Mentoring and coaching

A mentor or coach can offer guidance and support to a young person to identify goals and overcome challenges.

The research suggests that mentoring and coaching are likely to have a low positive impact on youth employment outcomes, as a component of a youth employment intervention.  



Evidence strength


What is it?

The terms ‘mentoring’ and ‘coaching’ are often used interchangeably. Because both approaches use similar tools and techniques, they are treated together in the review for the Toolkit. Where a distinction is drawn, differences between the two may include: 

  • Mentoring interventions often last for longer than coaching interventions. Mentoring may be primarily focused on employment or employment issues, such as preparation for employment or development at work. Alternatively, it may address employment issues in the wider context of a young person’s life, or as part of a programme that addresses other issues such as offending or homelessness. Mentors may be more directive than coaches, offering advice (rather than guidance) as well as support, and possibly also acting as a role model. They may also offer practical help, for example arranging transport to job interviews, etc. 
  • Coaching interventions tend to last for short and defined periods, and often have a fairly narrow remit, such as building a strategy to achieve professional goals. Coaches are not directive but work collaboratively with the person being coached to identify goals; the coach then provides support, feedback and motivation to achieve these. 

Mentoring and coaching can also be understood as two different points on a spectrum of one-to-one support.  

The research for the Youth Employment Toolkit includes only formal or ‘official’ mentoring and coaching interventions that are part of a wider programme. Supportive relationships with an informal mentor, such as a sports coach or family friend, are not included. 

Mentoring and coaching interventions assign a mentor or coach to each young person in the programme. The mentor or coach offers guidance and possibly also advice and practical support to address goals and challenges. The mentor or coach may also offer more general personal support. Mentors and coaches use similar tools, such as asking questions, reflecting on responses, and engaging in discussion of problems and issues. They may use guided or structured activities, sometimes within a wider programme that sets out stages and outcomes for the process.  

Mentoring and coaching rely on a relationship of mutual trust and respect between the mentor or coach, and the young person they support. Mentors are often volunteers, although they may have more than one role in relation to the young people they mentor within a youth employment intervention. For example, a mentor may be a colleague in the workplace where a young person undertakes on-the-job training, a member of staff in the organisation that oversees the whole youth employment programme, a youth worker or a teacher. Paying mentors may make it easier for a wider range of people to become mentors, making it easier to make better matches between mentors and mentees. 

Mentoring or coaching can take place within a set timeframe, with a prescribed schedule of meetings; for example, mentors may be required to meet their mentees once a fortnight for three months, or to undertake a set number of meetings. Alternatively, it can be more open-ended, and/or the schedule of meetings can be flexible, with the mentor and mentee deciding how often and for how long they want to meet. 

Mentoring and coaching are common elements in youth employment interventions, and in interventions that seek to support young people through transitions in education and work, or to re-engage them in employment and learning. Examples include the Activity and Learning Agreements for 16-17 year olds that were implemented in some areas of England between 2006 and 2011, and the Youth Contract for young people who were not in education, employment or training (2012-2016). More recently, the New Deal for Young People in London seeks to offer personal mentoring to all young Londoners who could benefit.   


The cost rating for mentoring and coaching is moderate.

  • Number of inputs: Multiple, including recruiting and training mentors; matching mentors to young people; developing a framework for the programme; ongoing support and guidance for mentors; and arrangements for programme closure. 
  • Duration of inputs: Programmes typically last for several months, with some extending to a year or more.  
  • Sources of inputs: Inputs come from a small number of sources.  
  • Expertise: Mentors will need some training and programme design needs some expertise. 
  • Settings: Mentoring and coaching do not normally require specialist settings. 
  • Intervention-only inputs: In most cases mentoring and coaching include inputs that will only be used for this activity.  

Key findings

The research suggests that mentoring and coaching are likely to have a low positive impact on youth employment outcomes, as a component of a youth employment intervention.  

The research suggests that, on average, for every 37 young people who can take part in an intervention of this kind, one will get a job who wouldn’t have done so without the intervention. 

The confidence interval identified for this estimate means that this number could vary between a small fall in employment and around 12, depending on a range of factors including how the intervention is implemented. 

The impact rating does not reflect the impact of mentoring and coaching on any other outcomes for young people.  Although mentoring and coaching are widely included in many youth employment programmes, robust evaluations of these interventions as interventions to support youth employment are relatively few. Mentoring and coaching are often part of programmes in which getting a job is only one of a range of goals for young people. For example, programme aims may include reducing involvement in crime or violence, building engagement in learning, personal and social development and preparation for independent living.  

Systematic reviews of mentoring and coaching interventions suggest that these can have positive impacts across a range of different outcomes for young people.  For example, mentoring is associated with positive impacts on school attainment, reductions in youth offending and involvement in violent crime, and some behavioural and mental health outcomes. 

The research for the Toolkit did not include a systematic search of the literature on mentoring interventions in relation to outcomes other than youth employment. The following studies are quoted as examples of this wider literature: 

  • Armitage et al (2020) found that youth mentoring programmes can have a small positive impact on outcomes in relation to academic engagement and attainment, behaviour, and emotional and social aspects of young people’s lives.
  • Lindsay et al. (2015), in a systematic review of mentoring interventions for disabled young people, found that mentoring has a positive impact on multiple psychosocial and personal skills that could improve access to employment. The likelihood or otherwise of entry into employment was not examined in this study.  
  • Rodriguez-Planas (2014) found that, overall, rigorous studies show that mentoring has ‘positive but modest’ effects on some young people, with stronger impacts on social skills and on young people who experience higher levels of disadvantage and risk. Gains are more marked in social and non-cognitive skills than in education and employment. They also appear to dissipate quickly over time.  

These authors note that the level and nature of positive impacts of mentoring varies between studies, possibly reflecting differences in implementation. Some studies also found negative impacts on certain outcomes, including socio-emotional factors, attitudes and beliefs, and behavioural outcomes, although this is not universal. 

About the evidence

You can find details of individual studies of evaluations that include mentoring and coaching, as well as other systematic reviews of youth employment evaluations, in the Youth Employment Evidence and Gap Map.

The strength of the evidence for the impact of mentoring and coaching on youth employment compared to services as usual is moderate 

The network meta-analysis of evaluation findings for the Youth Employment Toolkit includes 25 evaluations of youth employment programmes including mentoring or coaching that are compared with ‘services as usual’ for young people, in high-income countries. Twenty of these were conducted in the USA.  The international nature of the evidence means that the findings may not translate directly to the UK context. 

An assessment using the Campbell Secretariat’s Critical Appraisal Tool suggests low to moderate confidence in their findings. The overall rating is moderate because of the relatively high number of studies. 

This research highlights the need for further impact evaluations examining the relationship between mentoring and coaching and youth employment outcomes in the UK. In particular, we need to know more about what kinds of approach to mentoring and coaching are more likely to make a programme effective in improving employment outcomes. 

Interventions that are described as mentoring or coaching vary widely in their implementation, assumptions, design and intensity. For example: 

  • Some last a few weeks while others last for a year or more. 
  • Some mentors meet or contact their mentees every week or even more frequently; others contact them once a month or less often.  
  • Some mentoring relationships focus on a narrow range of factors while others include a wide range of different practical and personal issues. 
  • The ways in which mentors are recruited and assigned to mentees vary widely. 

The research suggests that the ‘quality’ of the relationship between mentor and mentee is vital to the success of the relationship. However, defining and measuring ‘quality’ presents some challenges. 

How does it work?

Mentoring and coaching aim to improve employment prospects for young people by helping them to set and achieve goals, overcome barriers to work and learning, and/or access guidance and support that will help them to engage with other interventions. This help is provided through regular meetings with a designated mentor or coach. This person provides support, motivation and feedback on a one-to-one basis, within a formal framework that is designed to help young people achieve positive outcomes. 

How to implement it well

The following summary draws on information about the programmes that are evaluated in the studies included in the network meta-analysis of evaluation findings. This includes descriptions and discussion of the programmes in the quantitative reports, as well as in some cases accompanying process evaluations. It also uses findings from process and implementation studies in the Youth Futures Evidence and Gap Map, a review by the IES for Youth Futures, and a small number of other sources including peer-reviewed academic studies and guidance from organisations with relevant expertise.  

Please note that these summaries reflect qualitative findings rather than the comparison group analysis used in the evaluations that are included in the meta-analysis. 

Sufficient resources 

Descriptions of mentoring interventions note the importance of having sufficient resources to match programme ambitions. For example: 

  • Time and resources to design, establish, and manage programmes, including providing support to mentors. 
  • Adequate resources to recruit suitable mentors, train them appropriately, and match them with mentees. 
  • Sufficient time for mentors to spend with young people, to meet programme goals. Longer programmes tend to allow stronger relationships to develop. 
  • Management of the end of the mentoring relationship (‘termination’) including adequate and appropriate follow-up activities.

Matching of mentors to mentees 
The literature on mentoring suggests that the quality of interactions and of the ‘match’ between mentors and mentees is important. Matching may include: 

  • Demographic similarities, e.g., being the same gender, having a similar class or ethnic background, and living in the same area or a similar kind of area. Shared interests, background, and cultural sensitivities may also be important. 
  • Similarities in skills and lived experiences, including experience of the kinds of challenges that young people face and of overcoming these. 
  • Relevant professional or educational experience. 
  • Mentors who have the ‘cultural competence’ to communicate effectively with young people from the groups that can benefit from the intervention, offering a ‘bridge’ between different kinds of experience. 

Some programmes that require intensive mentoring support let young people nominate a mentor from their existing social networks; this person is then screened and trained by programme staff. In other cases, matching takes place during a short residential programme.  Some interventions pay mentors, which can increase the diversity of mentors and facilitate good matches between mentor and mentee. 

Training and ongoing support for mentors 

Several programmes provide training for mentors. This can include best practice in supporting young people, how to navigate boundaries within the mentoring relationship, safeguarding issues, and how and when to refer young people to other services (for example, to get support with mental or physical health, housing, or other needs).  

Where programmes rely on a particular approach (e.g., ‘person centred’ mentoring or trauma-informed approaches), this may require either additional training, or mentors with specialised skills and experience. Ongoing supervision of mentors can support consistency and good practice, as well as allowing mentors and mentees to identify concerns and issues. 

Individualisation with a clear framework and programme goals 

Many mentoring programmes are designed to allow a high degree of flexibility and personalisation to the goals and circumstances of individual mentees, within a robust framework that limits risks and maximises impact. The latter may be supported by tools such as a structured content plan or curricula, common outcomes frameworks, frameworks for assessing and monitoring quality, etc. However, mentor and mentee usually have the freedom to work within their personal circumstances and interests. 

Accessible and appropriate delivery settings 

The literature presents mixed evidence for how different formats facilitate the mentoring relationship. For example: 

  • Remote contact (online and/or by phone) can make it easier for young people to keep in touch with their mentors. It can also reduce the focus of sessions on factors such as disadvantage or disability, which young people may welcome. However heavy reliance on remote contact can limit the development of strong relationships. 
  • Group mentoring can foster a bond between young people and peer relationships. However, it may also lead to an over-focus on disadvantage or difficulties. Some group settings could even reinforce negative or risky behaviours. 

Mentors may need to engage in proactive outreach to young people, and to take account of the barriers to engagement that they may face. The location of mentoring meetings can reflect the young person’s interests and daily life; some programmes include the option of meeting in a community setting such as a café, or in the young person’s home. 

Management of termination and follow-up 

Young people can feel abandoned at the end of the mentoring relationship, which may undo many of the benefits of the intervention. Careful management of the termination process can mitigate these adverse effects. 

It can also help if the young person transitions to another, possibly less intensive, programme which can also provide support. This may be membership of a youth or sports club, engaging in voluntary activity or less frequent check in meetings with a mentor. They may even become ‘peer mentors’ themselves. 

Summary of evidence

  • Overall, it is likely that mentoring and coaching have a low but positive impact on youth employment outcomes. 
  • The evidence for mentoring and coaching from the analysis conducted for the Youth Employment Toolkit is of moderate strength. 
  • Evidence from a wide range of studies indicates that mentoring and coaching have positive impacts on a wide range of outcomes that are related and preparatory to youth employment. 

Date last updated
This page was last updated in June 2023.


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