Blog | 5 Jul 2018

World Youth Skills Day: Helping Young People Realise their Full Potential Through Mentoring

This opinion piece forms part of our IMPACTxAsia blog series

World Youth Skills Day: Helping Young People Realise their Full Potential Through Mentoring

Providing a disadvantaged young person with guidance and support can be a transformative experience and developing youth skills is vital to increasing employment and breaking the cycle of inter-generational poverty. At this crucial time of development, teenagers who may not be receiving guidance at home or feel comfortable reaching out at school can benefit immensely from the support of a mentor or mentorship programme. Whether formal or informal, mentoring can help a young person understand potential career options, develop self-esteem, improve soft skills and interaction, and help to keep them focused on education. In celebration of World Youth Skills Day on July 15, we explore the merits of mentorship for skills development, and the long-lasting impact mentoring can have on a young person's life.


Hard Skills

Hard Skills are job-specific and typically listed in job postings and job descriptions. They are the expertise necessary for an individual to perform a job successfully. Examples of hard skills include computer programming, web design, accounting, finance, writing, mathematics etc.

Although children are exposed to traditional education at school, extra-curricular guidance in these areas can be very important in cementing knowledge, particularly for those who come from low socio-economic situations or have less access to this type of support.  The consistent presence of a mentor, someone who fosters a curious and engaging environment, can help teens get comfortable with the key skills that will be helpful to them in later life. Acting as a sounding board and reinforcing lessons learnt in the classroom is a good way to help teens increase confidence in what they have learnt and resilience during stressful times in their young lives, such as a tough exam period.

This notion can be applied with equal effect in an apprenticeship or intern setting after the teen has left formal education and transitioned into the workplace. Nourishing the right skill set when young people enter the workforce and helping them to hone the necessary skills to perform their role effectively can help clarify what is required to climb the ladder ahead. This can be truly beneficial in creating a meaningful career out of an entry level job. The organisation World Skills rolls out this on-the-job style of mentoring to great success across the world, with young people being offered the chance to develop vocational and technological skills in a hands-on and practical way. World Skills brings together industry experts, academia, NGOs and governments to raise the profile of skilled work and develop an engaged young workforce.


Soft Skills

Soft skills are defined as interpersonal or people skills. Soft skills are the emotional insights that allow people to ‘read’ others. They are considered harder to learn, measure and evaluate. Soft skills include communication, listening, work-ethic, decision-making, networking and empathy.

Mentorship also plays a vital role in developing soft skills for disadvantaged teens and improving their overall self-esteem. Teens with less access to this sort of support, for example, those attending under resourced and oversubscribed schools, often miss out on key social experiences that help to form mature, confident personalities. This in turn impacts on a youth's ability to cope in an interview setting or interact with a superior in the workplace. Fear of failure or embarrassment should not be under-estimated as a motivator for a teenager to disengage from education or employment opportunities. Arming youths with the skills to deal with feeling out-of-their-depth and encouraging them to challenge themselves emotionally as well as socially is vital for boosting positivity and long-term commitment to progression. 

A 2013 study from Canada of Big Brothers Big Sisters programmes found that those who had participated had significantly lower behavioural problems, lower anxiety and susceptibility to peer pressure and were more confident in their abilities to succeed at school. Offering a teen a reliable sounding board in the form of a mentor is key to helping them develop strong decision-making skills and can keep them focused on academic achievements with long-term aspirations in mind.


The Impact on Mentors

While the primary focus of a mentoring initiative should be the child's development, mentoring in and of itself can be rewarding to the mentor. The altruistic benefits are notable – giving back to your community and having a positive impact on a young adult's future are primary reasons one would consider embarking on a mentoring journey. But mentoring can also impact positively on the mentor in less expected ways. Being a mentor is a reflective experience that can help people learn about themselves: what are your strengths, weaknesses? How are your past experiences impacting your own choices? It can also teach you about your leadership style and help to hone your interpersonal and decision-making skills. These are all noteworthy lessons that can be taken and applied to your wider work or life settings.


ENGAGE Hong Kong Programme

At Community Business, we have been running our flagship ENGAGE Programme for eleven years and are strongly committed to raising the career aspirations of disadvantaged secondary students through skills development, future planning and collaboration, with the aim to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty. Each year, the programme runs for six months from March to September and during that time, our cohort of student mentees are exposed to workplace exploration experiences, taught CV, cover letter writing, develop their social etiquette and interview techniques, work on their time management, team building, and professionalism, and learn more about the latest technological developments. This English language programme culminates in the student mentees applying formally for a one to three-week work placement at a company, where they are fully immersed in a workplace setting and learn more about the career options open to them.  A critical success factor of ENGAGE is the participation of passionate corporate volunteers who act as mentors to the students, providing them with guidance, support, and advice. To find out more about how you can get involved, please click here.


Author: Emily Moss Manager, Marketing & Communications, Community Business.