Closing the youth skills gap with mentoring

Kayode Odeleye is a One Young World Ambassador from Nigeria who is passionate about supporting the next generation into the world of work. He is a Coordinator at MentorConnect, an organisation developing the skills of young leaders. He is also an Associate Principal in Leveraged Finance at Standard Chartered Bank.

A couple of years ago, a summit speaker attempted to capture the impact of the changes that technology and globalisation are creating in the workplace in one mathematical formula:

                                                                  ½  x  2  x  3 

According to his theory, in the future;

- Only half the number of people currently in employment will have a job,

- Those in employment will get paid twice as much as they currently do,

- But they will be doing three times as much work!

The numbers may be debatable but what is unquestionable is that there are forces conspiring to ensure that the career path of millennials would resemble nothing like that of their parents. 

Technology and globalisation are arguably two of these forces that have led to immense changes in the workplace. The outcome is that only those who have adapted and kept pace with the changes succeed. Unfortunately, the majority of young adults are being prepared for a workplace that no longer exists. 

In a recent employment survey, management consultancy McKinsey identify a lack of workplace relevant skills and an inadequate number of job opening explain a youth unemployment rate of 25% across Europe, with rates as high as 57% in some countries.

The odds are even more severely stacked against young adults in a developing country like Nigeria because of the high economic inequality, sub-standard educational systems, cronyism and high levels of unemployment which have never been properly quantified. Not unlike a lot of other societies, the socio-economic challenges create the potential for a vicious cycle where those on the wrong side of the divide are less likely to succeed. 

At several instances in my life, in school, as a budding entrepreneur and over the course of my professional career, I have benefited from mentors looking out for me and showing an interest in my success. However, the biggest instance in my life where I needed a sounding board was as a fresh graduate faced with a huge decision regarding two contrasting job offers. I eventually stalked a mentor who heard me out and guided me to a decision I have never regretted. The support I have received from my mentors has had a tremendous impact on my personal development.

A young adult embarking on an ambitious career path without mentors to guide them is like attempting to fly across a continent without navigation equipment: the bigger the ambitions, the greater the need for guidance. The mentoring relationships which I have initiated as the protégé have all occurred at instances where I felt totally lost in a tough situation. In a recent survey conducted by MentorConnect, over 50% of the respondents reported that they approached mentors to initiate their mentoring relationships when they needed advice in a tough situation.

Circumstances such as transition from school to a first job, starting a business, changing jobs or leaving a paid job for self-employment are particularly stressful mainly because of the tough decisions involved. It is not only young people that feel the stress. Even CEOs need mentors. They need guidance in “high-stakes situations” such as when new to the job or tackling tough issues they haven’t tackled before. 71% of the CEOs they spoke to and who had participated in formal mentoring arrangements as protégés were certain that their company performance had improved as a result. 

Ambitious and high achieving young adults are focused on how to achieve their goals and are likely to have benefited from being mentored. However, it is likely that they underestimate the value they can add to other young adults who look up to them. Although most beneficiaries of mentoring relationships have received it for free, it is time to banish the idea of mentoring being free and consider paying it forward.

As One Young World Ambassadors, we have received mentorship from global leaders and our peer group. But right now, there is someone out there – perhaps being crushed under the weight of transition related decisions – who would give anything to receive a little guidance and support. As no one is ever too successful to have a mentor, no one is too young or inexperienced to mentor someone else. So when you successfully find mentors to guide you on your journey, be sure to pay it forward to someone who needs support.