Intergenerational Digital Mentoring
20 Jun 2019
Digital mentoring + youth employment = a win-win for all
Lively is a not-for-profit organisation with a big vision. We want to see a world in which all young and older people are valued, connected and supported. And we know that digital exclusion and youth unemployment are two big challenges standing in the way. Which is why we take a unique approach to the provision of digital mentoring – one which has yielded amazing results to date.
Our mentoring model trains and employs young jobseekers aged 18-25 to help older people get online and use technology to connect, providing young people who are struggling to break into a job with valuable employment and experience. At the same time, we also focus on building meaningful connections between the young and older people who participate, creating spaces for older people to share their knowledge, stories and experiences back with the young. We aim for the experience to be one of mutual learning, fostering intergenerational understanding and respect.
Our youth employment model is something we’re really proud of – we’ve been able to create meaningful, paid employment for over 50 young jobseekers since our establishment. And while we know that attracting volunteers can be a significant challenge for many organisations, we have exactly the opposite problem – over 2000 young people have applied for jobs with Lively as digital mentors since our establishment, with very little promotion needed by us.
What’s also exciting about the employment model is that it provides us with several extra dimensions of impact. Many young people who come to Lively hadn’t previously thought about digital mentoring or working with older people (and admit that they probably wouldn’t have gone for it if it was a volunteer position – they just needed work!), but find the experience so rewarding that it opens their mind to the possibility of working with older people in other ways, including in aged care. Which we think is a really great outcome. And for many older people, knowing that they’re supporting a young person’s employment helps them feel more comfortable with the idea of taking all the time they need to get their heads around their technology questions.
For older people, we see time and again that being around young people brings a different way of looking at and thinking about technology, and a greater willingness to ‘play around’ and ‘figure stuff out’. One of our previous participants, June, said it best:
"I think it’s been very good in that often we older people look at iPads as if they’re going to break or something, and we don’t realise that you can be quite rough and you just have to get in there, and… we’re too tentative. And then these weeks have taught me that really it’s a wonderful tool, and you’ve just got to get in there and use it! And not be frightened of it! Being with young people who have grown up with it – Calvin was using an iPad when he was 7 – and it’s just so easy, it makes you relax a bit more and makes you realise that it’s a tool to be used to great advantage."
But there’s a catch to intergenerational mentoring! Many older people can also recount experiences of asking their grandkids for help, only to have them whip through at a pace they can’t possibly follow, leaving them feeling silly and slow when they have to ask again. Which is why we pay particular attention to training our young helpers before they start work as digital mentors, helping them empathise with a person who isn’t at all familiar with technology and to ensure that they move at an appropriate pace. There’s often an ‘aha’ moment when the young helpers realise during training just how much assumed knowledge they have, and how much might be involved in teaching somebody from scratch!
In addition to proper training for young helpers, we also find a number of key success factors make for positive and effective intergenerational mentoring sessions:
- One-to-one support: while we do run group programs, we find that digital mentoring is always more effective when we are able to connect older people directly with a helper to provide individualised support and attention. It also helps foster the conversation, connection and exchange that we’re looking for in all of our programs.
- Friendly and informal environments: we avoid ‘classroom’ setups like the plague! We believe that technology learning is much more enjoyable and successful if undertaken in comfortable and informal settings, such as a lounge, and preferably with morning or afternoon tea close to hand! We also know that coming along to a digital mentoring session can be a daunting step for many older people, so pay particular attention to providing a warm and friendly welcome to everyone who walks through the door.
- Interest-based learning: we believe that learning will be most useful and effective if it’s related to an individual’s interests and needs, which is why we don’t have set programs or ‘curriculum’ for older people to work through. Our helpers play the role of getting to know each older person and understanding their life and interests, so as to find and introduce uses of technology that could be relevant to them (and which they might not know to ask about!).
As a Capacity Builder in the Be Connected network, we work with numerous Be Connected Network Partners to help them start up digital mentoring programs, by linking them up with our young Lively Helpers to run digital mentoring sessions in their centres. We’ve also worked with partners to recruit and train young helpers, especially for their programs. If you’d like to chat or learn more about our approach, replicate it for yourself, or need our support, feel free to get in touch!
Anna Donaldson is the Founder and CEO of Lively; a not-for-profit organisation that connects generations, creates meaningful employment for young jobseekers and enhances the connectedness and inclusion of older community members. Based in Melbourne, Lively now operates across Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.