4 Ways Mentorship Opportunities Can Help Fill the Industry Skills Gap

Lindsay Gilder

In the latest episode of the Thomas Industry Update Podcast, Thomas CEO and President Tony Uphoff spoke to Mary Person, the director of Governmental Relations and External Affairs for FH Paschen. At the major construction firm, Person plays a significant role in recruitment efforts for some of the best talent in the construction industry and continues to recruit the next generation of industry professionals through collaborations and partnerships with numerous organizations like Chicago Women in Trades, Revolution Workshop, and local colleges.

In doing so, Person explains that the efforts focus on “helping individuals understand how to get into the trades, and what skills and vocations you need to develop when you’re in high school.”

Through her discussion of both what FH Paschen is accomplishing and her own personal journey, she mentioned a few important people that helped her achieve some of her success: her mentors.

She explained that she met her very first mentor in college, who introduced her to the world of transportation/transit and construction, and how he ultimately helped her discover her passion for the industry. Without the aid of her empowering mentors, it’s possible Person would be on an entirely different career path, which really illustrates the power that we have right now to show the next generation the opportunities our industry can offer.

4 Ways Mentorships and Youth Outreach Could Fill the Industrial Skills Gap

1. Attracting a New Population to Industrial Jobs

In Person’s work with FH Paschen, she’s guided the company to partner with other organizations to attract new talent. FH Paschen also puts together its own programs, namely Paschen Scholars, which connects with high school students in hopes of increasing their engagement with STEM. 

“We realize that women are not as engaged in STEM as they should be, so we developed programs that help engage young women and men within Chicago into the STEM arena,” Person says. “The [programs] help mold them. They help break down the barriers for them. And we partner with them to help develop our pipeline for better trade workers and better estimators and better project managers.”

Person acknowledges that construction and other industry jobs don’t initially sound like the most appealing careers for women, but it’s likely because of stereotypes rather than a reflection of reality. According to the 2016 census, women only make up about 29% of the manufacturing industry, a figure Person is working on improving.

“Women don’t always see a construction career as a career for them, but it’s actually a great career. It gives you flexibility and a very long-lasting career that has great wages and great benefits…some people don’t realize how great a construction career could be for them and their family” because they haven’t been exposed to the possibilities, Person says. 

2. Taking an Honest Look into a Future Career

When students are young and start trying to determine the career best suited for them, they generally look for a few things: 

  • Will this be something I can excel at?
  • Will my job align with my values?
  • Will I be able to support myself in this field? 
  • Will I be able to get along with others in my industry?

Parents and college advisors likely won’t have the answers to all of these questions because they either don’t know the student’s passions well enough or have never worked in the industrial sector, but a mentor is uniquely positioned to know both of those things.

During Person’s transportation career, she was working in an accounting role when she sought out the advice of her mentor to guide her before she made her next career move. While she enjoyed the industry she was working in, she didn’t feel fulfilled by the work she was doing.

After knowing her for years, her mentor was able to suggest next career steps based on his understanding of her long-term interests, professional skills, and personality. His suggestion led her to the diversity space within industry, which is where she now continues to succeed.

“I just told [my mentor] that I loved transportation. I love people, but I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go,” she explained. “He gave me the suggestion of considering the diversity and inclusion space. And he said he thought I would do really well in it because of my personality and my love for helping people. And so within a few years, I went from being a compliance officer to being a compliance manager, to being the director of the second-largest transit agency in the U.S.”

3. Creating a Network of Like-minded Individuals in Industry

As a woman in industry, Person has been supported by many other powerful women. She listed former Superintendent of Chicago Parks Carolyn Williams Meza and 787 Director of Production Engineering at Boeing Carole Murray as just a few of the many successful women who have inspired her. 

“Those names probably don’t mean anything to the rest of the world, but it meant everything to where I am today,” Person says. “One of my mentors said, ‘Mary, you’re the director of diversity at CTA, which is great, but what’s next for you, young lady?’ She said, ‘You cannot stop there.’ And she was right. I needed something else. I needed something more.”

Person listened to her mentor and went on to apply for her current position at FH Paschen. 

“During your career path, you have to find good mentors and good sponsors that help you and guide you along your career path,” she advised. “I have the opportunity now to be in the construction world. But then I also get to support my family. And being at a company that understands that family comes first is very important.” 

Person also recommends surrounding yourself with like-minded people, and for her, that means more women in industry and men who support those diversification and engagement efforts. 

“I am in a very male-dominated arena, but at Paschen, I really don’t realize that because I am sometimes the only female in the meeting, but I don’t realize it because they embrace who I am. They accept my ideas,” she says. “And then I have a floor of other women who are doing the same thing. So I have a group of people that I can turn to and talk to about different things that happen.”

4. Guiding Young Professionals to Ethical, Successful Careers

Person shared that her career has been instrumentally shaped by the influence of her guiding mentors, namely one mentor who taught her about the connections between community and small businesses, and the potential they hold. She has continued to carry that knowledge forward into her career at FH Paschen, where she looks to each of the company’s regional communities for new talent. 

“He taught me about small businesses, the importance of giving back to your community, and the importance of treating the people who work for you like people. The better you treat them — the harder they’ll work for you. And in the end, your goal of having a successful company will come to fruition because you’re treating your people with respect,” Person says.  

For Person’s personal philosophy, she expressed the importance of ethics in her career and advises others to follow suit: “Always be authentic. Always be ethical. And always be grateful.”

Read the original article here.