‘A longitudinal study of work-based, adult-youth mentoring’

Frank Linnehan

In the Journal of Vocational Behavior, 63 (2003), 40-54.

The article is available here.


Despite numbers of US school-to-work programmes increasing considerably since the 1980s, the article begins by noting the failure of surrounding literature to keep pace. Linnehan’s study aims to address the gaps in literature by comparing the attitudes and beliefs relating to school, work and self-esteem of high school students taking part in (i) formal work-based mentor relationships, (ii) in informal mentor relationships where working (iii) working but without a mentor and, (iv) those not working at all.

Data was collected from urban high schools in Philadelphia, US, which mainly serve economically disadvantaged youth. Schools within one district asked students aged 15-18 whether they were interested in being involved in a school-to-work programme. Within the programme, students were expected to spend one or two days a week under the guidance of a mentor within a workplace, where they were paid for their time and received academic credit but did not receive a grade. Mentors were trained and interviewed eligible students for work positions. This study examined students who expressed an interest in participating in this scheme. Questionnaires were circulated to gain student opinion on self-esteem, attitudes towards work and belief in the relevance of school to work.

A first questionnaire was circulated to 202 students interested in the formal mentorship programme, surveying their attitudes and beliefs. Due to limited availability of employers and mentors, it did not prove possible to place all students with a mentor. A second questionnaire was distributed a year later to the same initial group of students, of which 100 were returned, responding to repeated questions exploring attitudes and beliefs following the completion of episodes of mentoring participated by some of the polled students. The 100 participants, after excluding 10 for incorrect completion of the questionnaire, can be broken down into four groups; (i) 15 students placed with mentors in the formal scheme, (ii) 24 students who developed an informal mentor relationship in their own work, (iii) 23 students in their own work but without a mentor, (iv) 28 students not in any work. Across the groups tests revealed that gender and age did not differ significantly, with the average age around 17 and roughly two-thirds of students were female. The groups did differ, however, in terms of race and their year in school.

The results were subjected to statistical analysis which found robust evidence that there is a positive relationship between mentoring and the beliefs and attitudes of young people. The results found there to be little difference between the impacts of a formal mentor within the scheme or a mentoring relationship that developed spontaneously and informally within student’s other workplaces. Both groups of students who had access to a mentor (i and ii) developed positive attitudes towards work and increased awareness and recognition of the importance of school to work, in comparison to the students who did not have a mentor or were not in work (iii and iv). Self-esteem was also seen to increase within students who worked with mentors. The role of self-esteem has been debated within the literature but the results here show that working alongside a positive guidance and successfully completing work tasks can raise esteem levels.

Mean differences by programme structure and employment status

VariableMentor in formal programmeMentor not in formal programmeWork, no mentorNo work
Self-esteem5.685.655.614.97
School relevance5.355.404.774.96
Attitude toward work5.335.725.135.59

Linnehan argues that the limited difference between formal and informal mentors can perhaps be attributed to the predisposition of the students taking part in the surveys (highlighting a potential limitation of this research). All students were eager to engage in a mentorship programme and were likely to be receptive to the role of a mentor. Furthermore, the voluntary mentors may hold similar personal motivations as mentors involved with the formal scheme. It is suggested that the mentors may possess pro-social individual views inclined to the development of the community as a whole.

The role and impact of mentors, the author argues, is key in influencing the attitudes of youth in a positive way – with the potential to raise attainment levels if the relevance of school to work is made aware. The results specifically highlighted differences between the quality of mentors and that it is when a beneficial relationship develops between the protégé and mentor that positive outcomes can be seen. The higher students reported satisfaction with their mentor, the more positive results were related to self-esteem and the relevance of school to work in comparison to lower satisfaction, those without a mentor and those not in work.

Mean differences by mentor satisfaction and employment status

VariableHigh mentor satisfactionLow mentor satisfactionWork, no mentorNo work
Self-esteem5.815.445.614.99
School relevance5.595.234.825.00

The article concludes by arguing that school-to-work programmes remain a vitally important mechanism for disadvantaged youths to foster positive attitudes surrounding school and work and that programme success revolves significantly around the quality of the mentor.