Mentoring People of All Ages Will Build a Stronger Workforce and it Falls on All Our Shoulders

Blog-Turned-OpEd Piece

While writing a blog post about the importance of mentoring in my own life, the message grew to include how we can all help young (and not-so-young) people grow to be successful in whatever career they choose. The following piece was published in the December 25, 2014 issue of The Bakersfield Californian:

As new employers come to Kern County and as existing businesses are looking toward growth, it is more important than ever to identify effective ways to meet local employer needs. That means more than simply providing bodies to fill jobs; candidates must be skilled and talented, and must possess the soft skills that will help them succeed. With that in mind, conversation is increasingly turning to the need to mentor our future workforce and our communities’ future leaders.

Mentoring is more than an investment in an individual’s personal and professional growth; it’s also an investment that will cultivate and grow our future employees, ultimately affecting the vitality of our economy and our ability to recruit businesses to the area. The new Ross Dress for Less distribution center in Shafter will begin hiring soon, starting with a first wave of approximately 500 employees. Two more waves of at least 500 employees are expected to follow. That’s a lot of jobs to fill, and it’s just one of many projects we are working on at Kern Economic Development Corporation.

I know young professionals who created a short list of folks they admired, in preparation for popping the big question: Will You Mentor Me? This is just one example of a young workforce clamoring for guidance and, indeed, a shot at getting a leg-up in the business world. But the truth is, there are “mentor moments” all around, in all stages of life, and it is incumbent upon each of us to look for opportunities to mentor others. Here are just a few options that can have a major impact:

Parents – If you’re a parent and have children at home, help them build good habits now that will transition to good work habits when they are adults. You already know what those skills are: use your words not your fists (yes, this transfers to the work world!); attendance matters (yes, you need to go to school today even though you’re not in the mood); let’s call the school when you’re too sick for class (communication is important and you cannot just be a “no-show”); use your manners (say please and thank you, look people in the eye, share); and finally, be kind. The list could go on and on, but you get the point. And don’t forget to be a positive example for your children. Unfortunately, one of the biggest hurdles in hiring is applicants’ inability to pass a background and/or drug screening. Demanding that your child (and future leader) follow the rules now can help set them up for success in the future.

Students/Educators – Get a head start! It’s never too early to start thinking about careers and mentors. Teachers are an obvious mentor-option, and some high school students in Kern County already have exposure to career mentors, thanks to a variety of academy and mentoring programs that match local professionals with students. The Kern Economic Development Foundation is just one organization that administers mentoring programs at local high schools.

Newcomers to the workforce Learn now, wherever you are. Sometimes mentoring happens when you’re not looking. In fact, sometimes the realization that you had an amazing mentor may not come until many years later. So, rather than fret about who to choose as your mentor, take advantage of your current situation. Learn from your boss, yes, but also from co-workers, and even from people you may supervise.

Today’s business leaders – Creating a skilled, talented and well-prepared workforce is not just the responsibility of parents or our education system. Business has a responsibility, too. Each of us should identify how we can contribute to the effort. Investing just one hour a month as a mentor, and building a connection with a student or a young professional, can have lasting impact on an individual and also our community. Kern County has lots of opportunities; a quick online search revealed a dozen local mentoring programs!

Of course, the need for mentoring doesn’t ever stop. In the workplace, environments and responsibilities change. If we really want successful new-hires to continue to flourish, managers must double as coach and mentor, plus offer professional development programs to help their team members grow into professionals that are ready to move up (or out) into increasingly responsible positions.

The options are many and selecting just one can make a positive difference in our future.


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