When speaking about mentoring, the first thing that comes to mind is a one-on-one relationship between a younger protégé and an older mentor who meet regularly, electronically or in-person. However, modern mentoring occurs in a variety of forms in different types of organizations and environments.

Mentoring has been hailed as an important human resource management strategy, a career tool, and a workplace learning activity. Individuals may join the private sector with the expectation that significant funds exist to allow for training opportunities. Many groups use mentoring in organizational settings, including: hospitals, large corporations, schools, universities and government departments. Training decisions made by human resources managers reveal that the private sector is market-driven competitively, whereas government agencies tend to have legislated mandates. These factors influence the challenges the sectors face when deciding whether to use resources to mentor employees.

Mentoring Programs Face Different Challenges

The impact of resources in both the private and public sectors can affect the way a mentoring program is delivered. Some differences between public and private organizations that influence mentoring include how programs are funded, organizational structure, and employee demographics.

Mentoring Programs in the Public Sector

The public sector is composed of organizations which are owned and operated by the government.

  • Government agencies like the Department of Justice are awarding millions in grants to public sector mentoring programs.
  • The size, dollar value, and complexity of many government programs exceed that in the private sector, and are more likely to pay all project cost and/or cover indirect costs.


  • Often requires institutional cost-sharing and matching.
  • Changing political trends affect security and continuity of some programs and availability of funds can change rapidly.
  • It is sometimes difficult to sell new ideas to government leadership.

Mentoring Programs in the Private Sector

Private sector refers to companies and entities which are not part of government and are privately owned.


  • The smaller number of decision makers allows private companies, for the most part, to avoid time-consuming, bureaucratic requirements for administering grants and programs.
  • Leadership decisions in the private sector are not open to the public to scrutinize in the same way public agencies are. Therefore, the private sector tends to be more willing to take risks and add start-up or experimental funds to start a new mentoring program.


  • In more volatile markets, priorities can change rapidly and continuing support of a mentoring program can be difficult to predict.
  • Less likely to cover all project costs and most do not cover indirect costs.
  • A mentoring program has a harder time competing for funds when the private company is in a market-driven, highly competitive, rapidly changing business landscape.

Overcoming Challenges

Depending on the environment, whether public or private, there are several different approaches that can be used to overcome these challenges. If working in the private sector, remain flexible to shifting priorities that can shape the direction of a growing organization. In the public sector, patience and resilience is key since many of the processes will require protocols and procedures to work through internal processes.

Most mentoring programs are implemented by training development specialists or human resource managers. See what Coley & Associates is doing to help professionals in private and public organizations to implement successful mentoring programs.
What other mentoring program challenges do you see in the Public Vs Private Sectors?