The Indispensable Role of Mentors and Sponsors in Shaping a Young Person’s Career

Having a successful and impactful career in agriculture isn’t easy, and doing it on your own is even harder, and unnecessary! Without support and guidance, it’s tough to find learning, development and career advancement opportunities.

Recently, I’ve been reflecting on my career to date, thinking about all the decisions I made along the way and the assistance I had at the times I needed it most. I’m grateful to have a network of trusted people whom I admire, and respect help me navigate challenging situations, set goals and make decisions. These people didn’t just come along and offer their help though, I make a deliberate effort to have them in my circle. I like to call them my Board of Directors – they are a group of mentors and sponsors who give their time and energy and support me throughout my career.

Mentors & Sponsors – what are they and why have them?  

Mentors are trusted advisors. They may not necessarily be an expert in the industry or role however they are able to provide expertise and professional knowledge from a more experienced perspective. They guide you through challenges, help you to develop skills and work toward goals.

Sponsors, on the other hand, are influential individuals within your organisation who use their influence, professional standing, credibility and networks to advocate for your professional development and advancement. By actively endorsing your capabilities, sponsors accelerate your career progression.

While mentors and sponsors have different but equally important roles, it is their combined impact that is particularly powerful! Mentors help to build awareness, capability and confidence and assist to plan the next role or career move and sponsors will advocate for your promotion, pull open the door and propel you forward.

So how do I practically go about finding a mentor?

Mentors and sponsors don’t just magically appear, they are earned – not once but continuously and when you find the right ones (yes, plural, you need more than one), the result is career-changing!

There are many ways to do this, one way is to join a formal mentoring program, google them and see what you can find, examples include the Australian Rural Leadership Foundation (ARLF) Drought Resilience Mentoring Program and the National Farmers Federation (NFF) various leadership programs. These programs are great because they provide the frameworks for you so that you learn the foundations of a mentoring arrangement, they also provide access to a large network.

Another way is to approach someone you think would be a great mentor and simply ask them, make sure you are well prepared with what you’d like them to help you with and have some ideas about how you might set up the first few discussions.

What about a sponsor?

Again, there may be formal sponsorship programs in your workplace that you can sign up for but if you don’t have these, set up conversations with senior colleagues that you admire, trust and aspire to be. Sponsors risk their reputation for you so make sure you’re proactive and prepared, provide clarity over where you’d like to go in the organization and the types of assistance you need.

Final thoughts…

Mentors and sponsors are in most cases helping you for nothing in return, make sure you seek to add value to them in some way and once you’ve got some mentee experience under your belt consider putting your hand up to mentor or become a sponsor – contributing to the successful career of other young people in our industry and ensuring a sustainable future workforce!


Author: Majella Nolan, FFN Non-Executive, Future Farmers Network