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Equus workforce partnership highlights the importance of mentorship

For the young adults of today, especially those from historically marginalized communities, having a mentor can be life-changing. In fact, research has shown that mentoring is beneficial in personal, academic and professional ways, assisting young people in their growth and development as well as connecting them to social and economic opportunity. Having a mentor has been shown to impact educational attainment, often encouraging better attitudes about school and teachers, better attendance, and even higher educational goals. Young people who have been mentored are more likely to succeed in school and, as a result, often find themselves with a wider range of higher education options and career choices. It’s therefore not surprising that young people receiving mentorship often enjoy better self-esteem and self-confidence. Oprah Winfrey summed it up beautifully when she said, “A mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself.”

Connecting young adults to a career

For young adults just starting out on a career path, working with a mentor can make a profound difference in their professional growth and development, helping them gain a comprehensive understanding of the professional road ahead from the people who’ve lived it. A mentor experienced in their mentee’s field can not only present potential career opportunities but also provide a heads-up about possible career pitfalls. And when that expert mentoring is approached with trauma-informed, healing-centered and resilience-building awareness, the long-term impact and benefits of mentorship are even greater.

Since the days of apprentice and guild structures, adults have served as mentors – helping the next generation learn not only the skills needed to perform specific jobs but also the soft skills necessary for success in the working world. Along with helping their mentees clarify career goals and explore ways to go about meeting those goals, mentors can also connect them with their personal contacts for networking, internships and possible job opportunities. They can identify resources and organizations they might not yet know about. And they can also help them up their career-boosting skills, such as job-searching skills, interviewing skills and on-the-job skills. By helping individuals prepare for professional careers, mentors make a broader impact too: mentoring helps develop the future workforce talent pipeline.

Within workforce development and job training programs, mentors can be a powerful asset to new workers, improving both job placement and retention outcomes. A recent study by MENTOR found that almost 90% of mentored young adults were retained in their jobs for over 90 days — a great deal higher than typical retention averages. The same study found that 72% of participants felt their mentors helped them determine the next steps on their career or educational journey. These positive stats, along with foundational legislation that mandates strengthening our workforce system, make a compelling case for getting even more mentoring relationships in place.

Good intentions, but lack of evidence-based outcomes

Signed into law in 2014, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) is designed to help job seekers access employment, education, training and support services to succeed in the labor market while matching employers with the skilled workers they need to compete in the global economy. WIOA aims to improve our nation's public workforce system and help get Americans, including young adults and those with significant barriers to employment, into high-quality jobs and careers and help employers hire and retain skilled workers. The scope also includes providing mentorship programs for young adults.

Nationwide, structured, replicable and evidence-based mentoring programs are few and far between. It can be challenging to receive feedback about what impact is occurring in the mentor-mentee interactions, which makes it difficult to connect mentoring to program outcomes such as education program completion, wage gain or attainment of a high-school equivalency degree. What’s more, volunteer mentors are seldom provided with high-quality training to ensure consistent quality programming, and high mentor turnover often plagues these programs. So how can mentoring for young people take on a more structured approach and offer measurable outcomes?

Bringing structure to mentoring

In the spring of 2021, InsideTrack began conversations with Equus Workforce Solutions to answer that very question. Equus is a comprehensive provider of workforce development services throughout North America and works with dozens of local workforce boards focused on programming for opportunity youth to drive education and career outcomes. For more than fifty years, they have been developing, designing and delivering demand-driven workforce solutions.

Equus partnered with InsideTrack at a particularly difficult time for WIOA young adult programming across the nation. The COVID-19 pandemic created a “perfect storm” for challenges — including decreased high school graduation rates, decreased college enrollment numbers, and greater difficulty providing consistent and high-quality working, learning, and mentoring opportunities. But these challenges provided an opportunity for innovation as they sought to find new ways to support the next generation — ways aligned with WIOA 14 Youth Program elements that would measurably increase positive outcomes. And with that, a pilot project was born. Participating workforce boards include:

  • Charlotte Works, serving Mecklenburg County, North Carolina
  • Monterey County Workforce Development Board in California
  • SCPa Works, serving the south-central region of Pennsylvania
  • Workforce Connections, serving southern Nevada

Guided by InsideTrack’s expertise in student success coaching, this pilot will bring to life a new expanded service wherein each participating young adult will be paired with a professional coach devoted to their individual success. With expert coaches who are trained in a proven coaching methodology, this partnership brings structured support to an otherwise informal and often unstructured mentorship approach, allowing young adults to feel supported throughout their entire journey.

The majority of those participating come to this program facing a variety of systemic barriers to their success — everything from low income, substance use disorder, gang connections and documented disabilities to human trafficking and the inability to meet adult basic skills of reading and writing at a 9th grade level. That’s why it’s critical that InsideTrack Coaches go through training that is trauma-informed and healing-centered – designed to meet participants exactly where they are, no matter where that may be.

These coaches are certified in InsideTrack’s evidence-based methodology and come to the table backed by more than 100 hours of professional development in their first year alone, with an additional 35 hours each subsequent year. They also receive cultural competency and bias training, in addition to the latest learnings in equity best practices. And they receive quarterly quality assurance observations to continually hone and improve their skills.

“InsideTrack has proven that coaching works with college students – so we’re excited to push into the workforce space, a critical development for us in furthering our mission to fuel social and economic development,” shares Ruth Bauer White, President of InsideTrack.

InsideTrack Coaches also bring another area of expertise: they are experts at engaging young adults via text messaging. In similar programs, InsideTrack Coaches have found that 60-70% of the engagement from young people comes via text messages rather than phone calls or email. And text message interactions have proven effective at advancing participants toward their educational and career goals.

In addition to monthly pilot reporting, InsideTrack Coaches will provide Equus with monthly participant-level reporting. This report will keep a record of each meeting a coach had with a participant, as well as a date and time stamp and an indication of what took place in that meeting. By documenting individual mentoring activities and outcomes, the results can now be tracked and measured. And being able to track and measure results means that mentoring can become more evidence-based, structured and consistent from mentee to mentee.

According to Stephen Moret, President and CEO of Strada Education Network, InsideTrack’s parent company and the organization providing the braided funding needed for program set up and evaluation, “A core focus for Strada is on increasing equitable access to quality coaching and mentoring. This access is vital for individuals who face substantial barriers to success – and who often have to navigate their education and career path with little support and few resources.” He added, “InsideTrack’s proven coaching methodology has been applied successfully at postsecondary institutions and high schools, as well as with employers. So we are excited about measuring the impact within the context of the public workforce system.”

A win-win-win partnership

By introducing a structured, evidence-based and outcome-oriented form of mentoring to a system that hadn’t historically had the capacity to build program structure or tracking, the partnership between InsideTrack, Equus and the participating workforce boards brings innovation to mentoring young adults. And the biggest winners of all? The young people being mentored. As Bradley Williams, Equus’ Chief Customer Officer and Vice President, remarked, “Across our sites, we have identified that many of the young people we serve would benefit from mentoring. Many local communities do not have high-quality and evidence-based programs to meet the needs of these young adults. Partnering with InsideTrack means that we can better serve these communities, and better serve young adults, helping them meet their goals and change their lives.”

Learn how a partnership between InsideTrack and FosterClub, a national nonprofit network that empowers and supports young people who have experienced or are experiencing foster care, is helping young people navigate high school graduation and beyond, while showing them how to help (and advocate for) themselves.

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