At this point in my career, I find that what really brings me joy is mentoring the next generation of Architecture, Engineering, and Construction (AEC) professionals. I have been blessed to have inspiring people in my life at various stages of my career—people who pushed, challenged, inspired, and supported me. I still enjoy projects and innovating creative solutions for transportation clients. But I find that, more and more, my career satisfaction is based on the people I work with and the connections I foster. Mentoring young people allows me to give back this support I’ve received in my own career.
I recall leaving college at 21, almost 30 years ago now, and how hard it was to find my first job. Today, I am faced with the opposite problem. Life is funny that way! As an industry, we are all struggling to find the right person to offer a job to. We need to cultivate the next generation of engineers, surveyors, inspectors…We know this, and we often say it. But how exactly do we do it?
In the past few months, I have had a few opportunities to interact with college and high school students.
Florida State University recently hosted the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Student Competition. I spent a Saturday partly judging competitions and partly watching the concrete canoe races on the lake. I had the privilege to judge a design-build competition where the schools built a three-letter sign representing their city. They had to have a design team and construction team. I was impressed with the results: 50% plans with redline markups from the construction team, final plans, Requests for Information (RFIs), a writing proposal, and the 5’x7’ finished signs.
As I write this, the transportation industry is hosting the Northwest Florida Construction Career Days (CCD), with nearly 1,000 high school students. CCD is an event that Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) and its consultant/contractor partners have been hosting for many years across the state. Like everything in life, we have not hosted the event for a few years. CCD brings in high school students for a day of learning about careers in the transportation industry through interactive learning labs and an equipment rodeo where the students can operate heavy machinery. Today, we hosted 500 students and I am inspired. How great to spend the day with my fellow transportation professionals, students, and countless volunteers! The students were engaged and asking questions. The engineers, surveyors, geotechs, and construction folks were fantastic, inviting an open discussion about the transportation industry.
I had purposeful conversations with the teachers and administrators who had brought the students. What I heard were many “thank you”s for the event and gratitude for the opportunity we provided for the students to hear about all the possibilities in our industry. Heck, they even asked if we could do this several times a year.
I was really inspired by these experiences mentoring students. Great potential professionals are out there; the only question is, how do we get them involved and interested in our industries? College-bound or not, we need these students in our industry. We need them to seek their first jobs with us. What I heard from these administrators was a request for more of this: for the engineering profession to be in the schools interacting with students.
I’m no stranger to mentorship: I’m the youth leader at my small church working with our teenagers; I volunteer at my kid’s school to judge the science fair; I do a few more things. But I tell you, after these experiences, I will certainly be in schools more talking to the next generation about engineering. The industry needs all of us. How are you going to get involved to help?