Two girls studying together


Mentorships Critical to the Success of the 21st Century Workforce

Peter Gurt
President & CEO, America's Promise Alliance

Every day, we meet young people facing challenging circumstances who require additional support to graduate high school and enter the workforce.

Milton Hershey School graduate Eli Conniff had low confidence and a weak educational foundation, but a dedicated and compassionate employee interceded and refused to let Eli fail.  Today, Eli is studying at The Wharton School of Business at The University of Pennsylvania, where his mentor regularly visits him.

This example is just one of many around the country that demonstrate how the power of relationships in the lives of young people can help more students stay on track to high school, college and successfully move into the workforce.  As the Center for Promise report Don’t Quit on Me notes, young people are more likely to graduate high school if they have a web of supportive adult relationships in their lives.

Even after they graduate and get a job, young people often point to mentors in the workplace that ultimately determine their success in that job, as these reports demonstrate.  “The staff here is phenomenal,” one young person said about his time at the tech-training program Per Scholas.  “They provided mentorship that I wasn’t given before.  I really feel like that I have shoulders to lean on, like I can talk to anybody in the staff.”

We also know when students learn early how to conduct themselves on the job, they will be well equipped with the abilities to prosper in a range of careers.

There’s broad agreement about 21st century employability skills for young people like Eli:

  • Workplace communication
  • Working with a team
  • Conflict resolution
  • Accepting criticism
  • Workplace etiquette
  • Interviewing skills
  • Proper use of workplace electronics

All of these skills are developed through interactions with and guidance from adults.  We should hold ourselves accountable to inspire youth to become empathetic leaders, better communicators, and effective collaborators.  As we help our students get ready for the workplaces of today and tomorrow, we’re also building character traits and leadership skills that will serve them throughout their lives.

As educators, business leaders, and caring adults, we have the ability to help students realize their greatest potential by reducing some of the barriers and challenges underserved students inevitably will encounter.  We must all play a role in making sure young people are prepared, not only academically, but socially.

As we mark the end of National Career and Technical Education month, both America’s Promise and Milton Hershey School call on schools and other organizations to better collaborate by establishing partnerships that share knowledge, teach essential workplace skills, and create lifelong role models for the young people who make up our next workforce.  We all have an obligation to prepare young adults for the competitive global job market they will enter post-graduation.

These are talented, strong, and motivated young minds who are poised to lead with the right tools, resources and networking opportunities that will help them flourish and aim to break the cycle of poverty. Milton Hershey School and America’s Promise both recognize the need to help students turn their dreams into reality, and we thank the schools and business leaders who acknowledge that need, too.  We ask all adults who care about the leaders of tomorrow, what are you waiting for? The time is now to make a difference as a mentor.


Peter G. Gurt is president of Milton Hershey School and a 1985 graduate, and John Gomperts is president and CEO of America’s Promise Alliance, the nation’s largest network committed to improving the lives of young people.