There is a difference between supervision and mentorship. Supervision is typically task-oriented, for example, completion of a specific work plan activity. Mentoring is more about fostering long-term development and is often less formal. Keep in mind that a student can have a different supervisor and mentor. Although some supervisors may at first want to fill the mentor role as well, students can benefit from having multiple people help guide their professional development. 

Effective supervision requires ongoing and clear communication between the student and supervisor as well as a structured work plan or assignment. Regular check-ins will ensure the student is on track and understands the required tasks and timelines. Be available and allow enough time for discussion and clarification. 

With a focus on longer-term development, good mentors set mutual goals for development, allow students to make their own decisions, stimulate thinking and reflection, and help open doors and identify opportunities. Mentors should be well established employees with a broad understanding of the organization. In addition, mentors should be strong communicators, flexible, empathetic and available. 

A successful work-integrated learning experience is more than just a job title or project. Students that are well integrated members of the team experience a more positive work-integrated learning placement. With this in mind, treat students as you would any other employee and make the effort to include them in a range of activities. The following are some tips for integrating students into your workplace:

  • Assign a buddy who can share information about the organization and team. 
  • Give students opportunities to work as part of the team and meet other team members in informal settings. 
  • If you work in an office be sure to situate them near other team members.
  • Introduce ice-breakers at team meetings to help students get to know others and develop relationships. (Ice breakers also work well for virtual meetings!)
  • Set up short introduction meetings with staff who work in other teams or departments.
  • Invite students to participate in social committees or planning social events.
  • Be sure to include students in lunches or after work gatherings.
  • Be friendly and curious. Get to know the student as a whole person. 
  • Check in regularly with simple questions: How is your day going? Is there anything I can help with? 

Mentoring is a one-to-one relationship based on encouragement, constructive feedback, openness, mutual trust, respect, and a willingness to learn and share. Mentoring typically exists between a more experienced employee (sometimes, but not necessarily, a supervisor) and a less experienced employee or student. The goal of mentoring a student is to transfer skills, knowledge and experiences. The relationship benefits students (mentees) by helping them to develop new skills and interests, career paths and a larger network. The mentor can benefit by giving back to the organization, and building capacity and leadership skills. 

The mentor serves as a role model, a cheerleader and a counsellor to the student. The following are some mentor responsibilities:

  • Helping the student set long-term career goals and short-term learning objectives
  • Helping the student understand the organizational culture
  • Recommending and/or creating learning opportunities
  • Transferring knowledge in areas such as communication, critical thinking, responsibility, flexibility, and teamwork
  • Pointing out strengths and areas for development
  • Answering any questions
  • Providing guidance on personal matters such as apartment hunting for out-of-town students
  • Being available to support the student in an employment search after their studies are completed.

For more information on mentoring and the benefits to both students and employers see the Government of Canada’s Guide to Mentoring Students.

It’s important to get things back on track as quickly as possible with the student. First, it’s helpful to ask yourself a few questions to be sure you understand the root of the problem:

  • Did the student receive clear and written communication about the scope of the work, required tasks and timelines? 
  • Are the tasks/scope of the work appropriate given the student’s experience and skills?
  • Does the student have regular check-ins with their supervisor to talk about the status of projects/tasks? Is the student encouraged to provide feedback and flag issues?
  • Is there a mentor available to the student? Is there specific training required that could help the student get back on track?
  • If the issues are related to attendance, workplace behaviour or attitude, have you provided guidelines in writing or followed up with the student in person and in writing?
  • Does the student understand that they are not meeting expectations?

Actions to address underperformance:

  • Address underperformance as soon as possible. 
  • Be prepared and be specific. Meet with the student and outline the issues clearly. Have any documentation available for reference. Follow up in writing to ensure the student understands the issues and the action plan if appropriate. 
  • Provide appropriate training. Are there webinars or job shadowing opportunities available to support the student?
  • Ask the student how you can help them. If the problem has appeared suddenly there may be external or personal factors influencing their performance. 
  • Create performance goals together. 
  • Arrange a follow up process and acknowledge improvement. 
  • Follow up with the post secondary institution and outline the issues. Always check in with the post secondary institution first before you decide to terminate the student.