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Mentoring will open doors on to diversity

Leading figures in the learning and skills sector are lining up to act as mentors for black managers.

As part of the Black Leadership Initiative, 30 junior and middle-managers are being teamed up with mentors so that they can receive advice and gain experience prior to applying for promotion.

It was expected that most of the mentors would be college principals or senior managers, but the BLI has been delighted to gain the support of well-known names who are used to operating on a national stage.

Among those who have already undergone mentor training are David Gibson, who stood down as chief executive of the Association of Colleges at the end of August, and David Hunter, chief executive of the Further Education National Training Organisation.

John Harwood, who retired as chief executive of the Learning and Skills Council on Tuesday, was due to spend Wednesday and Thursday attending the latest mentor training course.

Rajinder Mann, director of the BLI, says it is absolutely critical to get senior figures involved who have experience of more than just running a college.

"We are attracting people at the top who have been instrumental in creating change in the sector," she said.

Mr Gibson is currently mentoring a male middle-manager at a college in the south of England.

Since meeting his mentee for the first time during the summer, most of the contact between the two has been by telephone. But they are hoping to have more frequent meetings once the start of term is out of the way.

Mr Gibson, who was a member of the Black Staff Commission, witnessed at close quarters how black staff can act as role models for black students while he was serving as principal of City College, Manchester, prior to joining the Association of Colleges.

Across the sector, however, staff from black and minority ethnic backgrounds regularly face barriers to promotion. For example, Mr Gibson's mentee has been in post for nearly three years and recently failed in his first attempt to move into a more senior job.

"At the moment, we are talking a great deal about the whole way of applying and being interviewed for promotion," says Mr Gibson. "In my experience, some cultures are less likely to lay out their stall to their best advantage. They are naturally more modest, whereas our interview system is all about proving what you have done."

David Hunter will mentor a black manager who is due to join the training organisation Fento on secondment within the next few months.

"It is an excellent opportunity for someone to see the sector from a national perspective and understand the massive changes that are taking place," says Mr Hunter.

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