Now is the Time to Launch a Mentorship Program

Benefits extend far beyond the classroom

by Patty Alper

When I consult with corporations and higher education institutions about establishing mentorship programs, I’m often asked about the benefits. Let me take a brief moment to tell you the bevy of reasons that your company should consider such a program — and why now is a better time than ever before.

First, why me? As I researched and drafted my book, Teach to Work: How a Mentor, a Mentee, and a Project Can Close the Skills Gap in America, I closely studied corporate/academic mentorship partnerships across the country. I drew on my experiences as an entrepreneur, as well as three decades working directly with youth and my creation of the mentor model used by the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship. As well, I joined the board of US2020, the White House initiative to build mentorship in STEM careers, and I have been appointed to the corporate committee for Million Women Mentors. My own mentorship experience has been written up in a host of respected publications.

Through all these experiences, I have found one thing to be true: When corporate mentors are introduced to a classroom environment and mentor and mentee are given a project to do together (Project Based Mentorship®), something special happens. For the first time, students begin to connect the dots between what they are learning from textbooks and teachers and they begin applying new skills to real-world experiences as coached by real-world, industry mentors. They witness first-hand through this special, intergenerational relationship that strategizing and hard work can yield results. Students begin to associate a tangible outcome with measured impacts — and by doing so gain new confidence and employable skills. Bonds start to form across a generational divide, as well as between the classroom and the corporation.

But the benefits extend far beyond the classroom. Consider, for example, Accenture. In 2016, when I interviewed Jennifer Heflin, a senior manager at Accenture, she told me Accenture’s corporate mentorship program, Skills to Succeed, successfully equipped hundreds of people from underserved communities with the skills they needed to get a job or build their own businesses. Students learned to code, and Accenture took on many of its mentees as interns and eventual employees. In the process, Accenture grew deeper connections with partners and beneficiaries, listening to and observing the skills that were needed. And over 10 years, Accenture helped its employees — as well as many others — acquire those skills, working with partner schools such as KIPP DC, a public charter school organization headquartered in Washington, D.C., in its Skills to Succeed program.

3M shared a similar story. There, 15,000 employees serve more than 200,000 volunteer hours every year. When I interviewed Kim Price, then vice president of the 3M Foundation, she said the company is committed to “making the communities prosper where we prosper.” As part of its community involvement, 3M has committed to fostering the next generation of innovators, and it works to create future scientists by supporting students and educators in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). The company is particularly involved in local schools in St. Paul, Minn., home of 3M’s headquarters — a decision supported by then chief executive officer, Inge Thulin. He had personally requested a focus be made in inner-city schools on the east side of St. Paul when he came on board in 2012.

Some of the ways 3M is making an impact include:

  • The 3M Visiting Wizards program brings 3M employees into elementary schools to spark student interest in science through intergenerational, fun experiments.
  • 3M STEP (Science Training Encouragement Program) provides 3M lab internships to local students.
  • 3M employees help students succeed through e-mentoring, mock interviewing and science fairs. Approximately 1,500 local students receive science fair mentoring and judging from 3M employees each year.
  • 3M offers engineering camps and hosts student field trips.

I have written extensively about the numerous benefits corporations, their employees and the institutions they impact all benefit from the win/win/win situation. But perhaps retired Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz said it best: “I do not believe any company in America can build a sustainable, enduring enterprise by just embracing profitability. Employees today want to work for a company that they trust. They want to be part of something larger than themselves. And they want to go home at night and share with their friends and family that they are proud of what the company stands for.”

Mentorship programs provide hope; they give employees a more meaningful purpose and relevant outreach experiences; and mentorship has proven to develop essential career and leadership skills in both the mentors and mentees.   

Patty Alper, author of Teach to Work, is president of the Alper Portfolio Group, a marketing and consulting company, and is a board member of both the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship and US2020, the White House initiative to build mentorship in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) careers. 

Alper’s own mentorship experience has been written up in Philanthropy Magazine, Forbes, Washington Post, The New York Times, Time, Huffington Post and others. She consults with community colleges and universities in developing mentor programs.

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