As the practice of internal coaching and mentoring becomes increasingly popular across sectors, trade unions have an edge, with mentoring hard wired into the movement.  Building the capacity of branches through mentoring workplace representatives is a key organising skill, essential for securing much needed services to members. Many unions use the TGROW mentoring/coaching model -Topic, Goal, Reality, Opportunities and Way Forward - to train their organisers and there is a growing awareness of the opportunity to hone this readily available skill set to support internal colleagues. 

In any organisation, training cohorts of internal mentors facilitates cross organisational learning - deepening understanding and appreciation across geographical boundaries and functional areas.  Pairing mentors and mentees builds lasting rapport and can be an important way to redress silos – caused often by misunderstandings and a lack of exposure to each other’s issues.   In a trade union setting, pairing a regional organiser with an HQ policy or administrative officer for example, will lead to richer understanding in both directions, and greater collaboration, beyond the mentoring itself. 

Many organisations are using internal mentoring to support colleagues through transition – ideally choosing mentors slightly ahead on the path, with recently acquired experience to share.  For example, for new starters, the newly promoted, new parents, those approaching retirement.  Within the union movement, the member-led structures, campaigning nature and historic purpose, make trade union employers particularly unique places to work.  It can take time to fully understand the layers of complexity, so, mentoring has an additional and important niche value for the following.

  • Younger people, who are likely to benefit from a mentor who is close in age and can explain the terminology and ways of working in accessible ways, bringing roles to life in ways meaningful to them.
  • New managers and leaders – including those newly promoted, and in particular women and recruits from underrepresented groups. People management within a trade union, including managing former peers, can be challenging.  With staff recruited for assertiveness, and the nature of the work, with frequent exposure to all that can go wrong in the workplace, can lead to a poor perception of management.   Supporting managers to establish themselves as positive role models and to find their own authentic voice can make all the difference.
  • Former elected officials - for example stewards or other workplace officials, recruited as employees of the union. It’s not uncommon for colleagues to find the dynamics and decision-making processes disorientating – somehow less familiar from a different role perspective.
  • Specialist colleagues, with potentially less experience of the trade union movement, who bring expertise in for example in finance, accounting, premises, events management etc.
  • Apprentices - exposed to new ideas and cutting-edge learning, with all the challenges of demonstrating their new skills and embedding new learning into the workplace.

More about apprenticeships

Whether you are a levy payer or not (click on the link above for more information) all organisations can now access funding for apprenticeships – for new and existing staff, regardless of age. There are many new apprenticeship standards available, established by employer groups, incorporating requirements designed to future proof skills, knowledge and behaviours.  Here are a some proving particularly valuable for trade unions:

The Trade Union Professional, designed specifically for organisers, with flexible application to suit different approaches. The Business Administrator apprenticeship has very broad application (worth overcoming any resistance to the corporate terminology).  Internal mentors can themselves undertake the Learning Mentor apprenticeship or even the new coaching professional apprenticeship  - with opportunities to strengthen both peer coaching and management skills. Line managers can explore the Institute of Leadership and Management’s apprenticeships including the Diploma for Managers. And not to forget your inhouse specialists with -  Data Technician, Customer Service, Digital Marketer, HR Consultant Partner, HR Support to name a few.

A word of caution – it’s best to resist requests to mentor for remedial support – a better solution is to offer mentoring to the relevant line manager – to support performance management.  This keeps mentoring as a practice that others will actively want to engage with – rather than risk it becoming a label to avoid.  Positioning mentoring to support those with a growth mind set to go from good to great will always give you the best return on investment. 

Chosen wisely, as role models of the future, with training as needed and access to support, mentors can add huge value.  For trade unions, low hanging fruit offers easy wins.


Katherine Bassey is an executive coach, coaching supervisor, and facilitator, supporting in-house capacity building, collaboration, compassion, and creativity at work.

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