It's a challenging world for young people taking their first steps in building a career. As a final-year university student, having a sounding board and potential role model is particularly important in such tough times. Not only can they learn from the experience and expertise of those who have gone before, but they can look to develop skills that aren't included in their academic studies. In this blog, we catch up with CEO Peter McAteer to focus on his participation in the Leeds University Career Centre's mentoring scheme.
A mentoring scheme that works
Since Peter got involved in the mentoring scheme three years ago, he's worked with four exceptional young people. While all have been studying engineering, they've come to Leeds from different parts of the world. Harry is from the UK, Jamel hails from Algeria, Gadir is originally from Afghanistan, and his current mentee Davis is Latvian. Past mentees have all received first-class engineering degrees. All have been seeking to get into the oil and gas sector, at a particularly difficult time given the challenges of climate change.
The Leeds University Careers Centre mentoring scheme is open to final year undergraduate students. As an accredited programme, there's a minimum commitment of one hour per month from October to July. In total, mentees can expect a minimum of 30 hours of support from the mentor and/or support team. The scheme's support team provides the initial introduction, and then it's up to the mentor and mentee to have a chemistry meeting to make sure that the fit is right.
Personal development and building a career path
Before their first meeting, Peter sends potential mentees a PowerPoint presentation he's developed as an initial starting point for discussion. This gets mentees to think seriously about what the future might hold for them - often for the first time in their lives. Peter is a huge believer in personal development, which sits behind his approach to mentoring. It comes from his belief that a sense of achievement can be a crucial driver in people's lives. (And, indeed, this is a key driver for Sysmax too, which is why the company regularly offers students and fresh graduates employment opportunities). Peter says: "The key message I want to get across is that we are all the CEO of our personal company".
At least initially, Peter's approach is holistic, as he looks to better understand what motivates them beyond the specifics of applying for jobs. He questions their objectives for working in the oil and gas sector. For instance, it is often financial reward, international travel, or the challenge of working in a complex industry. Peter's also there to give them a perspective of where they stand within their peer group to see how other people can appreciate their talents.
Mentoring is for a year, but personal development lasts a lifetime
Peter's own background has been crucial in motivating him to get involved in the mentoring scheme. "Having grown up in a mining town in South Yorkshire, I had no academic role models in my teen years", says Peter. And as the first of his family to go to university, he found the first year at Leeds University particularly tough. But he stuck it out, and now recognises the benefits of having been able to secure a degree in mining engineering.
He recognises the boost he got from having informal mentoring support in his early career. Peter recognises the differences in current circumstances:
"My university education was fully funded by the state, and it's quite different for young people now. That's why I want to make sure they have some of the advice and opportunities I got in my early career".
He can undoubtedly offer practical support to his mentees, and he works with them on crafting and honing applications for employment or further study. As Peter says, good communication is a vital and transferable skill that engineers are often not encouraged to develop. One piece of advice he's shared is that it's always worth going the extra mile to stand out: even for an automated application, it's worth considering hand-writing a letter too.
Guidance that helps move towards goals
Peter's support for his mentees doesn't stop when the one-year mentoring scheme ends. It's a testament to his approach that he has stayed closely in touch with all his previous mentees. Indeed, his first mentee, Harry, scored a recent success in finding a paid internship which will start imminently. Harry himself acknowledges the help that Peter has given him in securing that role. (We'll be speaking to Harry in more detail in a future blog).
Peter's clear about what he can provide to his mentees. "My role is to act as a rudder for them. They need to decide what their course is over the coming years, but I can help guide them through choppy waters."
In the next blog in this series, we'll be comparing the experiences of two of Peter's mentees at different stages of their career. But in the meantime, you can find more about the Leeds University mentoring scheme here. And if you're interested in giving your time to become a mentor to final-year undergraduates in future years, the Career Centre would be delighted to hear from you.
To find out more about how Sysmax supports young talent at Leeds University and beyond, contact one of the team today.
Post by Marc Bates
Marc leads the marketing and communications strategy at Sysmax and oversees the development of our website. His focus is on demonstrating the rich history of the Sysmax team and how together they have developed products that resolve real-world issues for businesses, improve performance, and reduce risks.