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The Power Of Relationships: Mentoring Youth For Workforce Success

There are 5.5 million opportunity youth in the United States between the ages of 16 and 24 who are disconnected from school and work. Research suggests that quality relationships with adults are particularly essential for young people during times of transition, when new environments, obstacles, and uncertainties leave young people more vulnerable to falling off track. While there are programs offering structured, tactical supports to low-income youth seeking employment, we also know how important it is that these young people receive dedicated support in building a network of quality relationships. Lacking this network or web of support, far too many young people fall off the path to success in adulthood.

The Opportunity Youth Thriving Project (OYTP) is a collaboration between the Schultz Family Foundation, America’s Promise Alliance, and MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership to develop and implement programming that will support opportunity youth in their transition to employment. The initiative is aiming to build the capacity and resources in communities to provide young people with the web of quality relationship supports and social capital they need to develop the skills necessary to successfully navigate the workplace and secure and sustain employment.

Through this partnership, America’s Promise, MENTOR and its affiliates will apply their research-based understanding of the power of relationships and on-the-ground field work to develop a community-based approach that increases the number of adults engaged with low-income young people in or entering the workforce. A core focus of the initiative is to strengthen what happens in formal and informal mentoring relationships to keep youth on track to achieving greater economic opportunity and thriving adulthood(s).

We believe there is a compelling opportunity to complement and augment the numerous efforts underway nationwide to connect young people with jobs by expanding the web of support that young people can access. The Opportunity Youth Thriving Project is currently in its pilot phase having just launched in May in Minneapolis, Minnesota and in June in Seattle, Washington.

In year one, we will work with our two pilot sites to supplement, improve and expand existing efforts to help young people transition into the workforce. At the heart of the work will be the evaluation of trainings and practices rooted in supporting worksite supervisors, workforce development programs and mentors in practicing relational behaviors that are mentor-like and developmental with a critical lens.

As the work progresses, we expect to see:

  • Relationship-building approaches embedded into more existing programs designed to increase youth employment.
  • New mentoring models and approaches that purposefully activate relationships and webs of support for young people seeking employment.
  • An increase in people, organizations, and employers intentionally using relationship webs to increase job entry, experience, and retention.
  • An increase in the number and capacity of caring adults supporting young people.

Providing quality opportunities for work and career advancement to opportunity youth requires an examination of corporate work structures, the leveraging of community assets, and adopting a culturally competent, strength-based lens of the abilities and potential contributions of Opportunity Youth themselves. By developing trainings that engage community organizations, supervisors and opportunity youth, we begin to gain insight into how to best partner with Opportunity Youth to ensure their success at work. We invite you to consider the following next steps as ways to invest in a relationship-based approach to supporting opportunity youth:

  • On August 24 at 1 pm EST, MENTOR will be hosting a webinar on the OYTP and sharing some of the early lessons learned in the pilot related to cross-sector partnerships, expanding webs of support for opportunity youth and preparing workplace supervisors to be effective managers and mentors of youth workers. To learn more and to register for the webinar, log onto.
  • Review the Great Managers are Great Mentors guide developed in partnership with Bank of America.
  • Connect with your local mentoring partnership or MENTOR to explore training opportunities for supervisors of youth workers.
  • Dudney Sylla is a Program Manager for MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership.

    About MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership is the unifying champion for quality youth mentoring in the United States. MENTOR’s mission is to close the “mentoring gap” and ensure our nation’s young people have the support they need through quality mentoring relationships to succeed at home, school, and ultimately, work. To achieve this, MENTOR collaborates with its network of affiliate Mentoring Partnerships and works to drive the investment of time and money into high impact mentoring programs and advance quality mentoring through the development and delivery of standards, cutting-edge research, and state-of-the-art tools. Connect with MENTOR 

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