AS the Scottish Wholesale Association's groundbreaking mentoring programme enters its fourth year, the trade body is inviting applications from industry employers on behalf of ambitious individuals currently working in the key areas of buying, sales and management.

The initiative, designed to improve skills and nurture emerging talent within the Scottish wholesale industry, matches ambitious individuals with an appropriate mentor who could be from within or outside the wholesale industry. Mentees benefit from regular one-to-one sessions with their mentor plus unlimited telephone and, crucially for employers, the programme is structured around the needs of the business so takes place within the workplace.

Sandie Holmes, principal consultant at 121 HR Solutions, the SWA's training partner, is facilitating the programme. "We've had a superb response to the Mentoring Programme since we launched it in 2012 and the eight mentees who have participated to date have shown real commitment to working with their mentor to challenge the way they do their job.

"The thrust of the programme is to help focus on areas where individuals feel less confident," she said. "Perhaps a meeting with a supplier has gone badly - how can they move on from that and would a different approach be useful next time? Or if an individual is new to a management role and feels they lack experience at the prospect of having to take control of an awkward situation, what is the best way to do that?

"A mentee's line manager can almost certainly help guide the individual towards a better outcome that is of benefit to the company but sometimes it's important to step back and get a fresh perspective from someone outside the business - someone who can challenge that individual and offer an alternative slant on the situation.

"The programme is designed to run for a year but most of our mentee-mentor pairings have, by mutual agreement, actually worked together for longer," continued Holmes. "That's one of the exciting aspects of the initiative - everyone involved has really embraced the ethos of what we've set out to achieve and appreciated that every relationship needs to be flexible. It's not a case of one size fits all."

Waqas Khawaja, a buyer at United Wholesale (Scotland) in Glasgow, was a systems developer when he embarked on the Mentoring Programme with his mentor, senior drinks industry executive Christian Barden. Speaking at the SWA's annual conference at Crieff last month, he said: "I lacked confidence but I knew I had the ability and Christian could see that I had the ability - I was supported by my superiors but I needed encouragement from someone outwith that circle.

"Now, I am a confident person - I wasn't before," he said. "My mantra is try, try and try again - you gain experience and experience brings success. I would encourage all young people who want to progress within the wholesale industry to speak to their manager about applying for the SWA's Mentoring Programme."

Eddie Lynagh, president of the Scottish Wholesale Association, added: "It's so important we do everything we can to motivate and develop our industry's emerging talent - I know there are a lot of amazing people out there seeking career progression and we want them to take advantage of this opportunity, with the support of their employers.

"Through our Mentoring Trust we are providing 'money can't buy' development opportunities for employees of SWA member organisations who have a drive for ambition within the industry, with the programme structured to fit in around business needs with structured goals and objectives set.

"The initiative was the brainchild of former SWA president George Benson who said that if we have the right people with the right attitude and the right skills to create a truly world-class industry, we will be ahead of the game. I think he was absolutely spot on but we need to keep up the momentum and we need more wholesalers to give their up and coming talent the chance to realise their own capabilities and potential."

If you have identified a prospective mentee within your business, please speak to SWA executive director Kate Salmon in the first instance on 0131 556 8753 or

Meanwhile, the association is also inviting applications from prospective mentors. All mentors are required to go through an induction process and undertake specific training for the role regardless of any previous mentoring experience. Again, interested individuals should contact Kate Salmon.