The power of online mentoring

Brightside’s CEO Anand Shukla explains the importance of online mentoring for today’s generation of young people.

National Mentoring Day is the perfect opportunity to celebrate the power of mentoring, and the life-shaping support that mentoring provides.

At Brightside, our volunteer mentors support over 10,000 students every single year and help them to take the next step in their own development after school, and to navigate a course to their destination.

It is hard to overstate the importance of this mentoring advice. We live in a time when the traditional mechanisms for transferring knowledge, expertise and advice from one generation to the next have broken down – whether through apprenticeships passing knowledge and skill from one generation to the next; careers advisers in schools advising students on how to work your way through the system or even firms taking on young recruits for life and investing in them accordingly.

There is no effective modern equivalent for these systems of transferring knowledge, expertise and advice. In survey after survey of young people and their ambitions and choices of education and career, what you see every time is a desperate hunger for more information, advice and guidance.

The consequence of this broken system is that people have to rely upon their family, friends and the patchy support on offer form the schools system. If you come from a rich or middle class background, then this community network may work well. If you come from a deprived area, then the very strong likelihood is that this network will not be as effective.

Skewed social networks amplify the advantage and disadvantage conferred by inequalities in wealth and education. And this matters. If you have a fundamental decision about which subject to study or which career to aim for, then what do you do if you do not know how to get there? Or even that those jobs exist.

As the economist Paul Collier has so powerfully written about his own background, “my parents left school aged 12 and so when I had to make a life-shaping choice of which subject to study, we knew nobody to consult. In desperation, I asked my dentist. When my son faced the same issue, he went next door.”

So, National Mentoring Day is a timely reminder of the importance of mentoring to life prospects. At Brightside, our specialism is online mentoring – which is unique in its power to build networks (social capital in policyspeak).

Online mentors offer new connections and contacts to students whose alternative is often nothing at all. Bridging geographical and social divides, Brightside mentors provide young people with expert personalised advice from professionals and university students who they would otherwise never have met. So, for example, in the last 12 months, business executives in London have mentored white working class boys in Cumbria, and doctors in Liverpool have supported young people in Essex.

The best people to talk about the power of mentoring are of course the students that have benefitted from such support. This powerful video is well worth two minutes of your time – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aLmDz_At7Pg