New study on the role of mentoring relationships and access to social capital

Shier, M. L., Gouthro, S., & de Goias, R. (2018). The pursuit of social capital among adolescent high school aged girls: The role of formal mentor-mentee relationships. Children and Youth Services Review93, 276-282

Summarized by Cyanea Poon & Rachel Thompson

Notes of Interest: This study focus on how social capital contributes to the occupational attainment goals of adolescents, and how they strategize to achieve them. The findings the study revealed youth have a desire to pursue social capital, which appears to be a motivator and mediator of barriers to successful labor market attachment. Moreover, it points out the networking function of mentors, as they provided access to novel social resources that mentees do not have prior to participating the mentoring program.

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

Social capital has been found to contribute to the upward social mobility of youth. This study investigates the process of social capital development among a group of ethno-racial minority adolescent girls involved with a community based nonprofit organization that acts as a catalyst for developing mentor-mentee relationships. One to one interviews were conducted with 15 program participants. Findings show that although this group is young, they have an awareness of their lack of social capital and use their mentorship relationship to build social capital. Mentees then use this newly acquired social capital to help pursue educational attainment through acceptance to university programs and connections to practicing professionals. The findings demonstrate the importance of creating programming that promotes access to social capital for high school aged youth. Insights have implications for thinking innovatively to adapt current efforts or create new opportunities to better support the upward social mobility and transitions for this age cohort.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

This research shows that these adolescent girls are taking active roles in developing their own goals and finding opportunities to broaden their futures. Very little research has been done on this (young) group in terms of their desire for upward social mobility and specifically the actions they take to acquire greater social capital. The findings are promising in that they show that some adolescents can consider their own upward social mobility, which could offer an opportunity for social service organizations to target people at the age of adolescence, or before they enter the labor market, and subsequently better support important youth transitions from secondary school. There is no research yet confirming whether targeting adolescents in social capital building creates greater upward social mobility, but theoretically, adolescents being offered greater access to social capital could result in more upward social mobility simply because they have greater time to plan for their successful transition into the labor market or into educational opportunities

Furthermore, the community based nonprofit setting of this program offers a unique look at the role of community based actors in addressing the challenges with upward social mobility experienced by adolescents, given current institutional limitations. The findings here act as a call to action to policy makers and social service delivery programs when targeting efforts for youth development in low socio-economic status neighborhoods.  Youth policy at both federal and provincial levels of government in Canada target young adults at the post-secondary level and focuses on skills training for employment. Though these policies target those that are in immediate need, it does not match with the upwardly mobile orientation of the participants in this study, and possibly current youth more generally. Furthermore, current policies do not address underlying issues that would lead to unsuccessful labor market attachment (like a lack of social capital).

As shown in the present research, perhaps a program that harnesses the ambition and deliberate goal setting of adolescents could be a more strategic use of resources to improve social mobility for Canada’s youth. By harnessing the ambition and willingness of adolescents as shown in the findings of this study, social programs and secondary schools can use an early intervention approach when creating programs to address social inequality. What is yet unknown is how the mentees will use their acquired social capital on a long-term basis as well as a validated measurement of social capital acquisition among youth study participants. Further research could investigate how social capital attainment at a young age represents future labor market or socioeconomic status outcomes. The first step might be to begin a retrospective study comparing educational and economic outcomes of those who have participated in a mentorship program (or some other social capital building program) versus those who have not, to empirically assess the implications of social capital access and mobilization that can occur in those relationships. Further research might also engage in further program evaluation to assess the extent to which social capital is made available within current programmatic efforts; in both community-based organizations and secondary school systems.

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