The Importance of Mentoring: Experience, Practice and Policy

The word MENTOR written on a blackboard, surrounded by related words like coach, training, leadership, etc.

I have seen the benefits of mentorship as both mentor and mentee, and I am thankful for the many mentors who have helped me understand my strengths, skills and contributions to the workforce.

About 10 years ago, Angela West was interning at the Partnership for People with Disabilities at Virginia Commonwealth University while working toward a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling. During her internship, she piloted a workbook to help transition-age youth with disabilities explore their interests, strengths and career goals.

When I was in high school, Angela recruited me to help pilot the workbook. Over a series of weekly lunches, we worked through each chapter. From one person with a disability to another, the early mentorship profoundly impacted my life and career development. Later on, I had the honor of working with Angela as a Master of Social Work intern. Empowering mentors like Angela have given me the desire to pay it forward by finding opportunities to mentor others.

For example, during my first year of grad school, I interned at VCU’s Center on Transition Innovations in its “ACE-IT in College” inclusive postsecondary education program for young adults with intellectual disabilities. In my role, I was able to work closely with one student as a mentor. I planned sessions where we discussed a wide variety of workplace readiness skills, including how to disclose a disability and request reasonable workplace accommodations. My own mentors helped me explore how I could effectively disclose my disability in the workplace. I understand how crucial that discussion is to workplace success, so I wanted to ensure I had it with my mentee.

To supplement our discussion, I adapted a disclosure practice activity from the Office of Disability Employment Policy’s “The 411 on Disability Disclosure,” which the agency’s Youth Policy Team developed. Two years later, it is my privilege to serve as a policy advisor on that team.

Promoting accessible and inclusive mentorship programs is an important part of our work on the Youth Policy team. Mentoring is part of our youth policy framework, the “Guideposts for Success.” The guideposts are a set of vital evidence-based educational and career development interventions that promote positive employment outcomes for youth and young adults with disabilities.

Federal workforce systems policy also reflects the importance of mentoring. Mentoring is one of the 14 required program elements under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act Youth Program, which helps young people who face barriers to education, training and employment. Because disability can be a significant barrier to employment, it is critical for mentoring programs to be accessible and inclusive to youth with disabilities. Through my work at ODEP, I look forward to ensuring that all youth have access to positive mentorship experiences, including with youth with disabilities.

Lynne Fetter joined the department’s Office of Disability Employment Policy as a youth policy advisor in November 2021.