The United States Coast Guard recently launched the first online mentoring program for its coasties.
Coast Guard Master Chief Petty Officer Jason Vanderhaden shares his excitement for the opportunity and growth the program is projected to create.
“This new mentoring program is based on an app, a civilian app, used by Fortune 500 companies and tailored for the Coast Guard,” he said. “It’s almost like a matching algorithm that takes one person’s history, background, experiences, and desires or goals for their future and then matches it with someone else … creating a best fit and an ideal mentor/mentee relationship.”
The free mentoring program is now being offered to all active and reserve coasties, as well as the civilian employees serving alongside them. It offers four main mentoring strategies that hit a range of need levels. The options include one-on-one time with senior leaders, peer-run networking groups, emerging leadership connections, and flash mentoring, which is quick, on-the-spot mentoring for immediate or one-issue-based needs.
“We’ve never had anything quite like this. The mentoring program of the past was really a grassroots effort by a group of dedicated and caring individuals because they wanted to help the workforce,” Vanderhaden explained.
Coast Guard leadership began to recognize the increasing need and saw the visible and measurable influence of the boots on the ground mentoring initiative, Vanderhaden says, and the mission to create a sponsored program began.
Master Chief Carl Boehmer received praise from the MCPOCG, as his leadership, including overseeing the development and implementation of the new program, brought it to launch day.
“The launch of the new Coast Guard mentoring program is exciting because it is completely changing how our workforce connects with one another while supporting personal and professional growth,” Boehmer shared.
Soon he’ll be hanging up his anchors for the Coast Guard and going all in for the new initiative. “As the new program manager, I look forward to serving our members and continuing to grow the program.”
Boehmer also reveals that since the mentoring program release, he’s now working with other branches of service who are looking to recreate what the Coast Guard has done for their own service members.
Mentoring to improve retention
In recent years, the military as a whole has become laser focussed on meeting the needs of both its troops and their families. The collective agreement among branch leadership is how vital the approach is for improving retention while lowering continual training spending, but ultimately, in the end, assuring a more robust, mission-ready armed forces.
“With the military, there are a lot of dynamics in your career … they all create variables that change your life. Something like this mentoring program can kind of give you the long view,” Vanderhaden explained.
Retention struggles for the Coast Guard tend to mirror those of other branches of service, and the pandemic added to it by impeding their recruitment and training abilities. Multiple studies and repetitive survey results have indicated poor family support, lack of career advancement, and poor communication as reasons service members are unhappy or leave the military. In the 2020 Blye Star Families Military Lifestyle Survey, only 46% reported feeling like they belonged.
With many units of the Coast Guard being remote, the new mentoring program ensures coasties are always connected and supported, regardless of where they are located.
“I think this mentoring program can really impact retention in the Coast Guard. If you feel like you have a path to success or feel like you have people dedicated to helping you succeed, you’ll stay,” Vanderhaden said.
The belief in the program’s potential comes from his own experience.
“I was ready to punch out at 10 years and call it a day,” Vanderhaden said. “It was tough but then transfer season came and new people came in. I actually found some mentors I really felt like had my best interests in mind so I ended up staying. But it was close … if things hadn’t changed and I hadn’t had those mentors, I wouldn’t be talking to you today.”
A mentoring program correlates to creating healthy organizational culture and support, which has been heavily studied and remains a focal point for most civilian corporations. It’s an approach the military appears to be adapting as well.
“You can pay people a lot of money to stay, but at the end of the day, they’ll stay because they love what they do and feel like they can grow,” Vanderhaden shared. Growth and purpose isn’t just for the mentees, either. “As senior enlisted leaders, what’s most rewarding for us is growing the next group of coasties who are our replacements and to give back.”
Coast Guard members and employees can enroll for the new mentoring program here.Read comments