Opinion: Mentoring strengthens workforce of future

Did you know that by 2020 most available jobs will require post-secondary education or training, but only 1 in 4 students could be prepared to enter college?

As our nation tries to remain competitive, many of our college students, and ultimately college graduates, will require a variety of critical thinking skills to work in a highly technical, fast-paced and quickly changing world.

A large portion of our future talent pool may lack the necessary resources and support to prepare them for college. And some students will fail to enroll at all simply because they find it too difficult to get through the application process. This predicament is disproportionately true for students from low-income and underserved communities.

One proven way to encourage students to graduate from high school, enroll in college and set high goals for themselves is through mentorship. Studies show that young adults who face an opportunity gap are 55 percent more likely to enroll in college if they have an anchoring, supportive relationship with a mentoring adult who isn’t a family member .

Think about your own life – I bet many of you had an adult (or several) who took you under their wing and inspired and encouraged you. Mentors can come from multiple sources. I was fortunate to have the support and guidance from a variety of Deloitte partners who took an interest in my career. A senior community leader suggested I look for opportunities within the community, which led me to involvement in Junior Achievement and the United Way. My father was also a big supporter, and I still follow his lead today.

The alternative is a potential for a continued dropout rate that is too high – seven times higher – for low-income families. Less than 30 percent of students in the bottom quarter of incomes enroll in a 4-year college and once they get there, only 8.3 percent complete their degree by age 24.

Clearly, this is a missed opportunity for not only these potential students, but for our country’s future. At Deloitte, we recently launched our RightStep initiative to help prepare and inspire students to graduate from high school, enroll and stay in college and successfully transition to the workforce. Over the next three years, through a variety of interventions, including mentoring, our goal is to activate more than 10,000 of our team members, to improve college readiness by reaching and affecting 500,000 students. Through this commitment, we have an opportunity to guide, shape and enhance the future workforce.

And we’ve experienced an unexpected benefit: This program is the single largest year-round engagement opportunity for our professionals. In a short time, 1,400 Deloitte professionals have signed up to mentor 3,186 underserved youth through the college application process.

Today’s students are tomorrow’s leaders. We, as Atlanta professionals, can do more to support them on their journeys. Let’s pay it forward and watch our nation – and proteges – succeed because of it.

Ed Heys is the Atlanta and Birmingham managing partner of Deloitte, an audit, consulting, and tax advisory firm.