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Business Sense

Mentoring: How Small Businesses Can Make a Big Difference

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In order to effectively prepare to enter the workforce, young people must have the opportunity to explore their employment potential through firsthand experience and trusted relationships with older, more experienced workers.  Held annually in January, National Mentoring Month offers an opportune time for businesses of all sizes to consider how they can provide such mentoring opportunities to youth in their communities, including youth with disabilities.

A mentor is a person who through support, counsel and constructive example helps another person, usually a young person, to explore his or her interests and life and work goals.  Mentors provide valuable support to youth by offering academic and career guidance and serving as effective role models.  Young people are not the only ones who benefit from mentoring, however. 

In recent years, increasing numbers of employers have implemented formal or informal mentoring programs as a way to improve employees' supervisory skills and job satisfaction and promote a positive corporate image.  Mentoring programs can also serve as an effective employee recruitment and retention tool by helping identify future talent for the organization.

Simple and inexpensive examples of how small businesses can help mentor include organizing onsite job shadowing days for local youth, participating in career exploration events at nearby schools or granting employees time to volunteer with a mentoring partnership. They can also develop internal mentoring programs, through which young employees are paired with seasoned workers.  Even small efforts such as these have the power to make a big difference — to mentees and mentors alike.

The Campaign for Disability Employment, a national public outreach initiative funded by the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), recently released a discussion guide for its "Because" public service announcement (PSA), which focuses on the important role mentors play in helping youth with disabilities grow up expecting to work and succeed.  Employers can use this discussion guide, which is free of charge and comes with a DVD of the PSA, as part of company efforts to encourage mentoring among employees.

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