Informal mentors increase help-seeking behavior in young male apprentices



Corney, T., & du Plessis, K. (2016) Apprentices’ mentoring relationships: The role of ‘significant others’ and supportive relationships across the work-life domain. Youth Studies Australia, 29 (3), 18-26.


The workplace and vocational training setting can be a stressful environment for young men. Due to their own hesitancy to engage in help-seeking behavior, as well as the lack of formal support systems that exist in the workplace, there is a high drop-out rate for young male apprentices within these settings.  Unfortunately, it is often those individuals with an already reduced tendency to seek help that actually would most benefit from such support. Research has shown that by drawing on existing supportive networks, whether it be a boss, coworker, or family member, young apprentices are more likely to successfully complete their education and/or training (DuBois & Silverthorn, 2005).

Thus, in the current study, Corney investigates the impact of having a natural mentor on the help seeking behavior of young men in the workplace. Researching this  issue aims to facilitate industry in creating a support system that will be most beneficial to the young men involved in apprenticeship programs.


The data was taken from 106 questionnaires answered by young men in Australia on the presence of mentors in their lives and the nature of these mentoring relationships. Two apprentice support workers collected the data by directing educational sessions on life skills.  The questionnaires focused on the participant’s perception of mentors in the many aspects of life: personal, workplace, and training.  In addition they were asked to rate (15 statements) their mentoring relationships on the basis of quality such as, psychosocial support, career development and role modeling. The apprentices had to state whether they attained their mentor relationship formally or informally.


  • Who were apprentices’ mentors?: A majority of the apprentices mentors came from their personal lives (63%) and 1/3 were located in the workplace (36.7%)
  • Qualities of mentoring relationships: The apprentices stated that they believed psychosocial support (e.g., talking about problems, socializing, sharing confidences with mentor) from the mentor was the highest in quality followed by role modeling and then career development
  • 85% of the participant’s stated that their relationships were informal with the mentors. The data shows that psychosocial support was higher in informal relationships, whereas role modeling and career development were higher in formal relationships.


The findings show that most of the apprentice’s relationships developed informally.  Consistent with previous research psychosocial support, career development, and role modeling were valued qualities when searching for a mentor. Nevertheless, unlike Raabe and Behr, psychosocial support was rated a lot more highly than previous studies (2003). The difference seems to take place due to the Raabe and Behr study emphasizing formal relationships and in the current study the apprentices sought more informal relationships.

It has been demonstrated that it is not crucial whether the relationship was formal or informal, but rather  the main focus lies in the providing as many opportunities as possible for young male apprentices to forge mentoring relationships across the work-life domain in order to increase their social capital, or type and number of support network ties. In addition, the findings prove that the definition of mentoring needs to be lengthened to include reciprocal and peer relationships and focus on significant others, while also recognizing the importance of friendship to the apprentices when choosing mentors.

Overall, the study demonstrates that by strengthening existing relationships/support networks, in particular, young working men, both help-seeking behavior and retention in apprentice programs are likely to increase.

This summary was written by undergraduate intern Alex Fakhraee.