Workplace mentoring: an old idea with new meaning (part 2)

Tom William Short (Research Fellow at the School of Education, University of South Australia, Adelaide, Australia)

Development and Learning in Organizations

ISSN: 1477-7282

Publication date: 28 January 2014



This article is written in two parts and is presented as research-based insight on the growth of formal workplace mentoring programs and the alignment of mentoring with workforce development strategy.


The research is taken from a two-year study conducted in the Australian rail industry aimed at establishing a harmonized approach to the use of workplace mentoring. Using mixed-methods and an interpretive approach seven major rail organizations from Australia and New Zealand contributed to detailed case studies, on-line surveys and in-depth interviews. Responses were obtained from all levels and functional areas within the organizations.


Research findings support the literature and show a growing interest in the use of formal workplace mentoring to deal with a wide range of organizational issues such as employee retention, engagement, absence and turnover. Importantly, mentoring was found to be highly valued in the area of knowledge transfer and especially across multi-generational groups. In parallel with other traditional industries, rail organizations in Australia are about to lose large volumes of highly qualified and long-serving Baby-Boomers. Therefore, workforce development strategies will need to facilitate the transfer of tacit knowledge to a new generation of rail employees who are eager to learn, but less conformable with formal training courses. Mentoring is becoming an effective option for delivering this change.

Research limitations/implications

The findings are contextual and may not fit all settings, but they offer a comparative account of workplace mentoring in an industry facing perpetual change, economic challenges and an impending shortage of skills in key areas.

Practical implications

These articles have practical implications for human resource practitioners and professionals involved in the implementation of workforce development projects. Mentoring is an old concept enjoying new fame, but the intrinsic nature of mentoring, such as the need for highly-trusted relationships and confidential meetings means that organizations should tread carefully as they can engage mentees at a deep psychological level.


These articles will be of value to human resource professionals and managers, assisting them to think differently about workplace mentoring and consider how the characteristics of mentoring are interdependent with the broader goals of workforce development.



William Short, T. (2014), "Workplace mentoring: an old idea with new meaning (part 2)", Development and Learning in Organizations, Vol. 28 No. 2, pp. 3-6.

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