I’m blessed with the opportunity to meet many young people through my family (friends of my children) and at work (interns and new starts). As I hear the constant refrain from my peers that “things aren’t like they used to be,” I sometimes wonder if the reason for that is because we’re not taking our jobs as influencers of these young people as seriously as our predecessors did.
I say this because I find that young people today do not seem that different from us at their age. Some of the concerns they voice are very similar to the remarks I made when I was young, and sometimes even the importance or priority of their reaction is identical to what mine would have been.
I don’t think things have changed that much. Young people are still pretty innocent these days, despite their bravado and rehearsed chest thumping; look deeply into those eyes and you’ll find they are just as scared and apprehensive as we were.
Sometimes, a young man will ask me a question at work and it leads to me telling a tale of “the last time we tried this” or “what we should be aware of this time.”
I think I may be boring them or watering down their spirit, but then, once in a while, I look up and see a face full of enthusiasm and wonder, and I know that suddenly my words were golden to this kid and he has just become challenged to find a solution–a solution to a problem that stumped his predecessors–and he is thrilled with the opportunity.
Now and then, the compliment comes full circle when I hear one of these upstarts quote me or use the same logic I did to make a point. I think, “Hey, I really got through to this kid,” and it is a wonderful feeling. It’s even more wonderful when you see the logic you provided applied and it plays out to a solution.
So, in moving forward, it is imperative that we allow access to our time and ideas so that young people can get the message directly from our experienced lips.
How can we enhance these opportunities?
1. When the new interns are brought in and are being introduced around the office, take the time to meet each and every one. Ask about their backgrounds and their hometowns and schools. Connect with them so they feel welcome to seek your advice and direction in the next few months.
2. On a day when you have no plans, offer to take one or two young people to lunch. Look at it as an investment in your company. Perhaps you’ll plant some seeds in some upcoming star, and your grounded experience will assist them in becoming a welcome part of the company, not just a visitor.
3. Share stories of your own successes and failures. Let new employees know the importance of integrity and how far it got you–and how it has served you right through today. Remind the young that success at work is not all about applause and upwardly mobile positions.
This last point may be the biggest surprise, and probably only became known to you after being with the company for a long time.
I now have a story to tell new interns that took me 20-plus years to accumulate:
I recently filled three filing boxes with certifications, photos, and all legal documents involved with removing a number of potentially leaking underground gasoline storage tanks (most of them pre-World War II) out of park properties and the legal documents permitting the installation of the above-ground tanks that replaced them.
The task was handed to me in 1992, and I completed the last installation and inspection with the State of Ohio in 2012.
Original estimates to complete this project were around $10 million. I got it done for just over $4 million, including legal fees. I believe those enormous savings were accomplished because I stayed with the company my whole career. The project was never handed off, and as I built history with the process, I was able to apply economies of scale due to that familiarity.
Had this project been handed off from one job-hopping manager to another, it would have had to be “re-learned” over and over. But due to my longevity on the job, it was successfully steered from start to finish.
Last week, I boxed up and sent off all of these records to be copied to CD discs and maintained by the new Risk and Safety Manager hired last month; a really nice integrity-ridden young man.
I also happen to have several pairs of shoes older than him.
Once the discs are made, the information will be entered into the Cleveland Metroparks database, so there will be access to the history of what happened to the mineral rights and property rights on every parcel of land that is affected.
If there are environmental issues down the road, this information may be vital.
It is also possible that no one will ever open these files again. Certainly no one will be impressed by the effort or even know who authored the whole thing, yet despite that, I can honestly tell you that as I age, I will reflect on this accomplishment as one of the most significant things I ever did.
And in that truth lies the twist that here toward the end of my career, the most subtle of deeds quietly slips into the history of the company that employed me for 30-plus years.
If the young people starting out today could appreciate the importance of that, I have no doubt how safe our future will be.
Ron Ciancutti is the Purchasing Manager for Cleveland Metroparks. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.