Why Mentorship Matters: The Role of Managing Organizations and Hosts to Show Up and Have Skin in the Game

There are many different components of successful Career Development Experiences (CDEs), but with the battling priorities that educators and administrators face daily, prioritization is a necessity. In the face of competing priorities, I would argue that there is one component of the CDE structure that you cannot miss: mentorship. 

Mentorship can be the difference between a successful work experience and work-based learning that feels unfruitful. The U.S. Department of Education Mentor’s Guide to Youth Development states that intentional mentoring provides students with the support needed to foster their developmental assets- including, but not limited to gaining a positive view of their skillsets, improving feelings of self-worth, creating meaningful bonds with employers, harnessing a sense of responsibility, and deepening their sense of compassion towards others. 

Additionally, research shows that comprehensive mentorship is correlated with successful long-term outcomes. The Mentoring Effect, a report led by the nonprofit organization MENTOR, showed that at-risk students were more likely to report engagement in extracurricular activities and leadership roles at schools, and were more likely to show intent to attend college than unmentored students. A mentorship report by the American Psychological Society in 2006 also showed that those who had mentors earned higher positions, higher salaries, and higher performance evaluations than unmentored individuals. 

Here are some CDE-specific reasons why to prioritize mentorship, both by the Managing Organization (an entity that organizes CDE i.e. school) and the Host organization (employer).

Effective Mentorship by the Managing Organization Can:

1. Frame student thinking.

As a high school student, it can be hard to understand why investing in work-based learning can be beneficial in the long term. Perhaps the student doesn’t imagine college or a fulfilling career to be in the cards for them. Perhaps they have competing priorities and struggle to think beyond the short-term. Perhaps they don’t see how working in a field they are unsure about can actually be correlated with long-term success. As a mentor, you can help address the blockades that exist between a student and their participation, and help them recognize why a CDE may be beneficial for them. Understanding the long-term benefits will in turn help students feel more motivated to engage in the process.

2. Help a student learn about their interests and goals.

Say a student can understand why career development could generally benefit them, but feel unsure about their specific goals and how they want to engage in the CDE. Sitting down with a student and getting to know what their circumstances, interests, goals, and concerns are can help alleviate much of this uncertainty. Suppose there are many different options for how to engage with CDEs at your Managing Organization. In that case, you can help guide your students to the right CDE experience for their individual needs, which they may have trouble recognizing a path to on their own. Additionally, providing guiding questions to help students garner college and career self-awareness will help them understand how their CDE will specifically grow their capabilities and will lead to more intentional engagement from them as well. Consider utilizing empathy interviews as a guide for your conversations with students.

3. Lift up underrepresented students.

Students from underserved backgrounds may face many barriers to accessing CDEs, such as challenges with transportation to and from CDEs or even obtaining government identification documents. Being able to provide mentorship, connecting students to beneficial resources, and providing accommodations can help improve equitable access to CDEs. See common barriers and solutions to accessing CDEs.

4. Make navigating paperwork less overwhelming.

Navigating onboarding paperwork, such as employee contracts and direct deposit information, contains language that can be confusing and inaccessible. The first time you fill these documents out, you may spend hours googling terminology and still feel overwhelmed; I know I did. Some of your students may not have reliable access to the internet or a guardian to help them sift through these documents, and your guidance as a mentor could be essential in assisting them to work through this step.

Effective Mentorship from the Host Can:

1. Make the student feel welcomed in the workplace.

Orienting the student to the workplace by giving them an overview of the organization and where they fall into place will help them assign meaning to their work and feel more connected to the organization. Make sure they know who their points of contact are and where they go for questions and resources. Give them written and verbal communication about the office rules and company culture to allow them to better integrate into the space. The more the student knows, the more comfortable they may be, and the more they (and you as a Host) will grow. See first-day considerations.

2. Make students feel like valued members of the office staff.

If the student is not feeling like a valued member of the workplace, they will be less likely to contribute. Help the student understand how their work is tied to the overall mission and goals of the organization, and guide them to practice assigning meaning to their work.

3. Be a catalyst for professional development in the Host organization.

When a Host organization chooses to assign student participants mentors in CDEs, it is not only the mentees that benefit! Mentors can gain practice in interpersonal skills, leadership, and self-awareness as they communicate their work and guide mentees through their own reflections and development. This means that mentors may also be able to better frame their thinking around their work, understand their own goals and interests more, and grow as a professional through their engagement with students at the beginning of their careers.

Making the Most of the Mentorship Experience

Give students their best chance of success by intentionally checking in.

Starting a new job at any age can be daunting, but entering as a high school intern can be particularly challenging. Students can feel as though they have to figure out everything in their new position all alone and may be wary of asking questions. Intentionally checking in on student wellbeing and progress throughout the CDE as well as encouraging CDE participants to come forward with questions can make all the difference. This can ensure that the Host mentor is communicating effectively and treating the student with respect, that the student is aware of and fulfilling their expectations, and that the experience continues to be fruitful for the students. If the students are facing challenges, instead of falling through the cracks and allowing themselves to be demotivated by the experience, your guidance can help them partake in effective conflict resolution and continue to grow through their work. Here is some more guidance for mentor-mentee check-in meetings.

This will also lead to better work outcomes.

With this guidance, it is more likely that the student will fulfill their role to their greatest potential- meaning that the Host and student benefit from this valuable work experience.

Great mentorship from both Managing Organizations and Hosts not only leads to students feeling more comfortable and productive while engaging in the CDE, but also helps students understand the importance of the CDE well beyond their high school years. Setting time aside to check in on CDE participants about their role and helping them learn how to navigate challenges, communicate and capitalize on their strengths, learn about their weaknesses, and assign meaning to the work that they have done through their CDE will set up your participants to have a more fulfilling CDE, and in turn, a smoother path toward their college and career goals.

Stay tuned for our upcoming blog posts about mentorship! Coming up: 

  1. How to Be a Great Mentor: Specific and practical tips to be an effective mentor 
  2. The Role of Participant Self-Reflection: How to frame your thinking so you best engage with CDEs

Learn More

Join EdSystems on August 16, 3:30 p.m., for a free webinar to introduce the new Career Development Experience Toolkit Facilitation Guide, a new resource designed to guide communities through the process of creating and maintaining successful Career Development Experiences. Register now.

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