Program Corner: Enhancing Your Ability to Train Mentors through Technology


In this post, I have asked Butch Schuck and Amy Steinhilber to comment on how technology has enhanced mentor training in the National Guard Youth Challenge Program (  Butch Schuck serves as the Deputy Program Director for the National Challenge Institute – the training arm for the Youth Challenge program.  Amy Steinhilber is the Recruiting, Placement and Mentor Coordinator for the Washington Youth Academy (WYA) in Bremerton WA.  She is a pro at utilizing online learning, and other simple technology solutions, to screen and train mentors for the youth in her program. -Dave Van Patten

Enhancing Your Ability to Train Mentors through Technology

Amy Steinhilber and Butch Schuck

Accommodating the competing interests, skills, and schedules of volunteer mentors while ensuring that they are qualified to safely and effectively mentor youth is very challenging.  Fortunately, there are some practical ways that technology can help to mitigate these challenges and enhance your ability to train and qualify mentors—before they are matched with youth.

We work with the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program, which practices Youth Initiated Mentoring (YIM). The Program Corner blog post, Natural mentoring + youth engagement = stronger outcomes, by Dave Van Patten, explains YIM’s features and benefits in detail.  For purposes of this blog post, the feature related to youth recruiting their own mentors is particularly relevant.   At Washington Youth Academy (WYA), youth must identify one or more prospective mentors as a precondition of participation.

Those familiar with YIM understand that this practice is a very efficient method to recruit mentors.  However, it comes with some challenges.  Though youth are trained in how to identify a potential mentor, some lack the life experience to judge a prospective mentor’s character and motives.  Additionally, some youth begin to develop an emotional investment in the mentoring relationship before the prospective mentor is fully screened.  Like most vulnerable youth, most of the participants in the Youth ChalleNGe program have had more than their fair share of disappointment in their lives.  Therefore, it is important to access and train prospective mentors early to help avert problems and solidify potentially valuable mentoring relationships.

At Washington Youth Academy, technology enabled training is an integral part of our comprehensive mentor screening and training program. Technology-enabled, online training provides us with a readily assessable training solution, mitigating some of the established challenges associated with training mentors.   When part of a blended learning experience, online training is invaluable.  Here are some of the benefits that we have found in using technology enhanced mentor and mentee training:

  • Helps hook potential mentors – Mentor applicants are prompted to complete online mentor training as soon as they are nominated and before making a final decision.  In fact, WYA ofte uses our online mentor training as a recruitment tool to help interest prospective mentors in our program.  This not only ensures that prospective mentors better understand program expectations, but it also provides the program with an opportunity to reinforce key elements of the training during post-selection, onsite training sessions.  Mentor-Mentee 12-Lesson Training Plan
  • Accelerates mentor screening process – Mentor applicants who complete the online training show a much higher degree of interest in following through with an actual mentoring relationship.  Online training accelerates our screening process and helps ensure a higher yield among prospective mentors.  See our Mentor Training Resources.
  •  Assures mentors that we will support them – Providing prospective mentors with easy-to-access, online training signals to them that we value their time and will support them throughout their mentoring relationship.  Additionally, it assures prospective mentors of their unique value and ability to help change a life.  NGYCP Mentor-Mentee Training Package
  • Just-in-time knowledge and skills for mentors.  Successful completion of online training provides mentors with foundational knowledge and skills that are a prerequisite for being matched with the youth. Additional in-person training builds on this foundation and is completed prior to the match, solidifying the mentors commitment and capability to effectively and safely mentor youth in the program.

The cumulative effect of online training and the matching process begins to establish a dual emotional investment, impacting both the youth and mentor.

While some mentors passionately talk about their commitment, ultimately, there is no substitute for action. Technology-enabled mentor training helps to validate the mentor’s verbal commitment by asking them to complete a few hours of online training and paperwork.  It is not a one shot “pass-fail deal”, but if they cannot find time to complete the online training prior to the matching ceremony, then they might not be fit as a mentor.

Please share some of the ways that technology has enabled you train mentors in your organizations. Do you use YIM? If so, how do you train mentors? If not, how do you incorporate technology into training? How are you methods similar and what are some unique challenges? We’d love to hear what you are finding to be some of your most effective practices.