Workplace mentors - all you need to know

The workplace mentor (WPM) is an essential companion on the road to ACCA membership, providing guidance, support and the signatures to prove you have achieved the relevant performance objectives

As the WPM plays such a crucial role in the ACCA Qualification, it’s important to start thinking about this relationship as soon as you can, but your options will depend on where you work, and on how your career develops. For example, if you are combining work and study, your employer may be your WPM, or will find a WPM for you. If you work for an ACCA Approved Employer, then a formalised WPM programme will be part of the training package. If you are currently a full-time student, then finding your first job with an Approved Employer is a sensible strategy, but plenty of other employers offer high-quality mentoring, or are happy to introduce the process once they know more about it. The better informed you are, therefore, the easier the process can be. So what are the basics?

‘The key requirements are that your WPM is someone who knows you and knows the level at which you are working, such as your line manager,’ explains Catherine Edwards, ACCA head of qualifications. ‘Most WPMs are accountants or auditors qualified by a professional body recognised by law in the country in which the student works. This isn’t mandatory, but if your WPM isn’t qualified in this way you will need a ‘training supervisor’ – an accountant or auditor qualified as before – to sign off your performance objectives in addition to the WPM'.

Finding a WPM may be your chief objective as you start to gain your work experience, but with three years’ training to complete before membership, it’s useful to know that your WPM may change as your career progresses. ‘Many WPMs stay with their students throughout their work experience, especially if all the experience can be obtained from one role or training programme,’ comments Edwards. ‘But many students have to move department – or even job – to gain the experience required, or their WPM may move on. If this happens it is not a problem – it may even be a solution if your progress is starting to slow.’

Working  for a multinational?

When finding the ideal WPM, it’s important to understand the nature of the relationship you hope will develop. To find out more, we’ve asked some students currently gaining their work experience to give us their thoughts.

Vincent Wong is an ACCA affiliate working in Singapore for a major global accountancy firm. ‘I hope ACCA will give me the technical skills I require to start an audit career,’ says Wong, who has completed his exams and has one more year of work experience required for ACCA membership. In common with many students working for large organisations, Wong was not involved in the selection of his WPM, a process overseen by his employer. Strict guidelines are also in place to manage the relationship – but this does not mean he is unable to make the most of the opportunity, as he explains: ‘I have to meet my WPM three times a year to discuss my annual plan, mid-year review and year-end appraisal,’ he explains. ‘But I am also encouraged to meet my WPM informally whenever I need guidance. As a result, my WPM is playing an important role in my career development, involved in the planning, monitoring and evaluation of my progress. He also provides professional and emotional support, which proved particularly useful when I first joined the firm, but which also gives me inspiration and introduces me to new challenges.’ This input has made a real difference to his performance, Wong explains: ‘As well as acknowledging my strengths, my WPM has helped me identify my weaknesses and has suggested ways for improvement, and this definitely helps my career progression.’

The right qualities

Catherine Edwards of ACCA has some additional advice on the ideal qualities a WPM should possess: ‘The best mentor is someone who is interested in you as a person, and in guiding you towards membership, and they can be either experienced or newly qualified. New members have a lot to offer as WPMs, as they have recently been through the same experiences. However, an established professional can use their experience when guiding you through the performance objectives, which can be invaluable.’

Debbie Joseph-Caddle certainly is experienced, and interested: ‘I was involved in mentoring before ACCA formalised its WPM programme,’ she explains, ‘as I am genuinely interested in the development of others, not just their technical skills, but also helping them acquire the soft skills required to make them better people and, by extension, better employees and accountants. It is very rewarding when, as recently happened, former students thank me for helping them gain these soft skills, as these have resulted in a promotion. I am also delighted when I see my students gaining their ACCA membership certificates.’

Joseph-Caddle can also suggest many reasons why firms should actively encourage staff to become WPMs. ‘Personally, being a WPM enables me to know my team better and contribute to everyone’s development in a structured way. It also means I have to stay sharp, if I am to keep ahead of my students and ensure they attain the desired competences. In a wider context, being a WPM is an opportunity to contribute towards the growth and development of our profession, and to encourage the new generation of members and peers. And because we are ACCA Approved Employers, with an established mentoring programme, we are also better able to attract and retain staff who are ACCA students, affiliates and members.’

ACCA provides comprehensive online resources and support for its students and WPMs, so there is plenty of information on how to start – and manage – the mentoring process. As Joseph-Caddle notes: ‘Trainees can become so focused on passing their exams that they forget that the completion of their PER is also required for membership,’ so wherever you are in your ACCA studies, work experience – and, therefore, a WPM – is essential. Planning ahead will make this stage more efficient and more rewarding, and may even encourage you to take on the WPM role when you finally achieve ACCA membership.

Working in an SME?

Given that most accountants work for SMEs (small and medium sized-enterprises), the experiences of ACCA students Roshni Parsan, Rion Robertson and Rosabelle Nibbs are particularly interesting. Together with Michelle How Chung and Brendon Jacob (see side panel), they all work for Joseph Caddle & Associates Ltd, an accountancy practice based in San Fernando, Trinidad, where there are only two WPMs. One of these is owner Debbie Joseph-Caddle, who has formally mentored around 30 ACCA students in the 10 years since her firm became an ACCA Approved Employer – Gold.

‘Debbie has helped me grow personally and professionally, improving my confidence and the standard of work I produce, giving me stability and the motivation to continue working towards my qualification,’ explains Parsan. Nibbs notes how Debbie has helped her ‘focus on the competences that I am achieving, and on how I can develop in other areas by putting my studies into context so I can see how they relate to my work. She also encourages me to focus on the future and on what I want to achieve.’ Robertson agrees, adding: ‘We develop our relationship through regular meetings, which are an opportunity to both discuss work and express personal opinions on matters facing the company. Most importantly, Debbie provides the support I need because she is able to understand my situation as she has travelled the same path before.’

"Personally, being a WPM enables me to know my team better and contribute to everyone’s development in a structured way"

Debbie Joseph-Caddle

"The best mentor is someone who is interested in you as a person, and in guiding you towards membership, and they can be either experienced or newly qualified"

Catherine Edwards