1.1 Who is my mentee and how can I define their progress?
Working with NEETs as a Target Group
When you work with a target group described as ‘young adults not in training, employment or education, who tend to be hard to reach and highly disadvantaged’, it should not come as a surprise that this group is in fact quite diverse. Their backgrounds are different, their reasons for not being in employment or education are different and their ideas about their life and future are probably different. It is safe to say that NEETs have different NEEDS.
When you work with someone who is considered to be in this ‘NEET’ target group – we will refer to them as mentees from here on – it is likely that you will support them on an individual basis. Your goal might be to empower them and support them towards the next step in their lives, whether that be education, training, or any other involvement they would feel satisfied and comfortable with.
Sometimes, (career) guidance is seen as meeting your mentee, asking about what they would like to do, offering an overview of their possibilities and wishing them all the best in their next step. Unfortunately, it is not that easy and there is much more involved in this role than meets the eye. In reality, you might have called them twice already before your first meeting, so they won’t forget about it, or they might have been late because their bus arrived late, or you didn’t hear back from them after your meeting, or they didn’t seem interested during the conversation and you can’t really find a reason for that etc. Working with this group of mentees is challenging, engaging and sometimes disappointing, as you might wonder ‘is it worth all of my efforts?’.
Moreover, due to the diversity of your target group of mentees, it might be more difficult to follow a certain methodological approach when offering guidance, and you find yourself more often keeping your head above the water than actually swimming. On top of that, you probably need to report on some evidence of ‘success’ and steps taken for progression in order to guarantee the continuation of funding streams, and maybe even your role itself. So needless to say, the coaching of this target group of mentees is complex.
Beyond Guidance on Career or Education
The complexity of these situations goes beyond ‘career’ or ‘education’ guidance and has more to do with finding their trust, motivation, building self-esteem, working together with other professional services, finding the right way to communicate, etc., in order to keep them engaged. The survey carried out as part of the Beyond NEET(D)s project, with professionals from six different European countries working with this target group, confirmed the main challenges coaches and/or mentors face have to do with psychological support and communication. Although professionals working with this target group come from a broad range of educational backgrounds, only a few of them have a counselling background or experience as a mental health professional. Therefore, they sometimes lack the knowledge, skills and/or confidence to psychologically support their mentees.
Offering psychological support is – despite what some might think – not really a ‘one-man’ job. If one feels supported, motivated, confident and thriving, this usually isn’t because of a good therapist, but because they can rely on a supportive network of safe and trusted people that are near to them. Identifying this social support, both professional and non-professional, is therefore key, but often difficult for mentees within this target group. The same way it takes a village to raise a child, it also takes a village to thrive as (young) adults.
Another challenge that is at the core of the work that mentors are involved in, has to do with communication. The questionnaire from the Beyond NEET(D)s project revealed a friction in the communication process between mentors and mentees. Many mentors experience difficulties reaching their target group and – when finally reached – keeping them engaged and identifying ways of communication that suits both parties. Professionals constantly find themselves looking for new and diverse ways to reach their target group, but due to lack of time or resources, it is often a case of trial and error rather than the result of a thought-provoking process.
Additionally, there is more to communication than reaching your target group. The communication process between the mentor and the mentee is often fractioned. In the guidance approach, aligning communication between mentor and mentee is key. This means the mentor needs to be able to listen carefully to the story of their mentee, the mentee in turn needs to be clear about who they are and what they want. In return, the mentor can identify what the mentee needs and motivate them to work towards this goal.
Measuring Mentees’ Progress
In parallel with developing an Integrated Guidance Model, the partners within this project also had to find a way to measure a mentee‘s progress.
Partners started identifying 4 different domains where mentors could help their mentees to progress: on a personal level (our self), on a contextual level, progress factors concerning skills for employability and finally factors that have to do with staying on-the-job. Given the fact that the mentees are such a diverse group, we wanted to emphasise the importance of providing space for other progress factors that might not be visible through the listed progress factors, but come up in the conversation between the mentor and the mentee. We called these ‘undefined progress factors’. This was the first step in the development phase of the progress factors, and later the Integrated Guidance Model, as it resulted in the image below:
Beyond NEET(D)s Progress Factors (2021)
As a next step, we defined 5 specific progress factors for each of these categories. We consciously chose to describe them in a way that each of the factors can be easily measured, as this increases the usability for the factors in the further development of the project.
These progress factors can be used as an additional tool for measuring progress when guiding your mentee. They can be found in the toolkit activity ‘Using Progress Factors in the Guidance Process‘, which supports you in bringing these factors into practice.
Reflective questions for the reader:
- Do you feel confident in offering psychological support to your mentees?
- Are there other professionals who can support you in this role?
- How well do your mentees communicate with you?
- How do you currently measure your mentees’ progress?
 Please refer to the chapter Work-Based Learning