The goal was to create a community of willing and ready volunteers who ‘give back,’ sharing similar values in a collaborative environment. In developing different services to the public, WOS came up with the mentorship program, pairing ex-associates with current associates so they’d be able to form the right kind of connections.
It was an experimental program first and foremost—an initiative to create relationships between mentors and mentees that would last beyond the workplace. Mentorships have always served a vital purpose in fostering new trainees and candidates. With the right connections, the program would increase productivity and retention, set scalable goals, as well as empower both parties.
The drawbacks? It can be difficult to build rapport in the beginning, especially when the WOS program is a volunteer commitment, and perhaps even an obligation. Mismatched mentor-mentee pairs can be counterproductive and time-consuming. A lack of communication can arise in relationship conflicts. However, WOS wanted the program to be less focused on grueling commitment, and more on giving back.
While mismatched pairs aren’t uncommon in mentorships, there have definitely been stories with good that outweighs the bad. Patricia “Patti” Pedretti was a former associate of WOS, and is now a Project IT Manager at Chubb in New Jersey; Annie Lee was a former associate who graduated just at the end of October 2022, and is now a Junior Developer at Blue Cross Blue Shield. They are a mentor-mentee pair who had just been through the program, and would like to share their experiences.
Patti, a veteran who had been out of work by choice for several years, has had informal relationships in the military where she helped younger officers, but this was her first one-on-one formal mentoring experience. In an interview, she spoke about getting across bridges and obstacles that arose in the mentoring process, and how important it is to foster effective and casual communication despite the challenges.
Patti found WOS through a training program and has now graduated, transitioning from an associate to a mentor. When asked what the transition was like, she said, “I’d like to say it’s just something I enjoy. There is no formal mentorship training—I was an HR person in the military, and I suppose my HR roots drove me to supporting the younger generation. I care a lot about the younger generation, and I care about their success, especially when I’ve been in their shoes. We all need somebody to talk with. It’s a matter of listening, understanding, and casual conversing.”
Patti’s biggest roadblock, according to her, was being unable to support Annie with the technical side of things—namely, she didn’t have the technical background to assist Annie who is a software engineer. For Annie, this wasn’t an issue.
Annie said the mentorship experience has been incredibly positive, even as the two of them are working in different companies. “For me, it's a little bit like having a pen-pal. My mentor is supportive and positive, and she has also helped me with my mental health. I would tell Patti about difficulties in the workplace, even if it isn't tech-related.”
But how were the two able to build such a close mentor-mentee relationship despite living in cities five hours away from each other? How did they navigate through communication and miscommunication?
“I don’t think it’s a huge commitment, but it’s an important commitment,” said Patti. “We would reconnect once a week, once a month—if I can help, whether it be through a formal mentorship program or even in an informal setting, I would make the time.”
Her mentee, Annie Lee, was a software engineer during her time in WOS and was working as a self-employed contractor in management offices, hospitals and senior care apartments. She went to a coding bootcamp and had been looking for a chance to enter into the tech field. She later applied for the WOS selection. Annie is now taking on a project lead role in Blue Cross Blue Shield. She says all the support and positivity have kept her going, and she now aspires to move up in the tech industry. Perhaps, as Patti and Annie share a conversation on their careers and futures, Annie may one day become a mentor herself, giving back and going full circle.
Lastly, Patti reminded us that the key to job-searching and moving forward is perseverance.
"You need to have perseverance," Patti said. "People can look at you and form an impression of you at first glance. It takes old-fashioned hard work and dedication, and you'd need to form connections with the right people. There is no shortcut."
Patti and Annie will continue to keep in touch throughout their career journeys. WOS appreciates their honesty and values their incredible story. In expansion of the mentorship program in the future, WOS aims for a robust effort with a network of incredible and supportive individuals who give back.