Mentoring the Next Generation

ASG’s Doug Koeneman on the value of mentoring the next generation of STEM workers

Doug Koeneman, ASG’s co-founder, principal and senior consultant, believes in supporting and cultivating young, motivated employees.  At ASG, he makes it a practice to hire engineers, schedulers and program managers with open minds and a hunger for knowledge.  He also believes it’s up to business leaders like himself to help college graduates bridge the gap between earning a degree and gaining real-world experience.  For that to happen, Doug believes businesses must connect with schools and universities to create more opportunities for personal and professional growth.  He also believes in hiring seasoned experts who can pass on their knowledge to young workers.

Read this Q&A to learn more about Doug’s vision and what he’s doing at ASG to mentor and develop the next generation of manufacturing innovators.

Great minds are everywhere, but many people have limited access to education and opportunity.

You’ve said that helping develop the next generation is one of your goals. Why is this so important to you?

There are macro trends driving the STEM agenda nationally.  There’s a shortage of technical and multidisciplinary resources in the workforce, with women and marginalized populations being under-represented.  Still, we know great minds are everywhere, and many people have limited access to education and opportunity.

ASG can’t solve this overall problem, but we can do our part to create opportunity, set the models and tools for capturing knowledge and processes prior to experts retiring, and we can find a way to pass knowledge along to the next generation that will be taking care of us when we step back and pass the baton.  If manufacturing is key to jobs and the strength of our communities, then innovation is the predecessor.  We need both, now … to bring us back into balance as a nation.

STEM is focused on reaching youth and connecting with schools and university settings.  There’s a gap in moving from earning a degree to gaining experience … and in our opinion, having the right experience.  It’s not happening fast enough, given the age of our technology leaders.

What will you and the experienced leaders on the ASG staff do to help develop the next generation?

Our seasoned mentors have a passion for technology and for sharing their knowledge with others.  Many of them are on their second or third careers.  They don’t need to work; they want to work and give back.  So mentoring and development with purpose is the best way to teach.

The types of things we want to focus on with mentoring are:

  1. How to think, solve problems and work effectively in a team.
  2. Understanding the history and the fine points in decision-making; learning what’s in your control, and how to respond with what’s not.
  3. Connecting their career development to a sense of purpose and how to share why what they’re doing is important … not just today, but for the future.

How have your methods and mindset been received by new ASG associates who are just starting their careers? And for those who were taught and practiced their skills differently in the past?

To be honest, this has been a mixed bag and has shown in how and where we recruit.  The seasoned mentors have been easier to find. They’re leaders and are looking for like-minded folks who will support and enable them to invest.

For younger talent, most have the right mindset, while others don’t.  When they have the right mindset, there’s a hunger for learning and wanting to get things done. Finding good projects to help them learn and develop is improving. It takes both the right mindset and the right opportunities. The learning curve is large, but we’re becoming more structured in how we accomplish goals.

I’ve found several of our mid-career hires have had more issues with the change.  They want to demonstrate capability, but, in many cases, their thought processes are not well connected, and occasionally have bad practices that need to be rewired. For example, an engineer may start designing and testing the target system before there are requirements because that’s how they’ve done it in the past. But the purpose of testing is to produce objective evidence that the system performs as intended.

What’s the benefit of mentoring? Is it an altruistic pursuit? Or is it just good business? 

It’s both.  I want team members to be with ASG for as long as it’s valuable to them.  I hope and expect some to grow beyond us. And that’s great. From a business perspective, a learning and teamwork culture leads to having more fun, even when the work is challenging.