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Evaluation of the “Ithaka” Mentoring Programme

Background and aims

Many school-leavers find it difficult to get a foothold in professional and working life. Adolescents lacking important contacts and the necessary know-how to help them find a training position are particularly affected. Various provisions – including the latest mentoring programmes – are concerned with how these adolescents can be best supported on their journey into the professional world. Mentoring brings these adolescents together with experienced professionals who can help their mentees find a training position by supporting them in technical, methodological and personal aspects; in this respect, mentors work on a voluntary basis.

Various cantons are carrying out relevant pilot projects. The “Ithaka” pilot project, set up by Zurich's vocational counselling services and financed by the Federal Office for Professional Education and Technology, offers mentor placements to around 260 adolescents. The project will be taken nationwide between 2006 and 2009. The University of Special Needs Education has been commissioned to evaluate the quality assurance of the “Ithaka” project.

The main focus of this investigation was to discover the optimal project structures necessary to enable as many adolescents from the target group as possible to find a continuing solution.


The following questions were highlighted: How are the framework conditions of the project evaluated by various groups? Does it make sense to divide the project structure across four regions? What is the procedure for collaborating with public vocational counsellors? Which adolescents are referred to the “Ithaka” project and are the selection criteria the “right” ones? Is “Ithaka” cost efficient and effective – even when compared to other mentoring projects?


Data was elicited using various methodological techniques. On the one hand, guided interviews with various groups of people were carried out and discussions with departmental heads, regional business managers, vocational counsellors and mentors took place.  

A web-based written survey of all “Ithaka” participants and mentors was carried out on the other hand (N=83). The mentor questionnaire elicited qualitative as well as quantitative data.

The mentee group was chronicled using case-file analysis and described according to their socio-demographic characteristics.

Case study analyses enquired into the satisfaction level of the mentees, parents, teachers and vocational trainers and highlighted aspects for improvement.


“Ithaka” has received praise from many corners. Mentoring programmes as a whole have been judged a worthwhile and cost-effective service for those adolescents seeking training positions. The target group consists primarily of adolescents who have completed upper secondary education and have a special familial situation (e.g. the parents can offer little support to their children with regard to career choice).

Two thirds of the adolescents entered a basic training programme after completing their mentorship, 17% abandoned their mentorship and 15% found a so-called interim solution. This is a high 'success rate' when compared to other devices that have been applied to optimise transition from school into working life. This high success rate could, in part, be due to the selection criteria used for choosing the participating adolescents; academically weak adolescents or those with considerable problems are generally not chosen. If there is a threat of the tandem breaking down, then systematic alternatives for the mentee should be considered and sought after. Rather than ending when the adolescent finds a training position, continuing the mentorship into the apprenticeship is considered by many to be a suitable proposal.

The mentor group is made up of people with a high level of education; many of them practice an occupation where working with people is the main focus (e.g. teachers, adult educators, coaches and executives etc.). Experienced mentors are 'more successful' than less experienced ones; it is thus advisable to engage mentors on a long-term basis. Mentors also recognize the practicability of further training. The mentors would fulfil the requirements necessary to accompany difficult adolescents.

On the whole, collaboration with the vocational counselling services went well. Other interfaces, such as the one between schools and “Itharka”, should be intensified. The “Itharka” project currently remains relatively unknown about by teaching staff, adolescents and parents. When the “Itharka” project was introduced by the canton, other mentoring projects only received rudimentary information about the new strategy. A review of the various projects and subsequent demand could be supported by the canton in its future strategic conduct.



Project Management

Ehemaliger Leiter Forschung und Entwicklung

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Forschung und Entwicklung
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