Inspiring Students Because You Did it, and They Can Too

If it weren’t for you I wouldn’t be where I am today running my own business and loving what I am doing.

—Khaled, a high school student

Teach to Work Book

Mentoring transforms lives. I have learned this firsthand through the eyes of some six hundred inner-city high school students I have had the privilege of mentoring over the last fifteen years. In Teach to Work, I will show how you can improve the lives of high school, community college, or university students—while simultaneously enhancing your own.

A breakdown exists between the preparation students receive in America’s schools and the skills they need to enter and succeed in the twenty-first- century job market. This is particularly true in low-income communities, where economic conditions can be predictors of failure, and where a vicious cycle is often fed by rampant poverty and single-parent households. In these expanding pockets of our society, a deficit of success can easily exist: students rarely meet role models to emulate. This population of youth often reaches adulthood without ever encountering successful, fulfilled adults who inspire the belief: “I could be doing some version of what they are doing.”

Students often lack the soft skills usually gleaned from role models. This problem is enhanced by the advent of Internet communication and the way we interact business to business and person to person. As Claire Cain Miller pointed out in her October 2015 New York Times article, “Best Jobs Require Social Skills,” to better prepare students for the workforce, traditional schools may need to revisit what they are teaching. In describing today’s education, she writes, “To prepare students for change in the way we work, the skills schools teach many need to change. . . . Social skills are rarely emphasized.”1

Tim Kautz and James J. Heckman, a Nobel Prize–winning economist, did research on what they call non-cognitive skills, such as character, motivation, and goals, which are considered extremely valuable traits in the labor market. Their studies suggest that “character” is a skill, not a trait; that its development is a dynamic process that can be taught; and that non-cognitive skills (social skills) are as important as cognitive skills. Last, they concluded that successful educational interventions should emulate mentoring environments.2

The big idea I am proposing in this book is that we close the chasm between the worlds of business and education. America is abundantly rich in adults with know-how. By connecting mentors—educated adults with expertise and knowledge to share—and mentees—teens and young adults who lack motivation, experience, or successful role models in their lives—we can begin to close the skills gap dramatically. As I see it, we can prepare the next generation for the jobs of tomorrow by adding real world, project based experience to their education.

Imagine building a corps of mentors who give back expertise—both hard and soft skills—to America’s youth. This book offers guidance on being a mentor with an easy to follow, step-by-step path that incorporates Why, How, and Where you can mentor.