Mentor Duty Should Be the New Jury Duty

By Brandon Busteed, Executive Director of Gallup Education

reprinted from Gallup

As millions of kids head back to school this year — eager to learn and grow — it’s hard not to wonder whether school is really the best and only developmental path any more. Most kids today need something very different from what is traditionally taught in schools, and most workplaces are demanding a very different kind of outcome from schools than they have in the past.

New Common Core standards and digital innovations will certainly help make school more dynamic and engaging for many students. But most kids are still missing a few key ingredients in their recommended daily allowance of learning and growing. The most important one being simply having someone who cares about their development — a mentor. And, to have a mentor in the context of a real-world work environment may be the perfect combination. In fact, this should really be a standard civic responsibility, just like jury duty. Perhaps “mentor duty” should be the new “jury duty” in the United States.

As we think about back-to-school time, we may want to make sure kids are also going back-to-work. Gallup just conducted a large study of young Americans aged 18 to 35 and found that those who had high exposure to certain 21st century skill development in school were twice as likely to be successful at work. The two most critical ingredients were whether they had “worked on a long-term projects that took several classes to complete” and whether they “used what [they] were learning about to develop solutions to real-world problems in [their] community or in the world.” Those two ingredients were not a common experience found through most schooling. And they sound like things that mimic real work.

Great teachers are certainly great mentors. They care deeply about their students, get to know them on an individual basis, understand their goals and dreams, give them hope for the future, and help them create plans to get there. But not all teachers take on a mentoring role with students, and the reality is that even if all teachers were perfect mentors, we would still be short millions of good mentors to fill the necessary void for today’s youth.

Schools alone can’t be the sole source of mentorship. And schools can’t always offer the kind of real world experience that the jobs of tomorrow require. We desperately need workplaces all over the U.S. to step up and offer mentors and internships on a scale like never before.

Nearly half of all 5th through 12th graders in the U.S. say they plan to start their own business someday, while only 7% say they currently intern or work in a real business or organization. This is the kind of statistic I lose sleep over, and you should, too. If we want to inspire the next generation to great heights, we have to ensure the fundamental building blocks are in place, starting with a new “Bill of Rights” for all students — one that guarantees they have someone who cares about their development always, and that they get to do and discover what they like to do and what they are best at every day. Schools can do some of this. But schools need our collective help to succeed.

We believe that a right to a fair trial is important enough to mandate jury duty in the U.S., and I think that mentoring, which is the key to all human development, should be something we are all required to do as well.

Gallup, thanks to the leadership of our Chairman Jim Clifton, believes deeply in this. And we have been ramping up our own investment in mentoring and internships. AJ is one of the shining examples of this. When he was 12, AJ had a chance encounter with Jim. He asked Jim what he did for work, and when Jim told him, AJ said, “That sounds like a pretty good job. I’d like to do that someday.” So Jim offered him a job at Gallup and he’s interned for us every summer since.

We need millions of AJs saying the same things about their experiences in workplaces all across the country. And, the only way to get there is to have leaders from every industry sector stepping up to mentor today’s youth and give them the real-world experience they need to be job-ready when they graduate.