As teens and young adults, almost everyone struggled with uncertainty about what to do with their future. Go to college? Enter a trade school? Start working? On top of everything else to be dealt with at that age, it’s an unwelcome distraction.
Michael Kuhns, Design Engineer in Larson Design Group (LDG)’s Lititz office, remembers that time in his life too, which was a motivating factor behind his recent involvement with a youth mentorship program for high school juniors.
The program, now in its third year, is a product of the Lancaster Chamber that matches juniors from participating high schools in Lancaster County with adult mentors. Throughout the school year, the mentors and Chamber work to line up job-shadowing experiences for the students in a wide range of professions so they can better decide what to do after graduating from high school. Recognizing that traditional four-year colleges aren’t for everyone, the program takes care to focus on other paths as well, Kuhns said.
“Society puts a lot of emphasis on college, but it’s not the only option,” he said. “We also explore things like trade school and military or volunteer service. The important thing is to help the student figure out what is a good fit for them as an individual.”
Kuhns discovered the program through the Chamber’s monthly email newsletter last year and began his involvement with Conestoga Valley High School at the beginning of the 2018-19 school year. Every month, the mentor and mentee spend time together by attending an activity or event. The first activity of the year was held at the Associated Builders and Contractors Keystone Chapter, a training center for the construction industry, where Kuhns and his mentee built beanbag toss boards that were later auctioned off to raise funds for the mentorship program.
The “big event” of the program year, Kuhns said, is the Chamber’s business expo in October. “Students dress in their business casual and we explore the expo with them for the day, trying to establish connections and set up those job-shadowing opportunities,” he said. “They talk to employers and recruiters and work on their networking and communication skills. And employers love seeing students at these kind of events – they get really excited and are eager to engage with them.”
A teenager interacted with adult professionals can be intimidating, but each mentor has a separate preparation period with their mentee ahead of the October job expo to give them some guidance on communication, interviewing and networking. Kuhns said that his mentee became more comfortable with approaching employers as the day went on and was eventually taking the initiative to do it on his own.
Additional activities throughout the year include a tour of the mentee’s school and talking to other students about the program, a teambuilding and communications workshop and volunteer opportunities, among others.
As a first-year participant, Kuhns said he’s enjoying the program, not only because it’s proving to be valuable to himself – it provides networking opportunities and “a good refresher on my own communication and leadership skills,” he said – but because of what it offers to the students.
“I’ve said – and heard others in this program say – that we would’ve benefitted from a program like this when we were that age,” Kuhns said. “I remember feeling aimless or waffling about what to do after high school. The kids we work with might not make any decisions immediately, but at least we’ve given them some direction and shown them different opportunities.”
Founded in 1993, Larson Design Group is an emerging national architecture, engineering and survey firm with 10 offices in four states and a vision to elevate client relationships, enrich the careers and lives of its employee-owners, and enhance the communities in which it operates. LDG promotes stewardship in their communities as one of its core values, and each year provides stewardship time that employees can use for activities meant to improve and engage with the places in which they live and work. For more information, visit www.larsondesigngroup.com.