How to use a mentoring program to unlock the full potential of young people

In an uncertain and rapidly changing world, mentoring is essential for younger workers looking for something they can trust.

Despite the steady trend of people returning to the office for work over the past year, remote and hybrid work is here to stay. Today’s workforce demands the flexibility that these options offer.

But there’s an overlooked pitfall when employees, especially those from the younger generation, work outside the office: They have limited ability to build peer-to-peer relationships that allow them to gain valuable insights and boost their careers. Even the youngest employees, who grew up in a digital world, can face feelings of isolation and disconnection, especially in a time when there is so much uncertainty.

The good news is that there is a win-win solution that addresses the need for flexibility in where and how employees work while helping them feel connected to their peers: an effective mentoring program.

“Mentors can provide a valuable sense of connection and support for people early in their careers, while also helping to develop soft skills like effective communication, decision-making, and collaboration,” says Valencia Brown, Manager of Enabling Global Talent in Skillsoft.

In celebration of National Mentoring Month, I asked Brown to share some of his insights and experiences on how every organization can use a mentoring program to keep employees connected while empowering them to unlock their full potential, especially young people who their careers are just beginning.

building connections

A new trend in the workforce these days is that younger employees in particular are seeking more from employers, Brown says.

“They want to build relationships and have a sense of community, grow their careers and skill sets through learning and training, and receive support from leaders for their physical and mental well-being,” he says. “All of this can be fostered through mentoring.”

Some of the most impactful benefits that a good mentoring program can bring include a positive impact on mental health and well-being, increased emotional intelligence and self-awareness, improved leadership skills, and personal and professional development. It can also be a way to build a more inclusive culture.

“Both the mentor and the mentee also create a unique and shared learning experience as they grow together,” says Brown.

Brown says there are several strategies organizations can use to engage Gen Zers and other younger generations through mentoring, including:

  • Create innovative mentoring programs that provide mentees with a sense of community, foster a learning environment, and encourage knowledge sharing among peers and leaders. “This draws employees into networks across the organization sooner, engaging them with more senior colleagues earlier in their careers,” Brown says.
  • Using reverse tutoringin essence, turning young people into experts, allowing trainees to contribute to the development of their co-workers by providing experience in the latest technology and employment trends. “This creates a sense of belonging, helping the employee feel valued by their employer and colleagues,” says Brown.

find a mentor

Mentors can come in many forms and from many places. Especially early in your career, it can be difficult to distinguish between your worked and you race. But that’s why Brown says it’s vitally important to attend meetings and conferences, follow new people on LinkedIn and look for other opportunities to continue building his professional network. Current and former colleagues can also become strong mentors that last a lifetime.

“You’ll be surprised at the number of potential mentors you meet, often in unexpected places,” Brown says, adding that public figures like Oprah or Michelle Obama could also be inspiring mentors. “At least they are for me personally,” she says, “as I follow them and look to them for guidance.”

Ideally, organizations should also serve as a conduit to help facilitate mentor-mentee relationships.

“In my career, I have had the opportunity to build many meaningful relationships with my mentees and mentors,” says Brown. “My mentors saw the potential and ability in me and helped propel my career in ways I never imagined. His leadership and guidance are a key reason I am a successful and accomplished professional today.”

Why become a mentor?

Many believe that mentors must be experienced leaders. But there are a variety of mentoring programs out there that are more inclusive, involving people at any stage of their life or career.

“While a mentor can be someone from any walk of life, strong mentors often possess wisdom, knowledge, a desire to help someone reach their potential, lived/shared experiences, active listening skills, and the ability to provide actionable feedback,” says Brown.

If you’re considering becoming a mentor, Brown suggests that you first define your “what” and “why.” by answering a question such as: “What is your goal and purpose in mentoring others and why is it important to you?”

“If you have clear goals and intentions when you embark on your mentoring journey, it will lead to a more positive and successful experience for both you and your mentee(s),” says Brown. “People appreciate when they are valued and their potential recognized, as it allows them to want more and seek guidance from someone who has experienced a similar career path.”

Brown says thinking this way is how she became a mentor herself, while also realizing it’s one of her passions.

“There is no greater feeling of accomplishment than helping others recognize their potential and see their value by sharing my experiences to provide greater perspective on how to get where they want to go,” she says.

making it work

In any meaningful mentor-mentee relationship, there must be an equal commitment from both parties. Unfortunately, there are situations where time commitments and expectations don’t align, or mentors just aren’t the right match for their mentee (or vice versa) for whatever reason.

To avoid losing trust in the relationship due to misunderstandings or misalignments, Brown says, mentor and mentee must find ways to reassign priorities and agree on the best way to proceed.

“Keeping open and honest communication about where each individual stands, what they hope to get out of the relationship, and the progress that’s being made along the way will lead to more beneficial outcomes,” says Brown.

Meet young people where they are

Young people entering the workforce today face new challenges, including great uncertainty in the economy entering 2023. That can have a huge impact on anyone’s mental health. When someone doesn’t feel safe and connected, they’re not going to do their best work and might as well look to move on to another organization that prioritizes their mental well-being and meets them where they are.

One way that all organizations can overcome this challenge is to implement a great mentoring program. Meaningful mentoring not only helps younger generations feel supported and connected, it also gives them the opportunity to give back using their own skills. In an uncertain environment, mentoring moves an organization forward by giving the company and its employees something they can trust.