornwall, just about any area of business that you can think of, from marketing, research and development to sales and production, is employed within that industry. But the question is do students know that these real opportunities exist? Not in my experience. They are usually told ‘If you don’t work hard you’ll end up on the production line’ not that “If you work hard the world is your oyster’.

University, colleges and schools are always looking to get businesses involved in events, one example is Flux, a Dragon’s Den-style business strategy competition run by universities nationally. Plymouth has won five of the last seven competitions. A perfect example of the pool of talent that exists right here, right now.

Mentors are always needed for Young Enterprise, and by building these relationships, other opportunities arise. For example this year I’ve just recently been at an Employers Forum at Exeter University and recently took part in a mentoring day at Truro College. In my experience students love to talk to ‘real’ business people with ‘real’ stories rather than just basing their learning on theoretical situations.

I strongly believe in corporate responsibility and that we all have a moral duty to help make our community the best it can be. By giving something back to the community through mentoring, business leaders might just find that new salesperson, line manager or hard-working apprentice right under their nose.

I won’t lie, you won’t get rich doing it and obviously it takes time and commitment. But for me there is nothing better than seeing the eyes of a student light up with interest and enthusiasm and, with our help, their aspirations grow and most importantly their self belief.

These students are our next crop of business leaders. How can we expect them to do this if we don’t help them so they don’t make the mistakes we did?

Without doubt it is one of the most worthwhile things I do in my working life. The reward is a ‘thank-you’ but I know from personal experience students who have changed their lives thanks to mentoring.

It’s not just universities and colleges that needs help, schools also need support to help students realise their true potential. It never ceases to amaze me the effect that somebody believing in them, helping them and giving them time, has.

As company professionals we have the chance to nurture excellence in the next generation of business leaders and make the South West a better place to live and work. Go on pick up the phone and speak to your local Chamber of Commerce, school, college or university. It could just change your life, and the life of the people you help for the better.


For further information contact Jayne Freer at or call 07711 264087

Notes To Editor:

  • Total Energy Solutions is a trusted market leader in brokering energy deals for small, medium and large companies across Devon and Cornwall
  • We believe in open and honest communication with our clients about energy and prices and are transparent about the commission earned
  • We have signed up to the TPI Code of Practice
  • We strongly believe that businesses should give something back to the communities in which they work and we give 10% of our profit and time to local charitable organisations