Why Every Student Should Have a Mentor

84% of students change their career paths before they turn 25, and a LinkedIn study found that millennials will change jobs an average of four times in their first decade out of post-secondary education. Read the three ways mentorship is a strategic and helpful tool that should be available to every student while they make the transition from school to workplace.

8 min readOct 28, 2019

Just these two statistics alone, never mind the many others from hiring or job trends reports, show that young people face a different dilemma than past generations; they are faced with an abundance of information when making life-altering decisions at critical times throughout their academic careers.

Having a mentor is an effective way for students to gain clarity on their career goals and create actionable plans to achieve those goals. It is also a tool to increase self-awareness, illuminating strengths and areas for development, as well as increasing self-confidence, which supports professional and personal growth.

In addition, having a mentor and learning from that relationship, can help students stand out from the crowd. As employers and educators, we know the importance of owning your “unique value proposition” and how hard it can be to define that alone. We believe mentorship can provide a critical competitive advantage which can be difficult to find in today’s ever evolving labour market.

In a busy world of advice, best practices and endless experts, having a mentor that is invested in a student’s unique growth provides strategic benefits; highlighting personal blind spots, gaining relevant skills, avoiding mission drift, all the while providing constructive feedback so they can stay focused on their goals.

Fiona Kirkpatrick, a senior marketing leader and mentor in the Atlantic Canada Study and Stay Program™- Nova Scotia, speaks to the incredible gift mentorship has been in her life:

“I’ve had the great honour to have been mentored over four decades by some of the finest people I know. Some have been mentors in the formal sense, while others have been my ad-hoc, trusted career advisors and sounding boards — people whose wisdom I’ve been allowed to tap into because they care about me. Having had great mentors has, I hope, rubbed off on me and resulted in my feeling somewhat well-equipped to pass along some of the best advice I’ve had over the years. They’ve also shown me the value of being a great listener; this, to me, is the greatest gift a mentor can offer. Having time with someone who has been down the path before is a real treasure.”

It doesn’t get better than real life experience…

With the somewhat recent focus of educational institutions on experiential and work integrated learning, as employers we know nothing beats having someone show you the ropes. 92% of recruiters say that soft skills matter as much or more than hard skills (2). When an experienced person helps a student develop those skills tied to a working knowledge of their preferred industry, especially the “unwritten rules” so to speak, it can help distinguish them from the crowd of candidates.

The recent RBC Thought Leadership report, Bridging the Gap, performed an assessment of 20,000 skills rankings across 300 occupations, showing an increasing demand for foundational skills such as critical thinking, coordination, social perceptiveness, active listening, and complex problem solving(2). Within a changing workforce, and a demand for developed soft skills as well as technical skills, it is critical to have an objective person to help you reflect on how you measure up and identify areas for and pathways to improvement.

Nevell Provo, a current student and athlete from St. Mary’s University and a starting entrepreneur, speaks about the helpful mentors that have propelled him forward in his life and business, SmoothMealPrep. At this stage of his journey he calls upon strong business leaders as mentors, “they are all successful entrepreneurs who have built businesses in the past, and have lent their time and knowledge to help guide me with my mission and vision.”

Playing team sports his whole life, Nevell is no stranger to the magic that mentorship can bring to any situation where you need to develop and apply newly learned skills. “There’s no greater teacher in life than failure and experiences, mentors are usually someone who’s ahead of you and is in a place where you’re trying to reach. To have someone who’s already been there help guide you, just speeds up the process and gives you a much greater chance of success. I love mentorship from both sides, receiving and giving. I feel I owe it to the youth to mentor, as I was blessed to receive some great mentors along my journey. That knowledge must continue to be passed to the next generation.”

A Competitive Advantage for the Future of Work…

The real life experience and support that mentorship can contribute to your professional career is highlighted in Nevell’s example, but mentorship isn’t only important for students who are involved in entrepreneurship. As we look to the future of work, and the reality of an aging workforce, new immigrant workers, and a long-awaited focus on equalizing opportunities for groups that have faced systemic barriers to employment, career journeys will look different. Mentorship is a crucial tool that can be used to ensure people have access to the right networks and skills they need to excel in their profession, no matter how many shifts they may face.

C.D. Howe Institute released their brand new commentary on Education, Skills and Labour Market in Canada titled Bad Fits: The Causes, Extent and Costs of Job Skills Mismatch in Canada. The report discusses the current landscape in the labour market, highlighting the level of job skills mismatch among Canadian workers. It includes detailed recommendations for academic institutions, government, and businesses to implement in their individual sectors in order to close gaps.

The report emphasized the importance of providing more opportunities for skills development and lifelong learning for all workers, and addressing individual needs particularly among people such as mature workers and new immigrants. Organized mentorship programs can make a palpable difference in employment readiness for both young and older students who are joining or re-joining the workforce.

The report spoke directly to “work-integrated learning opportunities such as co-ops and apprenticeships” being exceptional in helping to tackle skills-mismatch, citing “Evidence from the National Graduate Survey in Canada shows that participants in co-op programs are more likely to find employment related to their field of study.”

For students who expand their education beyond theory, their level of future readiness becomes grounded in the current reality of the labour market. Adopting a mentality of “lifelong learning” for both individuals and organizations becomes a necessity. Bridging the Gap contributor François Bertrand, Director of Research and Innovation, Polytechnique in Montreal explains, “we need to cultivate the ‘C-Generation’ of collaborators, communicators and critical thinkers, that bring these power skills to every job.” Structured mentorship programs offer opportunities for “soft skill” development, such as adaptability and communication skills, two things needed to successfully navigate the workforce.

As an example, the Dalhousie Schulich School of Law, a professional school that prepares its students for the workplace with a yearlong articling requirement, has integrated additional mentoring for their third and fourth year students. The school continues to offer this additional support to students because both mentee and mentor reap the rewards.

The Director, Career Services and Employer Relations shares, “this has allowed us to engage our alumni community in a meaningful, easy way while also supporting our students in advancing in their academic and professional careers.” Not only does their alumnae have an opportunity to give back to the institution, but the students are better prepared to find meaningful work in a field of their choice.

Non-Discriminatory Opportunities That Make a Dramatic Difference

Having a solid mentor relationship can often be the boost a young person needs to propel them forward, providing opportunities that don’t automatically happen based on academics alone. If actively managed and nurtured, mentorship can be a powerful tool for many communities and populations, in particular for those who’ve experienced systemic barriers to employment.

The Atlantic Canada Study and Stay™ program is a Pan-Atlantic Canada project administered by EduNova that supports international students in starting careers in their province of choice in Atlantic Canada. The program connects students directly to mentors as a way to help address employment barriers associated with starting careers in a new country, and provide “applied” knowledge and experiential learning opportunities.

In 2018 alone, the program facilitated 200 international students gaining the essential skills, resources, and connections needed to transition from ‘student’ to ‘professional’ in a new country. Without the support of a dedicated mentorship program, the job search process can take many months to move through. For provinces looking to retain these international graduates, that is too great a risk to take. Mentorship is a key part in helping students secure employment in their field as quickly as possible, resulting in a win/win/win for students, employers, and Atlantic Canada.

At a provincial level, according to the One NS Report, as of 2016, the age-adjusted employment rate for First Nations is 44.3% and African Nova Scotians 50.0 %. The unfortunate part is the gap has increased since 2011 by 10.9 % for First Nations and 5.2 % for African Nova Scotian communities (3). Statistics like this reflect the need for more effective programming to support diverse communities in starting and/or progressing their careers.

Programs specifically designed to meet the challenges of people who experience barriers to work can and do make a difference, as proven by the University of Victoria. They created work-integrated learning programs unique to Indigenous students after discovering that few of its students were participating in co-op placements. The co-op program is run by Indigenous co-op coordinators, providing capacity to tailor career development opportunities and reduce funding barriers. After a decade, Indigenous student participation in co-op programs at University of Victoria has climbed from near-zero to 19%. (2)

Having a dedicated mentor relationship can be a career defining relationship as students navigate towards and in their chosen industry. Whether it is skill building and application, a helping hand by way of introductions and opportunities, or simply a sounding board when making important decisions, mentorship provides a competitive advantage for students for many years to come.

Ready to take action?

If you are ready to explore how mentorship could be used as a tool in your institution or organization, or how you can improve how you currently work with mentorship, fill out the contact form here, and we will be in touch.

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  1. C.D. Howe Institute, Bad Fits: The Causes, Extent and Costs of Job Skills Mismatch in Canada
  2. Royal Bank of Canada, Bridging the Gap: What Canadians told us about the skill Revolution, https://www.rbc.com/dms/enterprise/futurelaunch/_assets-custom/pdf/RBC-19-002-SolutionsWanted-04172019-Digital.pdf
  3. One Nova Scotia Dashboard, Employment Rate — First Nations and African Nova Scotians, https://onens.ca/goals/goal-8-first-nations-and-african-nova-scotians-employment-rates/




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