Updated: Mar 22
MENTORSHIP OF BURSARY STUDENTS
An exciting and mutually beneficial approach for business success
Each year, around this time, students start their university careers, which provides a great
opportunity for organisations to reflect on their young talent pools.
Many organisations focus mainly on the recruitment of graduates over bursary students.
However, there is enormous benefit in recruiting students who are entering university, straight
from school, and sponsoring their bursaries. This approach must be seen as a business
imperative, as a way of re-imagining their future teams, and not as a corporate social
There are two ways of looking at the benefits of such a programme:
Firstly, funding bursaries goes a long way to addressing the countrywide problems of
student funding; and
Secondly, companies can recruit the best students, each of whom can be seen as a
‘fresh canvas’, ready to be taught workplace processes and ways of working, early in
Companies can grow their human resources with excellent, first-class talent by building current
teams with new thinking, and cleverly combining the new with the experienced as well as with
Currently I work with a number of bursary students and have had some great insights into this
process. I have worked to enable my mentees to have clear direction, focus and achieve
quantifiable success in the businesses they are working. I have assisted them to take ownership
of their roles, and encouraged them to learn and develop into the people they would like to be.
Within the organisations they are employed, I have focused on nurturing them to become
effective, efficient, happy and productive contributors to business success.
Underprivileged schools are a great place to recruit potential bursars. Businesses that include
these schools in their strategy will find that there are a number of excellent students with much
potential. I currently work with a number of such students and they have proven to be hard
working, striving to make it against all the odds. These students are hungry for knowledge.
They possess certain life skills that students from more privileged backgrounds do not always
possess, such as problem solving and critical thinking.
In addition, these students and their communities have a strong loyalty to the brand of the
organisation that sponsors them. This loyalty helps with the future recruitment of bursary
students, and as such, organisations will naturally attract great students.
Other advantages of this strategy are as follows:
1. If the bursary student pool overall is oversubscribed with a diverse group of candidates,
employers have the luxury of selecting those who best fit the organisation’s goals and
values. Those who do not join the organisation have had the benefit of work experience
and are more employable.
2. Certain life skills and business skills can be developed during the students’ university
studies, so that transition into the business world is much easier, and candidates will be
more productive and effective on appointment. Skills such as business skills,
presentation skills, building confidence, work ethic, business writing and communication
are all examples of skills that are essential in the world of business. I have had
interesting conversations with mentees on topics ranging from relationships, to mental
health and dressing appropriately.
3. Students have a fresh perspective and are more confident about sharing ideas around
innovation, as they have not yet been socialised and have not developed early fears of
strictly conforming and fitting into the business.
4. They are still in a competitive environment at tertiary institutions and it is a great time
to build on ideas at this early stage in their careers. They want their ideas to be taken
seriously, and there is a willingness to learn.
5. It helps to build a diversified and inclusive workforce. Students are far more inclined to
engage with business colleagues and socialise with them. They are far less encumbered
and are more robust at interpersonal communication than the older workforce.
6. They usually have great technology skills, which will go a long way towards building
overall technology use and innovation in organisations.
One part of this strategy that worked extremely well in one of the businesses that I partner
with, was the complete involvement by the leadership team in the recruitment, induction,
availability and visibility of the leadership team, including the CEO. The process affirmed the
seriousness of the programme to participants, and helped the leadership remain in touch with
the students. After all, the investment is huge, and this strategy helps to build a solid business
model of introducing new employees to a long term, successful and structured capability
building process that adds value to the business.
The end result of this innovative approach to bursary students is a vibrant, robust and exciting
programme with a great talent pool from which to select the best candidates.