Why mentorship matters even as new grad hiring drops off

New workers coming out of high school or college are perhaps dealing with a different set of concerns than the generations before. The class of 2024 had college experiences disrupted by the pandemic. They’re struggling to find jobs. They are coming into work with worries about what their professional lives will look like — if they can even start them.

But they’re also craving mentorship to make up for those gaps, experts told HR Dive, which may keep them engaged with their work — and stop them from looking for greener pastures. 

Understanding the class of 2024

Mentorships can help address new workers’ concerns, and this new batch has a lot of them.

According to Handshake’s “Catching Up with the Class of 2024” report, 67% of the class of 2024 is optimistic about finding a job that builds their career, but more than half are concerned about making ends meet. The report also found that 34% are worried about feeling lonely and isolated at work, 61% about burnout, 54% about not enjoying their work and 53% about struggling to advance.

This generation of emerging adults is looking for “somebody that can give them feedback and thoughts and directions about how to be successful in their professional lives,” said Kelly Fair, founder of Polished Pebbles, a nonprofit that has helped more than 10,000 Black and Brown girls and emerging adults develop career readiness skills. 

What they’re looking for on the job is not unlike the kind of guidance they’re looking for in their personal lives. This generation needs this guidance “especially after the pandemic, considering so much of their time was cut and they were being forced to be inside,” she said. They have “social and emotional needs” and they want “support for who they are as a full person.” 

These new graduates are also looking to “find their place within a company, whether it’s that work-life balance or how to be the best employee,” she said. 

New workers from traditionally marginalized communities also need extra support, especially as some companies have been pressured to fold DEI programs. They still need help and mentorship to “know how to work that journey of being a person of color in their workplace,” Fair said. 

Engaging new workers through mentorship

To start, HR professionals should evangelize the need for keeping employees engaged, and mentorships are part of that work, said David Satterwhite, CEO of Chronus, a mentorship software platform. That also means making sure that the ROI on such programs is made clear, so that they keep being funded. 

While mentorships programs might seem extraneous, they help employees stay engaged, more productive and, in the case of new workers, at the company for what will hopefully be long careers, he said. Like with diversity programs, “we are trying to do our part to help them understand that this is not just the right thing to do…but the science shows it’s a profitable thing to do,” Satterwhite said.

Employee resource groups can also help people find mentors within groups with the same interests as theirs, he added. That also allows people to self-designate who they are and their interests, which they of course know best. “It’s a way for people to connect and feel part of something,” he said, which can especially help new workers.

Fair said it’s important to reinforce mentorships when introducing people to careers and jobs that may not have been open to them previously. It would be impossible, for example, to pair every new female worker with a female mentor in building trades, which have long been dominated by men. For example, Polished Pebbles runs a program called Pink Hard Hats Project which shows girls and young adults what such careers look like. 

“The likelihood of women agreeing even to become and study a trade and to be successful and sustained and keep a place in the workplace is heavily based on mentorships,” she said. “If they really want to sustain diversity in the workplace, particularly when it comes to male-dominated fields, that level of mentorship has to be in place for girls and women.”