January is National Mentoring Month and students have a message for faculty and employers: Your advice and influence matters. Perhaps more than you realize.

Career mentoring is more important than ever in helping learners of all ages and stages navigate pathways between education and employment. Everybody needs the support of a mentor, from young adults entering the workforce to adult learners looking to advance professionally. Having a mentor can mean the difference between seeking more education to jumpstart a new career or settling for an at-risk job soon to be automated.

At Strada Education Network, we are examining mentorship, its sources, and the vital role mentors play in the educational choices of consumers. In partnership with Gallup, we have listened to more than 300,000 individuals, from those who have never pursued education beyond high school to those with post-graduate degrees and everyone in between. We have learned that mentorship and career advice are in high demand but short supply.

We’ve found that faculty are the predominant source of mentorship among college undergraduates. Nearly two-thirds of recent graduates who had a mentor in college say their mentor was a professor. Faculty mentoring is no longer as straightforward as giving a student advice about what jobs to look for or helping them to polish their resumes. By age 19, many young people are already on their employment pathway, whether they have been purposeful in choosing it or not. They are already working full or part-time, while balancing school, family, financial concerns, and everyday life. Faculty mentors are sought after because of the connection their advice has not only to students’ coursework, but also to their career paths and lives. This has important implications in engaging and integrating faculty as frontline career advisers and coaches – working together with career services to support students.

At the same time, career advice from employers is highly valued. This makes sense, as the top motivation in pursuing more education – far exceeding all others — is to advance in a career or profession. More than 80 percent of college students agree that work-based advice from employers and colleagues on the job is helpful, more so than advice from any other source. However, only 20 percent say they have access to work-based advice. The demand for work-based advice is further reflected in the finding that two of the Big Six  success factors essential for college students are internships and mentorships. For students today, success in college comes in part from success in work-based learning, along with guidance from mentors. Work-based mentors, along with internships, help build the human and technical skills all learners need as they launch a new career or advance in their current one.

Unfortunately, only a quarter of college graduates  strongly agree they had a mentor who encouraged them to pursue their goals and dreams. Among recent graduates, nearly three quarters (72%) of white students say that mentor was a professor compared to fewer than half (47%) of their minority peers. The numbers on work-based mentors are similar. Only one in five college students say they received career advice from an employer or work colleague about what to study. While more than half of college graduates have regrets about their education pathways, those who receive advice about their education have significantly fewer regrets. It’s problematic that, when all is said and done, only one-third of graduates say they feel prepared to succeed in the workplace.

Mentors play a critical role in bridging the divides between learning and work. Institutions and employers who are already engaged in mentorship programs should be commended for their leadership. We need to share key learnings and scale successful models – which is a significant focus for us at Strada working with partners like the University Innovation Alliance, the Council of Independent Colleges, Jackie Robinson Foundation, Paul Quinn College, Excelencia in Education, the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, and others to increase access to mentoring for more students.

Many of us have a story about the life-changing advice we received from a valued professor and/or professional mentor. We can transform the education-to-employment trajectory for millions more Americans by listening to what learners are telling us: mentors matter and we need more from faculty and employers.

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