Robust mentoring in Submarine Force

Published on Mr Andrew Bujdegan (author), ABIS Chris Beerens (photographer)

Location(s): HMAS Stirling

Topic(s): Mentoring, Submarine Force

Chief Petty Officer Lee Webster talks to Submarine Force personnel about the Project Innovation mentoring program at Submarine Training Systems Centre, Western Australia. (photo: ABIS Chris Beerens)
Chief Petty Officer Lee Webster talks to Submarine Force personnel about the Project Innovation mentoring program at Submarine Training Systems Centre, Western Australia.

A submariner Lieutenant and Chief Petty Officer are at the centre of a mentoring program to help develop the future of the silent service.

Junior submariners can now benefit from formal relationships with more experienced officers and sailors. Whilst most acknowledge that mentoring naturally occurs within the Navy it has, in the past, principally been an accidental pairing where an unspoken commitment is made from an empathetic senior to provide guidance to a newly qualified crew member.

Program Manager Lieutenant Karin Leepere, assisted by Chief Petty Officer Lee Webster, modelled the scheme on those used in large corporations. Since April 2014, the program has shifted from originally accepted civilian concepts and adapted to suit the uniqueness of the Submarine Force.

Petty Officer Acoustic Warfare Analyst Jamie Dennis and Seaman Acoustic Warfare Analyst Keren Short take a walk down HMAS Stirling's Diamantina Pier during a mentoring session as part of Project Innovation.

Petty Officer Acoustic Warfare Analyst Jamie Dennis and Seaman Acoustic Warfare Analyst Keren Short take a walk down HMAS Stirling's Diamantina Pier during a mentoring session as part of Project Innovation.


"Initially mentees were exposed to a number of mentors who are specifically matched in specialisation or category with the intention that it would provide guidance to overcome obstacles in the workplace," Lieutenant Leepere said.

"It quickly became apparent that about 90 per cent of personnel actually needed an avenue to also balance life and work.

"For example, a young female sailor stated that she was not concerned about her level of knowledge or competence; rather that she was to return to sea after having children and uncertain of her ability to cope under this new circumstance.

"As such the program has evolved beyond matching specialisation and category, it has also shifted focus from trainees to newly trained force personnel.

Lieutenant Leepere said the progam was proving useful for wellbeing improvement across all aspects of naval life.

"I’ve come to recognise that this is as much - if not more - about improving and maintaining mental health as it is professional development," she said.

"I’m most often approached by sailors seeking a mentor who will be empathetic to their personal needs: gender, sexuality, marital status, living arrangements, family dynamic, religion, to name just a few.

"People don’t always realise they’re becoming stressed until it’s too late and being officially supported into a bond with a trusted person who understands our unique working environment is a mechanism to overcome private obstacles before they develop to overwhelming proportions,” she said.

Chief Petty Officer Lee Webster and Petty Officer Greg Wyatt take a moment to chat during a mentoring session as part of Project Innovation.

Chief Petty Officer Lee Webster and Petty Officer Greg Wyatt take a moment to chat during a mentoring session as part of Project Innovation.


On a broader level, group follow up with mentors show where organisational trends are developing, this then allows Chief Petty Officer Webster to investigate themes and patterns more deeply and make recommendations and apply cultural change solutions on behalf of Command.

Feedback sessions between the Program Manager and each mentor provide tangible evidence to participants that their contribution remains valuable and provides each individual an opportunity to re-assess their availability at any particular time.

The overwhelmingly positive response received from mentees and our mentors will ensure that this program endures into the future.

Imagery is available on the Navy Image Library at http://images.navy.gov.au/S20152852.