"We want to create passion, recruit, retain and stimulate the next generation through a continually renewable, active learning environment," said Michael Kane, associate administrator for management and administration at NNSA.
The Web-based program allows registrants to create profiles and find colleagues nationwide who could help them grow professionally. Participants have access to events posted on the site and special teaching and learning resources; they also can use the site to communicate with other members. Weekly newsletters announce upcoming events, help propel conversations, and offer ways to break down problems.
NNSA decided to use an online format because it is cheaper and more effective, according to Kane. "We have the technology, we need to use it," he said.
The program isn't just for higher level employees. NNSA is hoping to tap into the technological savvy of younger staffers and help prepare the workforce for an anticipated wave of retirements.
Kane said he is optimistic about the level of participation in the program. As of Friday, 85 employees had enrolled as mentors, including 17 members of the Senior Executive Service. Employees seeking mentors will begin signing up next week.
Other agencies have implemented similar programs, said Tim McManus, vice president of outreach for the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service. He added that he sees promise in NNSA's plan. "One of the things that this does more than the other programs is that this is a much more structured arrangement," McManus said. "In addition to matching a mentor and mentee, the Web-based function allows them to schedule appointments. It facilitates the entire process."
McManus acknowledged it will be a while before the success of the NNSA program can be determined, and it is all dependent upon how fully the plans are carried out.
Sue Webster, president of Federally Employed Women, an organization focused on the advancement of women in government, said many federal mentoring programs concentrate on helping executives advance to the next level, which sometimes can exclude lower grade employees. The NNSA system, if it is inclusive, will be a great opportunity, she said.